The study took place in nine middle schools in three urban school districts in Virginia during the 2010–11 school year. All of the schools were Title I schools that had not made or were at risk of not making adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. The Striving Readers grant program funded the study.
The study authors randomly assigned 918 seventh- or eighth-grade students who met the eligibility criteria for the study to the intervention group or to the comparison group. The random assignment was conducted separately within each grade and school. The study examined the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (GMRT) comprehension outcome for 279 intervention and 289 comparison students and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) general literacy achievement outcome for 342 intervention and 358 comparison students. For both outcome measures, attrition was within the acceptable threshold for the review: the overall attrition rate was between 24% and 38%, and the differential attrition rate was between 1 and 5 percentage points. Seventh- or eighth-grade students enrolled in study schools were eligible for the study if they met at least one of the following conditions based on their test scores from the previous school year: (1) received a score on the GMRT that was equivalent to at least two years below their current grade level, or (2) did not reach the passing score on the Virginia SOL assessment. Students were excluded from the study if they had an individualized education program or if their parents requested that they be excluded. Nine full-time teachers, one in each of the nine schools, each delivered the intervention to two to six different classes.
Of the students subject to random assignment, 53% of students were seventh graders, 47% were eighth graders, 45% were female, 69% were African-American, 24% had a disability, 88% were eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program, and 9% were English learners.
The study examined the effectiveness of a reading intervention for students struggling with reading. Students in the intervention group received the Passport Reading Journeys program over the course of the 2010–11 school year. This supplemental intervention involved daily, 50-minute lessons in reading skills related to science or social studies. The lessons were organized into 15 ten-lesson expedition sequences, each two weeks long. The lessons included both teacher-led instruction and students' independent practice. Lessons typically started with whole-group instruction in which students were introduced to new vocabulary and a new reading passage. Then students could individually practice vocabulary using an online technology component, VocabJourney, or select books for independent reading from an online library of text selections, ReadingScape. Teachers also worked intensively with students in need of specific instruction during independent and paired reading time. Class size ranged from five to 21 students.
Students in the comparison group received the instruction in English language arts (ELA) that was already available in their schools and elective or enrichment classes that did not provide any supplemental literacy instruction. The standard ELA instruction was available to both the intervention and comparison groups.
Support for implementation
The professional development and support included a launch training, online product training, coursework on adolescent literacy, and ongoing consultation. The intervention teachers also attended professional development training sessions, including online modules. In particular, they were required to attend 50 hours of professional development over the course of the school year, 30 of which were offered through web-based modules. In addition, trained experts from the developer, Cambium Learning Group, offered face-to-face professional development activities and coaching for intervention teachers. The launch training, the online product training, and the online support are included in the cost of the standard program package. The coursework, professional development training, and coaching was conducted at additional cost to school districts or schools.