The study took place in five public high schools located in urban and suburban areas in California, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington states. The size of the schools range from medium (below 1,000) to large (over 2,000). The study was implemented in 48 ninth-grade classrooms (25 intervention, 23 comparison) taught by 19 teachers.
The study used a cluster randomized controlled trial design. Within each school, teachers were randomly assigned to intervention or comparison groups. To be eligible to participate in the study, schools had to meet the following criteria: (1) school staff had to be willing to participate in the study and support implementation of the intervention, (2) schools were also required to have no other major English/language arts initiatives taking place, and (3) schools had to have low student mobility rates (less than 20% student attrition during a school year). During fall 2014, the study was implemented in 48 classrooms (25 intervention, 23 comparison) taught by 19 teachers. The analysis sample included 1,004 ninth-grade students: 530 students were in the Pearson Literature group, and 474 students were in the comparison group. Across the sample, there were 75.8% White students, 12.1% Hispanic students, 6.3% African-American students, and the remaining students were from other racial or ethnic groups. Other subpopulation breakdowns included: 3.7% special education status, 7.9% limited English proficiency, 21.3% free or reduced-price lunch, and reading levels ranged from low (28.1%) to mid-range (35.6%) to high (36.3%). For the 19 teachers in the analysis sample, 85% were female and 95% were White; 74% held a Master’s degree, 21% held a Bachelor’s degree, and 5% held a Ph.D. On average, the teachers had 5 years of experience.
Intervention teachers implemented the Pearson Literature© (2015) curriculum in their English/language arts classrooms. The Pearson Literature (2015) program consisted of five units with four topics per unit. The topics include (1) setting expectations, (2) reading complex texts while providing support and guidance, (3) removing the level of support to “provide a more authentic reading environment for students,” and (4) provide students independence to respond to a range of works. Occasionally, the teachers had to incorporate other resources to meet district requirements.
Comparison teachers were allowed to design their own curriculum or supplement their schools’ available curriculum as they saw fit, following their schools’ policies. They were also encouraged to use teacher- and district-created resources available online to all teachers. In general, the comparison curriculum consisted of 12 chapters with the following features: (1) reading skills and strategies, (2) making meanings (critical thinking about texts), (3) writer’s notebook (writing notes about text), and (4) grammar handbook (practicing grammar skills).
Support for implementation
At the beginning of the 2014–15 school year, teachers were provided with about 6 hours of training by a professional trainer in the use of the Pearson Literature© curriculum materials. The training consisted of an overview of all program components, including the technology component, Pearson Realize. In addition, they were provided with detailed implementation guidelines. Researchers from Pearson used a classroom observation form to measure how faithfully they were following the program. Additional trainings were held in November and January of the same school year to cover more specific details on upcoming units.