Sixty-four percent of adolescents read below grade level nationwide. This percentage is larger for diverse student groups, who are too often disproportionately represented in special education programs (Skiba et al., 2016; Sullivan & Bal, 2013), due in large part to a lack of appropriate reading instruction and early instructional interventions (International Reading Association, 2003). However, research is consistently showing that adolescence is not too late to provide evidence-based, well-implemented instructional interventions to improve all students’ achievement while also reducing achievement gaps for diverse student groups (Boulay et al., 2015; Kamil et al., 2008; Slavin et al., 2008; IRA, 2003).
READ 180 Universal is the latest version of an evidence-based intervention for striving readers in the late elementary, middle, and high school grades. Introduced to schools in the 2016–2017 school year, READ 180 Universal seeks to help students develop the academic mindset, behavior goals, and learning strategies needed for success in their courses, and then in college and career. The new program gives students considerable flexibility in what they read, features a Student App, and reinforces the importance of students developing a growth mindset about themselves as readers and learners. Additionally, it provides teachers with insight into their own mindset and gives them strategies for building the academic mindset of their students.
Programs such as READ 180 Universal that purposefully integrate strategies fostering mindset with rigorous literacy intervention can play an even stronger role in improving students’ performance because they seek to build students' mindsets as well as their skills. Instruction that helps striving readers move toward a growth mindset can produce positive outcomes because it encourages a broader, more flexible approach to reading, acknowledging that all readers struggle from time to time. Flexible readers spontaneously apply multiple strategies to check on and build comprehension. They may access background knowledge about a topic, slow down their reading pace or re-read, or mentally summarize to check their understanding; undeterred, they move ahead toward success.
In order to examine the effects of READ 180 Universal on students’ literacy achievement, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt commissioned the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to conduct an independent quantitative analysis of the changes in students’ scores on the Washington State English Language Arts Smarter Balanced Assessment and HMH's Reading Inventory®.
AIR collected and analyzed students’ demographic data, as well as state test scores, to address two research questions:
Research Question 1: To what extent did the READ 180 Universal program increase students’ reading scores?
Research Question 2: How do any score improvements differ by student groups of interest: race/ethnic group, gender, English learner (EL) status, and special education designation?
Consisting of 19 schools in Grades PreK–12, Central Kitsap School District had a student population of 11,050 in May of the 2016–2017 school year. Fifty-one percent of the students were males and 49% were female, 60% were White, 17% were two or more races, 13% were Hispanic/Latino of any race(s), 5% were Asian, 3% were African American, 1% were Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and <1% were American Indian/Alaskan Native. Fifteen percent of students received special education services, and 3% were considered transitional bilingual.
Among the 226 participating students in this study, 27% were Grade 6, 20% Grade 7, 20% Grade 8, 24% Grade 9, and 9% Grade 10. Fifty percent were non-White and 50% were White; 59% were male and 41% were female; 89% were non-English learners (ELs) and 11% were ELs; and 54% were students with disabilities and 46% were without.
The effectiveness of the READ 180 Universal program was investigated by analyzing changes in student test scores on the Washington State English Language Arts Smarter Balanced Assessment and the HMH Reading Inventory. The Washington State Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is aligned to the Washington State K-12 Learning Standards, measures student achievement and growth in Grades 3–8 and high school. Changes in student test scores on the assessment were also compared between diverse student groups to determine if the effectiveness of READ 180 Universal was equal for non-White and White students, female and male students, non-EL and EL students, and students with disabilities and those without.
The HMH Reading Inventory measures reading comprehension proficiency for students in Grades K–12. The Reading Inventory uses adaptive technology to determine a student’s reading comprehension level on the Lexile® Framework for Reading.
To address Research Question 1 and Research Question 2, data was collected from the Central Kitsap School District on student characteristics, state test score data from the Washington State English Language Arts Smarter Balanced Assessment, and the Reading Inventory. The AIR researchers estimated the average change over time in students’ test scores (from spring 2016 to spring 2017) using regression analysis to simultaneously control for test score differences attributable to students’ demographic characteristics and those of their schools. In addition, AIR examined differences in students’ test score changes observed among four student groups of interest: non-White and White students, female and male students, non-ELs and ELs, and students with disabilities and those without.
On average, students completed 12 segments on the READ 180 Universal software and 58 logins of 15-minute sessions. They had an average of 3.4 session days per week and 115 session days throughout the year.
Overall, the performance of students in Central Kitsap School District improved in the 2016-2017 school year, with heightened performance for certain student groups. The average Washington State English Language Arts Smarter Balanced Assessment score increased by 24 units from the 2015–2016 school year to the 2016-2017 school year (see Graph 1).
Moreover, the improvement in student performance after the conversion was consistent across diverse student populations, such that state test scores increased for non-White and White students, female and male students, non-ELs and ELs, and students with disabilities and those without, with additional increases for female students and ELs.
The changes in test scores for non-White and White students were statistically equal after the READ 180 Universal implementation, as were the changes in test scores for students with disabilities and those without. Female students were either equivalently or better supported by the READ 180 Universal implementation as compared with male students, with female state test scores increasing by 17 more units than those of male students (see Graph 2). ELs were also equivalently or better supported by READ 180 Universal as compared to non-ELs; however, state test scores of both EL and non-EL students were statistically equal (see Graph 3).
As measured by the Reading Inventory, students increased in their Lexile scores across all grade levels with Grade 10 students showing the largest gains of 152L throughout the course of the year (see Chart 1).
On average, 69% of students met or exceeded typical annual growth on their Lexile scores; 82% of tenth grade students met or exceeded typical annual growth, which is higher than the national average (see Graph 4).
Overall, findings show that participating students’ performance improved after implementing READ 180 Universal in the Central Kitsap School District, and the improvements were consistent across diverse student groups. These findings are largely promising and show the benefits of READ 180 Universal in better serving all students, including those from typically underserved student groups.
Boulay, B., Goodson, B., Frye, M., Blocklin, M., & Price, C. (2015). Summary of research generated by striving readers on the effectiveness of interventions for struggling adolescent readers (NCEE 2016-4001). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE Publication No. 2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
International Reading Association. (2003). The role of reading instruction in addressing the overrepresentation of minority children in special education in the United States: A position statement of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Retrieved from
Skiba, R. J., Artiles, A. J., Kozleski, E. B., Losen, D. J., & Harry, E. G. (2016). Risks and consequences of oversimplifying educational inequities: A response to Morgan et al. (2015). Educational Researcher, 45(3), 221–225.
Slavin, R. E., Cheung, A., Groff, C., & Lake, C. (2008). Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(3), 290–322.
Sullivan, A. L., & Bal, A. (2013). Disproportionality in special education: Effects of individual and school variables on disability risk. Exceptional Children, 79, 475–494.