School & District Management

Useful Reading Research Hard to Come By for What Works Clearinghouse

By Sarah D. Sparks — November 26, 2013 2 min read
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Building up a mountain of studies in support of an intervention doesn’t necessarily mean there’s much evidence behind it. After combing through more than 200 studies of two different reading-comprehension programs for students with difficulty in that area, the What Works Clearinghouse has not found a single one that meets its quality standards. In the end, reviewers in two separate reports conclude primarily that more (and presumably better) research is needed for both.

The first report looks at using the “reciprocal teaching” strategy to help students with disabilities but adequate word-decoding skills learn to comprehend better what they read. The teacher models reading-comprehension strategies aloud and then students practice summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and practicing what they read in small groups. None of the 54 studies released on the model between 1989 and 2013 met What Works’ criteria for either group or single-case research designs for a variety of reasons: Many didn’t include a comparison group, or were simply literature reviews or meta-analyses of other studies.

The second report evaluated the research support for Reading Mastery for Beginning Reading in kindergarten through 3rd grade, a part of SRA/McGraw-Hill’s Direct Instruction curriculum which is also used as a supplement or a stand-alone intervention for struggling readers. The program involves 35- to 45-minute sessions in which teachers model reading new material and guide students through practicing reading and applying what they have learned. The clearinghouse, which back in 2008 identified 50 studies of the program—none of which proved to be of adequate quality—had found another 106 studies since then. Unfortunately, this batch seems no more helpful: Studies contained no comparison groups, did not ensure the program was implemented as designed, bunched several interventions together, or had other problems.

These sorts of reports are discouraging, but they highlight the challenge educators and researchers increasingly will face as states move to implement next-generation literacy standards. The Common Core State Standards in particular have a sharper focus on building complex comprehension skills for students, and the dearth of clear, high-quality information on what works in reading comprehension instruction will make the new standards that much more difficult to implement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.