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THE VALUE OF ENHANCED READING OPPORTUNITIES IN HIGH SCHOOLS: Report Finds Supplemental Reading Programs Can Improve High School Students’ Test Scores

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"The fact that these programs did produce an effect suggests some promise."

Supplemental reading programs have a statistically significant impact on improving student test scores in reading comprehension, according to early findings from the Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study. The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Study: Early Impact and Implementation Findings evaluates the effects of supplemental reading programs that are being implemented as part of small learning communities in thirty-four high schools from ten school districts across the country. MDRC, a nonprofit education and social policy research organization, conducted the study in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and Survey Research Management under oversight by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

“The fact that these programs did produce an effect suggests some promise,” James J. Kemple, the director of K-12 education policy for MDRC, told Education Week. “But the fact that three quarters of students would still be eligible for the programs at the end of the year also suggests there’s a long way to go.”

The two programs in the study, Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy, which was designed by WestEd, and Xtreme Reading, created by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, were selected from a pool of seventeen applicants by a national panel of adolescent literacy experts. Both programs are yearlong courses that replace a ninth-grade elective class and are offered in addition to students’ regular English language arts classes. They are targeted to students who read two to five years below grade level when they enter high school. According to the study, both programs “strive to help ninth-grade students adopt the strategies and routines used by proficient readers, improve their comprehension skills, and be motivated to read more and to enjoy reading.” The ultimate goal of both programs is to improve students’ academic performance during high school and to keep them on course toward graduation.

During the first year of the study, the participating high schools identified an average of 85 ninth-grade students who read between the fourth- and seventh-grade levels. Approximately 55 percent of these students were randomly enrolled in the ERO class while the remaining students took a regularly scheduled elective class.

At the beginning of the school year, the average student in the study sample read at a grade-level equivalent of 5.1. At the end of the year, students assigned to one of the supplemental reading courses were reading at a grade-level equivalent of 6.1, compared to 5.9 for students in the control group. However, even with that improvement in reading comprehension, 76 percent of the students in the supplemental reading program were still reading at two or more years below grade level at the end of their ninth grade year.

As the report notes, there were some problems with implementing the programs in some school districts that could have affected the results. For example, the average start date for ERO classes was six weeks into the school year. In the fifteen schools where the ERO programs began no later than six weeks after the start of school and implementation was moderately or well aligned with the program model, impacts on reading comprehension were larger than in the nineteen schools where at least one of these conditions was not met.

This report is the first of three from the study. The next report, which is scheduled to be released in late 2008, will offer findings for a second year of program implementation and a second group of ninth-grade students. The final report, due in 2009, will examine the impact of the supplemental reading programs for both groups of ninth graders on their performance in core academic classes, their grade-to-grade promotion rates, and their performance on high-stakes state assessments.

The complete report is available at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/471/full.pdf.

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