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Students' Reading Skills Found to Improve Through Inexpensive Tutoring Program

By guest blogger Jacob Bell

Reading Partners, a one-on-one literacy program created In 1999 by three community leaders in Menlo Park, Calif., provides an inexpensive model for boosting children's reading skills, a new evaluation has concluded.

In the study, released last week, the education and social policy research group MDRC analyzed the reading skills of 1,200 2nd-5th graders in 19 schools across three states to see how Reading Partners affected their reading proficiency.

The evaluation showed that after one year of implementation, the program significantly boosted students' reading comprehension, fluency, and sight-word reading—three measures of reading proficiency—as measured by national tests.

 Moreover, the cost for schools to implement the program was less than half of the average cost of other supplemental reading services.

Reading Partners works by developing reading centers in participant schools. These centers are staffed with one full-time employee and about 40 to 100 community volunteers who spend 90 minutes each week tutoring students.

The program's  low cost to schools—about $710 per student—stems from this use of community volunteers, as well as in-kind contributions from the school such as space and faculty time. MDRC also found that it cost schools, on average, $1,710 per student to utilize other forms of reading services like support from reading specialists, homework help, and computer-based learning programs.

MDRC tested the effectiveness of Reading Partners by comparing students in the program to a control group of students, 65 percent of whom received some other form of reading services. The results demonstrated that students in the program achieved roughly two more months of literacy growth than students in the control group.

The study also found that the program helped an array of students. Performance improvements spanned students who were in different grades, spoke different native languages, and who were of different genders and baseline reading levels.

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