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FY Awards

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Scaling Up Peer Assisted Learning Strategies to Strengthen Reading Achievement

Year: 2004
Name of Institution:
Vanderbilt University
Goal: Scale-Up Evaluations
Principal Investigator:
Fuchs, Douglas
Award Amount: $5,618,237
Award Period: 5 years
Award Number: R305G040104


Co-Principal Investigators: Kristen McMaster, University of Minnesota
Laura Saenz, University of Texas, Pan-American

Purpose: Students' reading performance varies greatly within classrooms, straining the capacity of conventional instruction, which targets the skills of a few students near the middle of the class. What's required is instructional differentiation. In randomized controlled field trials, Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, or PALS, has been shown to increase instructional differentiation and reading achievement. The purpose of this project is to study how a feasible and demonstrably effective reading practice can be scaled up and to identify the variables associated with successful scaling.

We (a) determine whether and, if so with what levels of support, PALS can be implemented and sustained, (b) examine whether, when implemented with support levels that schools can realistically deliver, PALS improves reading outcomes, (c) explore how fidelity mediates achievement and identify the minimum set of PALS features associated with positive student outcomes; (d) investigate how teacher characteristics, perceptions of school climate, and Title 1 status mediate PALS implementation and sustainability, (e) conduct representative case studies to describe implementation and sustainability factors in ways that reach multiple audiences, and (g) identify the costs associated with scaling.

Population: The study is conducted at 2 grade levels (kindergarten, 4th grade) at 3 sites (Nashville, Minneapolis, South Texas). Nashville's schools comprise 37% Caucasian, 42% African American, 18% Hispanic and 3% other students, with mixed SES. Minneapolis serves a mixed SES population with 26% Caucasian, 15% Asian American, 45% African American, 11% Hispanic, and 4% Native American. In several small districts in South Texas, the school population is overwhelmingly Hispanic, Spanish speaking, and poor. At each of our 3 sites, the sample is constituted in 50% Title 1 and 50% non-Title 1 schools.

Intervention: Following are our 4 levels of support to promote scaling: (a) no-PALS; (b) expert trains PALS teachers in 1-day workshop; (c) expert trains PALS teachers and trains mentors to provide teacher support; and (d) expert trains PALS teachers, trains mentors, and meets regularly with mentors. Some teachers will also get "booster" training.

Research Design and Methods: Within schools, we randomly assign 624 teachers across 4 years to 4 levels of support for 1st-year implementation; then stratifying by 1st-year condition, we randomly assign 2nd-year teachers to 2 sustainability conditions. We examine effects on 1st-year fidelity and student achievement and on subsequent fidelity of implementation for up to 4 years, using hierarchical linear modeling to assess the contribution of teacher variables to implementation fidelity and students achievement, and to assess the contribution of fidelity on achievement. In Year 5, we continue to collect data on sustainability while conducting case studies.

Project Website:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Kearns, D.M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K.L., Senz, L., Fuchs, L.S., Yen, L., ... and Smith, T.M. (2010). Factors Contributing to Teachers' Sustained Use of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3 (4), 315–342.

Lemons, C.J., Fuchs, D., Gilbert, J.K., and Fuchs, L.S. (2014). Evidence-Based Practices in a Changing World Reconsidering the Counterfactual in Education Research. Educational Researcher, 43 (5): 242–252.

McMaster, K.L., Han, I., Coolong-Chaffin, M., and Fuchs, D. (2013). Promoting Teachers' Use of Scientifically Based Instruction: A Comparison of University Versus District Support. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3): 303–330.

McMaster, K.L., Kung, H., Han, I., and Cao, M. (2008). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: A 'Tier 1' Approach to Promoting English Learners' Response to Intervention. Exceptional Children, 74(2): 194–214.

Petursdottir, A.-L., McMaster, K., McComas, J.J., Bradfield, T., Braganza, V., Koch-McDonald, J., Rodriguez, R., and Scharf, H. (2009). Brief Experimental Analysis of Early Reading Interventions. Journal of School Psychology, 47(4): 215–243.

Rafdal, B.H., McMaster, K.L., McConnell, S.R., Fuchs, D., and Fuchs, L.S. (2011). The Effectiveness of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 77 (3), 299–316.

Saenz, L., McMaster, K., Fuchs, D., and Fuchs, L.S. (2007). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies in Reading for Students With Different Learning Needs. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 6(3): 395–410.

Stein, M.L., Berends, M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K., Senz, L., Loulee Y., Fuchs, L.S., and Compton, D.L. (2008). Scaling-Up an Early Reading Program: Relationships Among Teacher Support, Fidelity of Implementation, and Student Performance Across Different Sites and Years. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(4): 368–388.