Innovation Update: The Kind of Good Education News You've Been Dying to Hear All Year!

Reading Recovery, a literacy intervention program recently backed by the Department of Education, shows signs of great success.

Reading Recovery

According to a new study the Reading Recovery program performed twice as well as the basic first-grade literacy curriculum. (Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

The storied success of the Reading Recovery literacy intervention program for first graders encouraged the U.S. Department of Education to greatly expand the program in 2010. Now the first study results since that expansion are in, and it’s not just good news; it's great news.

A new independent study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of the i3 Scale-up of Reading Recovery: Year One Report, 2011–12, shows that students who participated in the program progressed nearly two months faster than peers who did not participate. Additionally, the students gained nearly 30 percent more learning during the year than the average first grader nationally.

"I was really surprised at the size of the average treatment effect; it was many times larger than the impact of any other interventions I've studied," Henry May, a senior researcher and the study's lead evaluator, told Education Week.

In this first study of three, researchers with University of Delaware's Center for Research in Education and Social Policy and a team from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education randomly picked 866 first graders from 147 schools across the country who performed in the lowest 15 to 20 percent of readers in their grade. Each of these students received either normal reading instruction or Reading Recovery.

By the middle of the school year, students in the Reading Recovery program performed on average at the 36th percentile in reading on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. That’s twice as good as the performance of the other group.

“The first-year results of this evaluation are strong and compelling, suggesting that Reading Recovery offers a promising intervention for struggling readers,” says Jerusha Conner, an education professor at Villanova University. “Especially encouraging are the high rates of implementation fidelity, which signal that teachers are receiving effective training and supportkey but often overlooked components of any reform plan or curricular intervention.”

The program is intended as a “short-term early intervention designed to help the lowest-achieving readers in first grade reach average levels of classroom performance in literacy.” Students meet individually with a trained Reading Recovery teacher every school day for 30-minute lessons over 12 to 20 weeks. Teachers focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehensionthe critical elements of literacy and reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel.

Reading Recovery was developed in the 1970s in New Zealand and was brought to the United States in 1984 by professors at Ohio State University. At its peak in 2000 and 2001, the program served 152,000 students. Then it fell victim to the ill-fated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, wherein a program called Reading First, fated to bureaucratic troubles, took money away from Reading Recovery. 

By 2010, the U.S. Department of Education, bolstered by an additional $10.1 million from private sources, decided to increase Reading Recovery across the nation. The program received $43.6 million from the first round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to train 3,690 new teachers and 15 new teacher leaders.

The competitive grant was established as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 “to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement.” So far, 92 projects have been awarded money.

Thanks to the i3 investment, Reading Recovery is now in more than 2,000 schools and provides literacy assistance to more than 88,000 students.

Since 1984, more than 1.4 million students have been served nationwide. The program operates in most U.S. states, as well as in the Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

“The research on early intervention is clear,” Dr. Linda Dorn, a professor at the University of Arkansas' Center for Literacy in Little Rock, says. “It is much easier, and more cost effective, to prevent reading failure than to deal with the consequences of illiteracy.”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by Participant Media, TakePart's parent company, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.

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