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Striving Readers Research Pilot Shows Progress

As federal lawmakers slash funding for the $250 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, continuing research from the program that inspired it is starting to show benefits for struggling adolescent readers.

The original Striving Readers research project, launched by the Bush administration in 2006 and now in the last year of a five-year grant cycle, evaluates the effectiveness of literacy interventions at eight sites nationwide for middle and high school students who read at least two years below grade level. The initial evaluations for the 2007-08 school year of the program produced mixed results; evaluators in five of the eight sites, including San Diego and Chicago, found students who participated in the programs did not improve significantly more than their peers who did not participate.

This time around, the evaluations focused on three years of implementation, specifically with two widely used literacy programs: Scholastic, Inc.'s Read 180, which includes an adaptive computer reading program and small-group stations, and xTreme Reading, developed by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, which includes collaborative professional development for teachers and differentiated instruction.

The year-four results are still mixed, but more promising. Three out of the four sites that used Read 180, Springfield/Chicopee in Massachusetts, Newark, N.J. and Ohio (where it is being used in seven youth detention centers), found that participants significantly improved in some aspect of reading—usually comprehension—by the third year of implementation. (The mid-South site found no significant effects) Of the two sites that used xTreme Reading, Portland and Springfield/Chicopee, Portland found significant effects for students who participated in the program, particularly for middle school students.

The previous lackluster results did not prevent Congress from approving the much broader Striving Readers comprehensive grants for $250 million in fiscal 2010; it remains to be seen whether new research results will have any effect on lawmakers' willingness to retrieve the comprehensive program in fiscal 2012. It was one of at least 11 education programs that were zeroed out for the rest of the current fiscal year in the stopgap budget bill President Obama signed into law this week.

I'll be digging into the preliminary results in more detail soon, and the final results are expected to be posted on the Department of Education's Web site this summer.

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