Emerging readers need to master foundational literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, in order to successfully read to learn throughout their educational trajectory (National Reading Panel, 2000). From kindergarten through third grade, students are primarily learning to read; however, once they reach fourth grade, they spend the majority of their school career reading to learn (Chall, 1983; Fiester & Smith, 2010). For students who have not mastered the basic foundational literacy skills necessary in order to comprehend text, it is next to impossible for them to learn the content material required in order to graduate from high school.
Reading proficiency in the early grades predicts future academic success, including success in other content areas while in elementary and secondary school, increased graduation rates from high school, preparedness for undergraduate and graduate programs, and achievement of career goals later in life (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2010, 2013). In a 2012 report commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the influence of third-grade reading skills and poverty on high school graduation rates, researchers found that students who had not achieved reading proficiency by the third grade were four times as likely as proficient readers to drop out of school before graduating. For students who had not mastered foundational literacy skills, the rate was almost six times greater (Hernandez, 2012).
The impact of not reading proficiently in the early grades on future academic success is even more pronounced for struggling readers with disabilities and English learners struggling to achieve English language proficiency. For each and every student, learning to read proficiently by Grade 3 matters.
Foundational literacy skills are essential components of any reading instruction program for emerging readers. The facets of the skills that need to be taught vary depending on the knowledge that a student brings to the classroom; therefore, instruction must be individualized in order to reach every child, especially those children that need extra support in order to access the classroom curriculum, such as students with disabilities, English learners, and low-performing students. Researchers have proposed that a way to do this is by using technology to help students learn the key foundational literacy skills that they need in a personalized way in order to improve reading proficiency overall (Adams & Alexander, 2012; Cunningham & Rose, 2013). Computer-based instruction allows educators to use data more easily and efficiently in order to differentiate instruction that meets the varying needs of students. It also allows educators to monitor each student’s progress and tailor their instruction accordingly (Hasselbring & Mayer, 2012).
Designed with this research-based knowledge at its core, iRead places all students in Grades K–2 on the path to reading proficiency. These five foundational principles shaped the development of iRead:
The iRead Difference
iRead was developed to provide students with instruction in the foundational literacy skills that lead to lifelong learning. Following a blended learning model, iRead utilizes adaptive technology to provide instruction in foundational literacy skills that is individualized for each child’s unique learning needs and interests.
As students make progress with iRead, the software continuously monitors their skill development with embedded assessment that allows the program to adjust instructional content and pacing for each individual learner. In the beginning, children take the iRead Screener, which places them into the appropriate level, and then they progress at their own rate through more than 300 topics.
This Research Results paper describes a rigorous evaluation on the impact of iRead on kindergarten and first- and second-grade students’ foundational literacy skill development. Conducted by Westat® Inc., an independent research firm, data were collected and analyzed from two US school districts. Westat employed a quasi-experimental design to create a treatment group of students who used iRead as a supplement to their regular English Language Arts (ELA) instruction and a comparison group of students who received their regular ELA instruction, including any available foundational reading skill development. Results indicate that iRead is an effective early literacy program for beginning readers, and particularly students who are at risk of later reading difficulties. The full report prepared by Westat describes an overall implementation study across both districts, as well as an impact study of a sub-sample of students who took the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE™). For the purposes of this Research Results paper, only the impact study results are described with a focus on at-risk students.
During the 2013–2014 school year, a large urban district (District 1) served approximately 52,000 students in Grades PreK–12. The majority of the students were White (45%), approximately 17% were African American, 17% were Asian, 13% were Hispanic, and 8% were multiracial or other races. Forty percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, over 14% received special education services, and 12% were considered transitional bilingual students.
During the 2014–2015 school year, a medium-sized suburban district (District 2) served approximately 3,900 students in grades PreK–8. The majority of students were White (77%), approximately 10% were Hispanic, 8% were Asian, 4% were African American, and about 1% were multiracial or other races. Twelve percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, 12% received special education services, and 1% had limited English proficiency.
Across both districts, a total of 405 iRead students and 399 comparison group students were included in the analytic sample (see Table 1). Treatment and comparison schools were matched within each district on key demographic variables and the previous year’s third-grade state reading assessments. For the purposes of this study, all participating students were assessed by trained Westat evaluators on the GRADE reading test in the fall (pretest) and the spring (posttest). Within each district, treatment and comparison groups were found to be equivalent at baseline both in terms of school-level key demographic variables and student-level performance on the GRADE assessment pretest.
Both districts implemented iRead as a supplement to their regular ELA curriculum. To support program implementation, each district received ongoing iRead professional development throughout the study year, including a full day beginning-of-the-year implementation training, classroom support visits, and cadre meetings.
HMH recommends that students use the iRead software for 20 minutes a day, three to five days a week, and districts can choose when and where to use the program. In this study the implementation model varied by district, school, and classroom. For example, iRead software sessions took place in a variety of settings, including the classroom, the computer lab, or a combination of both. Some teachers set a daily recommended daily 20 minutes of iRead software use, whereas others set aside a 30-minute block twice per week. In some classrooms, teachers gave struggling readers extra time. In some cases, teachers limited iRead use to days when an aide or parent volunteers were in the classroom to help monitor and assist students.
Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE)
The Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE) is a diagnostic reading test that determines what developmental skills PreK–12 students have mastered and where students need instruction or intervention. It is a fall and spring norm-referenced test that consists of 10 levels with two parallel forms for each level. For the purposes of this study, five GRADE subtests were administered: Word Reading, Phoneme Grapheme Correspondence, Letter Recognition, Sentence Comprehension, and Word Meaning. Each participating student was administered three subtests, reflecting his or her grade of enrollment. Specifically, in the fall and spring, kindergarten students were individually administered the Word Reading, Letter Recognition, and Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondence subtests, whereas students in Grades 1 and 2 were group-administered the Word Reading, Sentence Comprehension, and Word Meaning subtests. All assessments were administered by an independent assessor.
Results from the GRADE subtests demonstrate that iRead is an effective early literacy program for beginning readers, especially for students at risk of later reading difficulties. In particular, special populations of students, namely students with disabilities, English learners, and low-performing students, improved substantially and more than matched comparison students on the majority of the GRADE subtests. Most notably, iRead students with disabilities made substantial gains on the Word Meaning and Sentence Comprehension subtests, which translate to 9.6 months and 18.3 months of learning above the comparison group, respectively. Similarly, iRead English learner students also made substantial gains on the Word Meaning and Sentence Comprehension subtests, which translate to 12 months and 7.2 months of learning above the comparison group, respectively.
iRead students outperformed the matched comparison students on each of the five GRADE subtests (see Graph 1). The effect size (ES) difference was statistically significant for the Letter Recognition subtest (ES = 0.34), representing a 13-point percentile gain over the comparison group. As a result, iRead students outperformed comparison students by just over a third of a standard deviation — which translates to three-and-a-half months of learning.
Students With Disabilities
iRead students with disabilities outperformed the matched comparison group on all five GRADE subtests, with statistically significant differences in effect size (ES) gains on the Word Meaning subtest (ES = 0.74) and the Sentence Comprehension subtest (ES = 0.69). This represents percentile gains above the comparison group of 27 points and 25 points, respectively. While not reaching a level of statistical significance, iRead students demonstrated substantially important effect size gains above the comparison group for the Phoneme Grapheme Correspondence subtest (ES = 0.45) and Letter Recognition subtest (ES = 0.50). This represents percentile gains above the comparison group of 17 points and 19 points, respectively (see Table 2). These effect size gains were remarkable, considering that while the measurement field categorizes effect sizes below 0.30 as “small,” the education field deems a 0.20 effect size as substantially important (Hill, Bloom, Black, & Lipsey, 2007).
English Learner Students
iRead English learner students outperformed matched comparison students on all five GRADE subtests, with statistically significant differences in effect size gains on the Word Meaning subtest (ES = 0.56) and the Sentence Comprehension subtest (ES = 0.51). This represents percentile gains above the comparison group of 21 points and 19 points, respectively. While not reaching a level of statistical significance, iRead English learner students also demonstrated substantially important effect size gains above the comparison group for the Letter Recognition subtest (ES = 0.24), representing a 9 point percentile gain over the comparison group (see Table 3).
Low-performing iRead students outperformed matched comparison students on all three GRADE subtests. While not reaching a level of statistical significance, low-performing students enrolled in iRead demonstrated substantially important effect size gains over the comparison group for the Sentence Comprehension subtest (ES = 0.33) and Word Meaning subtest (ES = 0.23). This represents percentile gains above the comparison group of 13 points and 9 points, respectively (see Table 4).
The results described in this paper demonstrate that the impact of iRead on children in early elementary school is very promising. A statistically significant effect with practical significance was found for kindergarten students in Letter Recognition, a critical building block for future reading success. Looking specifically at students with disabilities, English learners, and low-performing students, findings indicate that iRead had a considerable positive impact on students above and beyond the control group. The impact of iRead was especially notable for students with disabilities and English learners on the Word Meaning and Sentence Comprehension subtests. Taken together, the results from this study demonstrate that iRead’s personalized software adapts to the needs of each and every student, giving all students the opportunity to succeed. In this way, iRead can help all children, especially those at risk of academic failure, learn how to read proficiently by Grade 3. It is our hope at HMH that iRead will help close today’s persistent achievement gap for tomorrow’s children.
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Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2010). Early warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters. Baltimore, MD.
Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). Early warning confirmed: A research update on third-grade reading. Baltimore, MD.
Chall, J. S. (1983). Stages of reading development. New York, McGraw-Hill.
Cunningham, A., & Rose, D. (2013). This is your brain on reading. Education Week, 32(15), 20–21.
Fiester, L., & Smith, R. (2010). Early warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters. A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-Early_Warning_Full_Report-2010.pdf
Hamilton, J., Gray-Adams, K., Chen, E., Poulin Gorga, C., McKithen, C., Quintanilla, P., & von Glatz, A. (2016). iRead impact study: Final report (Unpublished report). Rockville, MA: Westat.
Hasselbring, T., & Mayer, M. (2012). Technology: The great equalizer. Education Week, 32(9), 14–15.
Hernandez, D. J. (2012). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-DoubleJeopardy-2012-Full.pdf
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National Reading Panel (NRP). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health.
A cadre is a group of trained iRead educators joining together to expand their knowledge. Cadre meetings allow teachers to network and learn from each other, and are facilitated by an HMH literacy consultant.
Effect size impact by months of learning is based on the conversion method described by Lee, Finn, and Liu (2012).