A major research project set to kick off next year will compare the effectiveness of remedial programs for struggling readers in the 3rd and 5th grades.
The privately financed study, unveiled here last month at a meeting for foundation executives, will follow the progress of more than 4,300 students over three years. That will make it one of the largest studies to look at the impact of specific reading interventions for youngsters in the later elementary grades.
“The study will provide scientifically valid comparisons of the effectiveness among major interventions currently in use,” said Joseph K. Torgesen, a professor of psychology and the director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. Mr. Torgesen will be the principal investigator on the project.
“This potentially can be looked upon, if it succeeds, as a landmark study,” he said.
Mr. Torgesen has teamed up with other prominent researchers: David E. Myers of Mathematica Policy Research Inc. in Princeton, N.J., and George Bohrnstedt of the Washington-based American Institutes for Research.
Researchers will track the academic fortunes of children, randomly selected from six communities around the country, to determine which of six commercial reading programs are effective in closing the achievement gap between struggling readers and their peers.
The researchers will ask publishers to submit programs that already have some evidence of success and will ensure that the techniques selected are discernibly different from one another in their approaches to teaching reading.
More than 500 children will participate in each of the selected programs, which will be taught for 70 minutes each school day for up to six months. The researchers will also monitor a control group of more than 1,000 students who, while they may get help with reading, will not undergo the selected interventions.
Some experts praised the effort, not only for its large scale and rigorous design, but also as a model of how the private sector can bolster government research initiatives. The study, called Power4Kids, is being underwritten in part by the Haan Foundation for Children, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to finding solutions to educational problems.
“If we are going to determine what is scientifically proven to work, we are going to require substantially more research, and more than we can do in the federal government,” said G. Reid Lyon, director of the child-development and -behavior branch of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, which has financed reading research. “It will complement what we’re doing at NICHD.”
But Timothy Shanahan, a researcher and a member of the National Reading Panel, which reviewed research in the field and issued an influential report in 2000, cautioned that while the design of the upcoming study seems solid, it may not be as useful as researchers hope.
“I guarantee any program out there today is going to be redesigned by the time results come out,” he said. “But you can possibly pull out lots of useful information about the specific features of the programs.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as Study to Compare Six Reading- Intervention Strategies