Does it work?

Intensive Reading Recovery intervention helps first graders


10:34 a.m., Nov. 11, 2013--Studies show that most students who leave first grade reading below grade-level never catch up. To effectively address this, literacy interventions should be introduced in the early grades. 

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $45 million “Investing in Innovation” (i3) grant to fund the scale-up of Reading Recovery (RR), an intensive intervention where highly trained teachers provide daily instruction to students during 30-minute one-to-one teaching sessions. 

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Henry May, director of the University of Delaware’s newly formed Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP), is leading a team of researchers from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) to conduct a five-year independent evaluation of the Reading Recovery scale-up. 

Following two years of analysis, May, serving as principal investigator, and his team released the first of three reports, which demonstrated very positive outcomes for the program. 

As a result of the intervention, the study found that RR students’ mean scores were in the 36th percentile nationally, while students in the control group had scores at the 18th percentile. The difference of +18 percentile points demonstrates a much larger impact than found with most literacy interventions. 

What makes this research different than most evaluations is that a large sample of schools (209) was randomly selected for inclusion in a randomized control trial. At each school, a subsample of low-performing students was identified and randomly assigned to either the treatment group (RR instruction during the first half of the year) or the control group (RR instruction during the second half of the year). The reading performance of both groups was assessed using the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS).

“These short-term impacts on students’ reading performance are very encouraging, but we’re also going to be examining whether these impacts are sustained in the long-term,” said May. “In addition, we’re evaluating the implementation of Reading Recovery relative to program standards, and using this information to explore why some schools produce better results than others.”

What is Reading Recovery?

Reading Recovery is an intensive intervention targeting the lowest-achieving 15-20 percent of first-grade readers. 

Highly trained teachers provide daily instruction to students during 30-minute one-on-one teaching sessions over 12 to 20 weeks, focusing on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

It is designed to help students develop self-regulated problem-solving and correcting strategies. Once equipped with these strategies, it is anticipated that struggling readers will be able to maintain proficiency in the regular classroom without special intervention.

RR has been in use since the 1980s, and several small-scale impact studies have shown positive results. However, there has never before been such a large-scale and rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of this program. 

Report results

Results of the RR intervention revealed that most schools experienced a moderate to large positive impact. 

Key findings include the following:

  • Improved scores;
  • Schools were generally faithful to the Reading Recovery Standards and Guidelines;
  • Teachers participated in intensive professional development; and
  • One-on-one lessons with students were conducted according to the program design.

With the funding from the UDDOE i3 grant, RR is expected to be implemented in more than 2,000 schools, training 3,675 new Reading Recovery teachers and providing literacy assistance to over 88,000 students. 


Launched in July 2013, the Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP), within UD’s College of Education and Human Development, conducts rigorous research to help policymakers and practitioners in education, health care and human services determine which policies and programs are most promising to improve outcomes for children, youth, adults and families.

In studying the impacts of educational and social programs and policies, CRESP partners with numerous research centers within the University of Delaware and other institutions. 

About CPRE

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) is a team of researchers from seven major research universities who employ diverse and innovative methods in studying education policy, practice, and reform.

CPRE has earned an international reputation for integrity, quality research and evaluation, policy design, training and technical assistance, and knowledge dissemination.

Article by Alison Burris

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