Miami Study Critiques ‘Success for All’

By Debra Viadero — January 27, 1999 2 min read

Success for All, one of the most highly praised models for turning around entire schools, got mediocre grades in an independent evaluation of the program conducted by Miami-Dade County school officials.

The nation’s fourth-largest district began formally using the program in 48 schools four years ago in an effort to improve reading in its worst-performing elementary schools. The program, developed by Johns Hopkins University researchers Robert E. Slavin and Nancy A. Madden, is built around the principle that every student should read skillfully by the end of 3rd grade.

Trying to gauge whether the program was working, district researchers examined changes in reading scores from 1996 to 1997 in 18 schools. Of that group, nine schools were using Success for All--three of them in combination with a technology program devised by Computer Curriculum Corp. and three in tandem with a computer program marketed by Jostens Corp.

The remaining nine schools, all of which had similar proportions of poor students and non-native English-speakers, were using a variety of methods for teaching reading, including another national program called SRA /Reading Mastery.

By the spring of 1997, the researchers found, the reading scores of students in the Success for All schools were no higher than those for the comparison schools. Likewise, students learning to speak English in those schools made no more learning gains than their counterparts elsewhere.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an indictment of Success for All,” said Joe H. Mathos, the district’s deputy superintendent for instruction. “It’s something we need to keep a close look at.”

Implementation Questioned

The 347,000-student Miami-Dade district adopted Success for All as part of Operation Safety Net, an effort launched by its previous superintendent, Octavio Visiedo. In its peak year of operation, the program cost the district $14.5 million--a price tag that also included equipment for the computer-based programs implemented at the same time. Mr. Mathos said the district would continue to monitor Success for All and other reading efforts for at least two more years.

The less-than-stellar results were no surprise to the program’s developer. “We’ve had indications that we were not getting the results that we should have from the program there, and we know pretty well why,” Mr. Slavin said last week.

One reason, he said, is that the program was poorly implemented at many Miami-Dade schools. Some schools, for example, never received enough tutors. In others, the faculty did not get a chance to vote on whether they wanted the program until it was well under way. The program’s design calls for 80 percent of the faculty to buy in to it before it is adopted.

Success for All, which is now being used in more than 1,100 schools nationwide, was chosen by Miami-Dade officials because of its successful track record.

But the program’s success has also begun to attract critics, who note that most of the studies on it were done by Mr. Slavin and his colleagues. Two recent, independent analyses have shown slightly more mixed results.

But Success for All is also succeeding in other urban districts that, like Miami, are also trying to implement it on a large scale. Program students in Memphis, Tenn., for example, are outperforming their counterparts in demographically matched schools.

A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 1999 edition of Education Week as Miami Study Critiques ‘Success for All’