Situated in one of the poorest communities in Massachusetts, Holyoke Public Schools (HPS) serves a population in which 76% of all students were economically disadvantaged. At the time of the study, the district population was largely Hispanic (76%), while the remaining students were mainly White (17%), African American (3%), Asian American (less than 1%), and multiracial (less than 1%). Twenty-four percent of students were identified as limited-English proficient (LEP), and a quarter were students with disabilities.
In 2002, the HPS district was declared underperforming. To address its performance issues, HPS piloted READ 180 at one of its middle schools and an alternative education program site. The program was so successful that it was expanded into seven additional middle schools with the goal of replicating the district’s early success with a greater number of students. Beginning with the 2006–2007 school year, the READ 180 instructional model was modified to fit into a 70-minute period and was delivered daily in addition to students’ regular ELA classes. Students were selected for READ 180 if they were performing 2–4 years below grade level.
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System English Language Arts (MCAS ELA) and Reading Inventory® data were collected and analyzed (Scholastic Research, 2009). READ 180 students in Cohort 1 (N=47) were enrolled in the program and remained in school with valid pretest and posttest data for two consecutive years (2006–2008). READ 180 students in Cohort 2 (N=197) were followed for only one year (2007–2008) due to high mobility rates in the district.
Findings showed that the percentage of Cohort 1 students performing at the Proficient Performance Level on the MCAS ELA increased nearly tenfold (from 2% to 19%), while the percentage of students performing at the Warning Performance Level decreased by almost half (from 39% to 21%). This positive change in MCAS Performance Level from 2006 to 2008 was statistically significant (Graph 1).
Among students with one year of READ 180 (Cohort 2), the percentage of students performing at the Proficient Performance Level on the MCAS ELA more than doubled, from 10% to 26%, while the percentage of students at the Warning Performance Level decreased from 36% to 27%. Dependent t-tests demonstrated that the percentage of students performing at the Proficient Performance Level was significantly higher in 2008 than it was in 2007 (Graph 2).
READ 180 students also demonstrated impressive gains on the Reading Inventory. Students in Cohort 1 achieved a statistically significant average gain of 147 Lexile® (L) measures from 2006 to 2007 (t=5.87, p<.001) and a statistically significant average gain of 90L from 2007 to 2008 (t=5.35, p<.001). Similarly, students in Cohort 2 achieved a statistically significant average gain of 125L from 2007 to 2008 (t=12.33, p<.001). Moreover, both cohorts, on average, exceeded the expected fall-to-spring gain of 75L (as determined by the Reading Inventory normative sample).