Marie-Andree Somers, William Corrin, Susan Sepanik, Terry Salinger, Jesse Levin, and Courtney Zmach with Edmond Wong, The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Study Final Report: The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade Readers (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, July 2010).

This whopping report asks a single, simple question: Can a supplemental reading class boost achievement for struggling adolescent readers? The answer? Yes, temporarily. Analysts randomly assigned roughly 5,600 students from thirty-four high schools to a control or a treatment group, which would use one of two supplemental reading programs (Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literary or Xtreme Reading), also known as “Enhanced Reading Opportunities” (ERO). Each of the EROs supplanted an elective course, which meant it took place in addition to the student’s regular English class, during the school day (not after school), and either every day for forty-five minutes or every other day for ninety minutes (for a total of 3.75 hours a week). With this intense intervention, students moved, over the course of ninth-grade, from the twenty-third to the twenty-fifth percentile nationally in reading comprehension. (That sounds minor but most reading interventions, especially when tested with the gold-standard methods employed here, have zero effect, so even a two percentile shift is worth noting—though reading in the twenty-fifth percentile is nothing to celebrate.) The ERO program also positively impacted students’ GPAs, the rate at which they earned course credits, and their scores on standardized English and math tests. But when the intervention stopped, so did the students’ reading progress. (In fact, students reverted back to their original scores and GPA levels.) We find, once again, that even a heavy but short-lived dose of intense remediation for struggling readers is no long-term solution to improving adolescent reading—no matter how much money is thrown at the initiative. (In this case, the per-student price tag was about $2,000 per kid.) Though the study is refreshing for its focus on improving high school reading performance (and pertinent in light of ED’s new Striving Readers program), in the end, the results leave much to be desired.

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