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)

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Using teaching assistants to improve language skills and reading

Two new evaluations from the Education Endowment Foundation in England have found that two interventions using teaching assistants (TAs) have positive effects.

REACH is a targeted reading support programme designed to improve the reading accuracy and comprehension of students with reading difficulties in Years 7 and 8. It is delivered by specially trained TAs. The evaluation tested two interventions – one based on the original Reading Intervention developed by the University of York, and the other with supplementary material on language comprehension. The evaluation was carried out in 21 schools around Leeds, with 202 students (70 and 69 receiving each intervention; 63 control). Results showed a positive effect on reading skills for both the Reading Intervention (+0.33) and the Reading Intervention with additional material on language comprehension (+0.51). The evaluations did not provide evidence that the interventions improved reading comprehension in particular, as opposed to other skills such as word recognition.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is designed to improve the spoken language ability of children during the transition between nursery and primary school. It is targeted at children with poor language skills, who receive 20 or 30 weeks of sessions focused on listening, narrative, and vocabulary skills. The evaluation is delivered by TAs and nursery staff. The evaluation was carried out in 34 schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South-East, with 350 children participating (114 received the 30-week treatment, 121 the 20-week treatment, and 115 in the control group). Both interventions had a positive effect on language skills (+0.27 for the 30-week and +0.16 for the 20-week). However, there was no reliable evidence that it had a positive effect on children’s word-literacy skills.

Source: REACH and Nuffield Early Language Intervention (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.

New approach for predicting reading problems

A new article in PLoS Biology describes research into a neurophysiological marker that might identify children likely to struggle when they begin to read.

According to the article, it has long been argued that reading skills are linked to the processing of rapid auditory information, meaning that struggling readers have particular problems with auditory temporal processing. Although neural markers of reading skills have been identified in school-aged children and adults, it was not known whether these markers are present in pre-reading children.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments with 112 children aged 3–14. They measured the precision of the neural coding of consonants in noise, and found that pre-reading children (age 4) with stronger neural processing had superior early literacy skills; one year later they were also stronger emerging readers. When the same neural coding measure was used with a cohort of older children, it predicted these children’s literacy achievement, and could also reliably predict which of the children had received a diagnosis of a reading impairment.

The authors conclude that their findings suggest that neural processing of consonants in noise is fundamental for language and reading development, and this may allow the early identification of children at risk of language learning problems.

Source: Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy (2015), PLoS Biology.

Reading partners

A new policy brief from MDRC summarises the early results of an evaluation of the Reading Partners one-to-one volunteer reading programme, and finds positive impacts.

The programme serves more than 7,000 struggling readers in primary schools in deprived areas of several US states. Tutors do not need to have any experience, but are given training and ongoing support. Reading Partners received $7 million in investments and grants to expand to more schools throughout the US, and for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme.

This evaluation took place during the 2012-2013 school year in 19 schools in three states, and involved 1,265 pupils. Positive impacts were found on three different assessments of reading proficiency which measured reading comprehension, fluency, and the ability to read sight-words efficiently. The authors say that these encouraging results demonstrate that Reading Partners, when delivered on a large scale and implemented with fidelity, can be an effective tool for improving reading proficiency.

Source: Reading Partners: The Implementation and Effectiveness of a One-on-One Tutoring Program Delivered by Community Volunteers (2014), MDRC.

Teaching reading to children with below average IQs

A new article in Exceptional Children describes a randomised controlled trial which aimed to investigate the effectiveness of a scientifically based reading programme for pupils with below average IQs, including children with a disability.

The schools selected for the US study had a relatively large number of pupils with IQ scores between 40 and 80. Children began their involvement when they were in early elementary school, and participated for up to four years. They were randomly assigned within their school and their IQ range (moderate=40–55, mild=56–69, and borderline=70–80) to either an intervention group (n=76), or control group (n=65).

Pupils in the intervention group received the programme daily for approximately 40 to 50 minutes in small groups of between one and four, provided by highly trained intervention teachers. The programme was based on Early Interventions in Reading, a systematic and explicit comprehensive reading intervention previously validated with struggling readers. However, as many children did not have the prerequisite skills to benefit, additional lessons were also developed. The control pupils received normal teaching.

The children were tested when they entered the study and then at the end of each academic year. On average, pupils in the treatment group made significantly greater progress on nearly all language and literacy measures than those in the control group. The authors conclude that the results demonstrate the ability of children with low IQs, including those with mild to moderate disabilities, to learn basic reading skills when provided with appropriate, comprehensive teaching for an extended period of time.

Source: Is Scientifically Based Reading Instruction Effective for Students With Below-Average IQs? (2014), Exceptional Children, (80)3.