Citation: Torgesen, Joseph, David Myers, Allen Schirm, Elizabeth Stuart, Sonya Vartivarian, Wendy Mansfield, Fran Stancavage, Donna Durno, Rosanne Javorsky, and Cinthia Haan. National Assessment of Title I Interim Report to Congress: Volume II: Closing the Reading Gap, First Year Findings from a Randomized Trial of Four Reading Interventions for Striving Readers. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2006.
Background: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, nearly 4 in 10 fourth graders read below the basic level. These literacy problems get worse as students advance through school and are exposed to progressively more complex concepts and courses.
Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of four remedial reading programs in improving the reading skills of 3 rd and 5 th graders, whether the impacts of the programs vary across students with different baseline characteristics, and to what extent can this instruction close the reading gap and bring struggling readers within the normal range—relative to the instruction normally provided by their schools.
Setting: Elementary schools in 27 districts of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit outside Pittsburgh, PA during the 2003-04 school year.
Population/Sample/Subjects: Within each of 50 schools, 3 rd and 5 th grade students were identified as struggling readers by their teachers. These students were tested and were eligible for the study if they scored at or below the 30 th percentile on a word-level reading test and at or above the 5 th percentile on a vocabulary test. The final sample contains a total of 742 students. There are 335 3 rd graders—208 treatment and 127 control students. There are 407 5 th graders—228 treatment and 179 control students.
Intervention: Four existing programs: Spell Read P.A.T., Corrective Reading, Wilson Reading, and Failure Free Reading. Corrective Reading and Wilson Reading were modified to focus only on word-level skills. Spell Read P.A.T. and Failure Free Reading were intended to focus equally on word-level skills and reading comprehension/vocabulary. Teachers received 70 hours of professional development and support during the year. Instruction was delivered in small groups of 3 students, 5 days a week, for a total of 90 hours.
Research Design: Randomized controlled field trial in which 50 schools were randomly assigned to four interventions. Teachers hired by the study were also randomly assigned to the four interventions. Students within each school were randomly assigned to the intervention or to the instruction normally provided by their schools.
Control or Comparison Condition: Control students received the classroom and individual instruction that would normally be provided by their schools.
Data Collection and Analysis: Seven measures of reading skill were administered at the beginning and end of the school year to assess student progress: Word Attack, Word Identification, and Passage Comprehension (Woodcock Reading Mastery Test); Phonemic Decoding Efficiency and Sight Word Efficiency (Test of Word Reading Efficiency); Oral Reading Fluency (Edformation); and Passage Comprehension (Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation). The impact of each of the four interventions is the difference between average treatment and control group outcomes.
Findings: After one year of instruction, there were significant impacts on phonemic decoding, word reading accuracy and fluency, and comprehension for 3 rd graders, but not for 5 th graders. For students in one of the reading programs, the gap in achievement between struggling readers and average readers was reduced by about two-thirds for 3 rd graders.
Conclusions: Reading skills of 3 rd graders can be significantly improved through instruction in word-level skills, but not the reading skills of 5 th graders.