What is the evidence to support reading interventions?

A review from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in the US assesses the evidence base supporting reading interventions in grades 1–3 (Years 2–4 in the UK) to improve reading outcomes for pupils struggling with typical classroom reading lessons.

The findings are based on studies of 20 interventions conducted in the US that Russell Gersten and colleagues identified that met the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards. Of these 20 interventions, 19 produced positive or potentially positive effects in at least one area of reading. Interventions in grade 1 (Year 2) produced lower effects in reading comprehension (+0.39) than in word and pseudo-word reading (+0.45), but higher effects than in passage reading fluency (+0.23). For grade 2 and 3 (Years 3 and 4) interventions, the weighted mean effects in reading comprehension (+0.33) were lower than those for both word and pseudo-word reading (+0.46) and passage reading fluency (+0.37). The strongest and most consistent effects were found in word and pseudo-word reading for all three grades.

Although the evidence supports the efficacy of reading interventions, the review points out that the majority of interventions evaluated are interventions for individual pupils, as opposed to small-group interventions which are more typical in school settings. In addition, most of the interventions include high levels of ongoing support for teachers.

Source: What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3? (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast (REL 2017–271)

Academic interventions for low-SES pupils

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Review of Education Research looks at effective academic interventions for pupils with low socio-economic status (SES).

Jens Dietrichson and colleagues included studies that used a treatment–control group design, were performed in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and EU countries and measured achievement with standardised tests in maths or reading. The analysis included 101 studies performed between 2000 and 2014, 76% of which were randomised controlled trials.

Positive effect sizes (ES) were reported for many of the interventions. Comparatively large and robust average effect sizes were found for interventions that involved tutoring (ES = +0.36), feedback and progress monitoring (ES = +0.32) and co-operative learning (ES = +0.22). The report points out that, although these effect sizes are not large enough to close the gap between high- and low-SES pupils, they represent a substantial reduction of that gap if targeted towards low-SES students.

Source: Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: a systematic review and meta-analysis (January 2017), Review of Educational Research

Cross-age peer tutoring benefits for EAL pupils and native English speakers

Research suggests that peer tutoring helps reading achievement, especially for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). Studies of cross-age peer tutoring, where older pupils tutor younger pupils, have shown positive effects on vocabulary and comprehension. Given that EAL pupils often lag behind their non-EAL peers in reading, University of Maryland’s Rebecca Silverman and colleagues conducted the first study to examine whether the benefits of cross-age peer tutoring are equivalent for EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils.

For the study, researchers used a “reading buddies” design, pairing kindergarten pupils (Year 1 in the UK) with fourth grade (Year 5) pupils to discuss books they’d read about STEM-related topics. The programme incorporated strategies demonstrated to be effective with EAL pupils, such as explicit instruction about specific word meaning and using multi-modalities to demonstrate word learning and comprehension. Following development and field testing, the researchers evaluated the effects of the final programme, called the MTS Buddies Program, in 24 classrooms with high EAL populations. The sample included 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that used the MTS Buddies Program and 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that continued with business as usual.

All pupils were tested on vocabulary and comprehension using both standardised and researcher-made tests before and after receiving the 14-week intervention. Results showed benefits for vocabulary learning in kindergarten (Year 1) and fourth grade (Year 5) and also reading comprehension and strategy use for the fourth grade pupils. Both EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils demonstrated gains. Although expressive vocabulary scores were lower for EALs than non-EALs, the overall positive effects indicate that the MTS Buddies Program could be helpful for all pupils’ vocabulary learning, regardless of English proficiency.

Source: Effects of a cross-age peer learning program on the vocabulary and comprehension of English learners and non-English learners in elementary school (March 2017), The Elementary School Journal

Engaging dads in a parenting intervention improved outcomes

A parenting programme in which fathers engage with their children through reading was found to boost the fathers’ parenting skills while also improving the child’s school readiness and behaviour, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

The randomised controlled trial, conducted by Anil Chacko and colleagues, evaluated the effects of Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers, an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their pre-school children. For the study, 126 low-income fathers – the majority of whom spoke Spanish – and their children were recruited across three Head Start centres in New York City. The intervention included eight weekly sessions, each lasting 90 minutes. The effects of the programme on parenting skills, child behaviour and language, and outcomes for fathers including stress and depression were measured before and immediately after participation in the programme. Measures included observations by the researchers using a behavioural coding system that measures the quality of parent-child social interactions, reports from the fathers and standardised assessments of child language.

The study found that parenting behaviours, child behaviours and the language development of the children improved. Moderate effect sizes were found for observed positive parenting (+0.63) and for observed child problem behaviour (+0.34). Using the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-4) to measure language outcomes, effect sizes of +0.52 were reported for auditory comprehension and +0.51 for expressive language. Parental stress and depression effect sizes were insignificant. Overall, the findings suggest more than a 30% improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.

Source: Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: a randomized controlled trial (January 2017), Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

Predicting reading ability from DNA analysis

Researchers from King’s College London have used a genetic scoring technique to predict reading performance throughout school years from DNA alone.

Saskia Selzam and colleagues calculated genetic scores for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational achievement. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of 7 and 14.

The report, published in Scientific Studies of Reading, found there was a correlation between children’s DNA and their reading ability. Genetic scores were found to explain up to five percent of the differences between children in their reading ability. The children with the highest and lowest genetic scores had reading abilities almost two years apart. This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socioeconomic status.

The researchers note that although five percent may seem a relatively small amount, it is substantial compared to other results related to reading. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than one percent of the differences between children in reading ability. The use of genetic scoring in education as an early screening tool to help identify those at particular genetic risk of reading problems, they propose, could lead to tailored intervention and prevention according to an individual child’s needs.

Source: Genome-wide polygenic scores predict reading performance throughout the school years (March 2017), Scientific Studies of Reading

Trends in early literacy

The transition from kindergarten to first grade (Year 1 to Year 2 in the UK) is considered to be a critical period for children’s academic and social development. Expectation about children’s early literacy learning has risen over time, but has their achievement – and how?

Jerome V D’Agostino and Emily Rodgers analysed achievement data obtained from a US database for Reading Recovery (a literacy intervention for first grade pupils) for more than 364,000 children entering first grade in the same schools. From this data they created a literacy profile for pupils at entry to the first grade over a 12-year period, beginning in the 2002–03 school year.

Their research, published in Educational Researcher, found that overall, reading for all pupils in the first grade improved measurably between 2002 and 2013. Literacy scores on entry increased over time. The effect size change in achievement gaps narrowed (-0.10) on basic skills like letter identification, but widened on advanced skills like text reading level (+0.08) over 12 years.

Source: Literacy achievement trends at entry to first grade (March 2017), Educational Researcher, Vol 46, Issue 2.