This study was conducted in three high schools from a diverse, urban school district in the southwestern United States. In all schools, the majority of students were Hispanic (54.9%-90.5%) and economically disadvantaged (75%-90%) based on free and/or reduced-price lunch status. Students at the start of the study who identified as English learners (ELs) ranged from 13.4%-49.4%. One of the three schools was on "needs improvement" status, while the other two met the state standards of accountability measures.
Students were primarily Hispanic (89%, with race unknown for over 98% of students) and male (53%, with 9% missing gender data), and most spoke Spanish at home (89%). All students had been classified as English learners at some point in the five years prior to random assignment, and 63% were English learners at the start of the intervention. Seventy-five percent of these students were economically disadvantaged (presumably based on free and/or reduced-price lunch status), and 12% received special education services.
The study examined the effectiveness of a reading intervention for students struggling with reading. The intervention examined by the study, the Reading Intervention for Adolescents (RIA) program, was administered over two full school years, Fall 2015 to Spring 2017. Participating students that had been randomly assigned to either of the two intervention groups—RIA or RIA with a modified version of the Check & Connect dropout prevention intervention—received RIA instruction in groups of 10-15 students. Students received approximately 3.75-4.25 hours of the intervention each week (approximately 50 minutes daily). The intervention included two phases. The first semester of the first school year was Phase I, which was based on REWARDS Secondary, an explicit instruction program that focused on reading fluency and vocabulary activities. This portion of the program covered topics such as identification of prefixes, suffixes, and vowels; reading parts of and complete words, and reading words both in isolation and in context. The second semester of the first year and each semester of the second year comprised Phase II, which included 14 instructional units corresponding to content areas in science and social studies. Phase II continued to use the collaborative learning approach and emphasized using the skills previously taught but in the respective content-area contexts. Intervention students continued to receive their core classes in English, math, science, and social studies during both phases but attended RIA instruction in place of an elective class. The intervention was delivered by five reading interventionists who were state certified in reading or English/language arts and had at least five years of teaching experience.
Students in the comparison condition had “business-as-usual” classes with each comparison student enrolling in an elective class, as per usual, instead of enrolling in the RIA intervention course. For their elective courses, some comparison students received an extension of the school-provided English I or II course providing continued instruction of the in-class lesson, while other students enrolled in other elective courses (e.g. Cosmetology, Principles of Information Technology, Concepts of Engineering and Technology, etc.).
Support for implementation
The researchers hired and trained five reading interventionists to implement RIA. In both years, interventionists received 40 hours of training, which focused on elements of effective instruction and implementation. If needed, an additional 8-16 hours of training were provided at the end of Phase I. Two researchers provided limited coaching through in-person and audio observations. Researchers also held biweekly phone conferences with interventionists to discuss student progress and, if necessary, adjust instruction.