A final evaluation of the federal Enhanced Reading Opportunities program suggests that extra, explicit reading classes can boost reading skills for struggling adolescents, but the short-lived improvements aren’t enough to catch up students who are years behind the curve.
For the study, which was financed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, researchers from MDRC, Inc. of New York City tracked 6,000 9th grade students in 34 high schools who read at least two years below grade level. The students were randomly assigned to attend one of two supplemental reading programs—Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy, developed by San Francisco-based WestEd researchers, and Xtreme Reading, a brainchild of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning in Lawrence—or a scheduled elective course. At the end of a full year of classes, all three groups took a standardized reading comprehension test.
Researchers found students in the demonstration programs moved from the 23rd to the 25th percentile in reading during the year, representing about two months of growth more than their peers in the control group. In addition, the demonstration-group students had a 13 percent higher average GPA and performed better than the control group on state assessments of both reading and math during the program year. Demonstration participants also accumulated more credits toward graduation than their peers.
More participating students who started out on average four or five years behind grade level in reading, though, and nearly four out of five of all participants still read two or more years below grade level after the first year. Their gains disappeared altogether the following year.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as Adolescent Literacy