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Reading Recovery Boosts 1st Graders Reading, i3 Study Finds

By Liana Heitin. Originally posted at Curriculum Matters.

A new study of Reading Recovery, a 1-on-1 reading intervention program for 1st graders, found that the program had a significant positive impact on students' reading achievement.

The evaluation, conducted as part of a federal Investing in Innovation scale-up grant, analyzed reading performance for nearly 7,000 1st grade students at more than 1,000 schools over four years. Students were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, in which they received 30 minutes a day of 1-on-1 lessons taught by a trained Reading Recovery teacher, or a control group, in which they received their school's regular interventions. Students participated in either condition for 12 to 20 weeks. 

The researchers, from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for Research on Education and Social Policy at the University of Delaware, looked at student performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills' tests of reading comprehension and decoding, as well as an early-literacy screener used for Reading Recovery. 

They found that students in the treatment group significantly outperformed those in the control group. For total reading on the Iowa Test, the treatment group scored at the 36th percentile after the five-month period, while the treatment group scored at the 18th percentile. (All student participants were struggling readers to begin with.) The growth rate for Reading Recovery participants was 131 percent of the national average growth rate for 1st graders. 

Large Effect Size

The effect size was "among the largest for any intervention for early literacy that has been rigorously studied," said Philip Sirinides, a senior researcher at CPRE and a principal investor in the study. In fact, the report states that the effect size was 4.6 times larger than average for studies with comparable outcome measures.

The positive effects held up for students in rural schools and English-language learners—two subgroups that the i3 program focused on. 

The study also looked at longer-term impacts of the program, using a quasi-experimental design. The researchers found that, five months after students finished the Reading Recovery program at the end of 1st grade, significant positive impacts remained, though at a slightly reduced effect size.

The researchers also looked at whether the impact remained at the end of 3rd grade, using standardized test scores in reading. But because the sample was much smaller by then, "were not able to reach a definitive conclusion at all," said Abigail Gray, a senior research specialist at CPRE and also a co-lead on the study.

Cost as a Barrier

Teachers who administer the Reading Recovery program must complete an intensive, year-long professional-development program, as well as receive subsequent training and support while they are using it in their classroom. 

In total, the $45 million federal scale-up grant provided funding to train about 3,500 Reading Recovery teachers, who then provided intensive instruction to about 62,000 students. (About $5 million of this funding was used for the evaluation.) 

Many district and school leaders have said the cost of the Reading Recovery program is a barrier to implementation, as the study explains. In a section with case studies, the report notes that "hesitation to commit to Reading Recovery was generally presented in terms of a cost-benefit analysis; they feared that the per-pupil cost was disproportionate to the limited reach of the program (e.g., eight students per Reading Recovery teacher)." The cost per pupil on the grant was $134. 

Also, 1-on-1 interventions overall tend to have larger impacts than small- and whole-group interventions. And only about 10 percent of students in the control group for this study were receiving any 1-on-1 interventions, according to the researchers. The effect sizes are still quite large, said Gray, even given the differences in the kinds of interventions provided. 

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