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Effective Programs for Struggling Readers: A Best Evidence Synthesis

Which elementary reading approaches have been proven to help struggling readers to succeed? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on six types of programs designed to improve the reading achievement of children having difficulty in learning to read:

  • One-to-One Tutoring by Teachers (TT) such as Reading Recovery, Auditory Discrimination in Depth, Early Steps/Howard Street Tutoring, and Targeted Reading Intervention.
  • One-to-One Tutoring by Paraprofessionals and Volunteers (T-Para/Volunteers) such as Sound Partners, SMART, and Book Buddies.
  • Small Group Tutorials (SGT) such as Corrective Reading, Quick Reads, Voyager Passport, and PHAST Reading.
  • Classroom Instructional Process Approaches (CIP): Effects for low achievers were reported for programs such as Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition, PALS, Direct Instruction, and Project Read.
  • Classroom Instructional Process Programs with Tutoring (CIP+TT): Effects for low achievers were reported for Success for All.
  • Instructional Technology (IT): Effects for low achievers were reported for programs such as Jostens/Compass Learning, Fast ForWord, and Lexia.

Conclusions

1. One-to-one tutoring works. Teachers are more effective as tutors than paraprofessionals or volunteers, and an emphasis on phonics greatly improves tutoring outcomes.

2. Although one-to-one phonetic tutoring for first graders is highly effective, effects last into the upper elementary grades only if classroom interventions continue past first grade.

3. Small group tutorials can be effective, but are not as effective as one-to-one instruction by teachers or paraprofessionals.

4. Classroom instructional process approaches, especially cooperative learning and structured phonetic models, have strong effects for low achievers (as well as other students).

5. Traditional computer-assisted instruction programs have little impact on reading.

These findings support the idea, central to current response-to-intervention models, that the best approach for struggling readers is to provide high-quality instruction in the first place, followed up with intensive instruction to the hopefully small number of students who continue to have difficulties despite high-quality classroom instruction. However, the findings point to a particular focus on Tier 1 (regular classroom teaching), and on the use of one-to-one rather than small group instruction for students with the most serious difficulties. The findings support the idea that high quality intervention over many years is needed for lasting impacts, in contrast to the expectation that brief, intensive tutoring will put struggling readers permanently on track. Finally, the findings are consistent with those of reviews of classroom instructional programs for elementary reading, which found more positive effects of programs that provide extensive professional development to teachers in proven models than they did for programs that provide technology, alternative curricula, or other interventions that do not change daily teaching practices.

There are many proven and promising approaches for struggling readers. It is no longer responsible to do less than what we know how to do to be able to greatly reduce the numbers of children who fail to learn to read adequately. We have both effective and cost-effective tools at hand. While more research is always needed, we already know enough to make a substantial difference in the reading performance of at-risk children.

Program Ratings

The following link provides currently available programs, grouped by strength of evidence of effectiveness. The type for each program corresponds to the categories above (e.g., CIP = Classroom Instructional Process Approaches).

http://www.bestevidence.org/word/strug_read_Jul_07_2011_sum.pdf