4 interventions to improve reading comprehension found ineffective in large federal study of 5th graders

Magnifying glass over the stack of booksFour interventions to improve reading comprehension were found to be ineffective in a large federal study of 5th-graders, emphasizing the challenges educators face in trying to improve reading comprehension in content areas for older students.

In fact, comprehension scores of students in schools using the interventions, especially schools using Reading for Knowledge, were lower than for students serving as controls, the study reports.

The interventions tested in the large-scale randomized study were: Project CRISS, developed by Creating Independence Through Student-Owned Strategies; Read About, produced by Scholastic Inc.; Read for Real, created by Chapman University and Zaner-Bloser; and Reading for Knowledge, created by the Success for All Foundation.

“Instructional approaches for improving comprehension are not as well developed as those for decoding and fluency,” the report says. “Although multiple techniques for direct instruction of comprehension in narrative text have been well demonstrated in small studies, there is not as much evidence on teaching reading comprehension within content areas.”

The study comprised 6,350 5th-grade students and 268 teachers in 10 urban districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students (63% were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch compared to 40% of students nationally). The 89 schools in the study were randomly assigned to schools using one of the reading curricula or to a control group.

The research was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., of Princeton, N.J., for the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The assessments used for the study were the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation, or GRADE, and reading-comprehension tests of science and social studies as well as composite test scores.

Reading comprehension test scores for students in classrooms that used interventions were also lower than controls for certain subgroups of students and teachers, the report says. These included students with above-average baseline fluency levels, students with baseline comprehension levels in the bottom third of the sample, students of teachers with more than 5 years of teaching experience and students attending schools with an above-average concentration of students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch.

Teachers were trained to use the curricula, and classroom observation data showed that teachers implemented 55 to 78% of the behaviors deemed important by the developers.

Below are brief descriptions of the 4 reading comprehension programs:

Project CRISS— Project CRISS focuses on 5 keys to learning–background knowledge, purpose setting, author’s craft active learning, and metacognition. The program is designed to be used each day during language arts, science, or social studies periods.

ReadAbout— Students use a computer program to look for author’s purpose, main idea, cause and effect and to practice other reading comprehension skills such as comparing and contrasting, summarizing, and making inferences. Students apply what they have learned to a selection of science and social studies trade books.

Read for Real— Teachers work with a 6-volume set of books to teach strategies students can use before, during, and after reading (such as previewing, activating prior knowledge, setting a purpose, main idea, graphic organizers, and text structures). Each unit includes vocabulary, fluency, and writing activities.

Reading for Knowledge— This intervention makes extensive use of cooperative learning strategies and a process called SQRRRL (Survey, Question, Read, Restate, Review, Learn).

“Effectiveness of Selected Supplemental Reading Comprehension Interventions: Impacts on a First Cohort of Fifth-Grade Students,” National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, Susanne James-Burdumy et al., May 2009.

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