Study: How to maximize summer reading program
Some 44 school districts throughout Iowa are participating in a research study on effective summer reading programs for children.
The goal of the research study is to identify the characteristics of more effective summer reading programs as schools work to develop them for struggling third-grade students. This information will help schools prepare for the legislative requirement that takes effect in 2018.
The study’s findings will be available sometime toward the end of the year.
Heading up the research study is the Iowa Reading Research Center, which was created by the Legislature and is overseen by the Iowa Department of Education. The center has a critical role in the comprehensive early literacy initiative adopted by state lawmakers in 2012 to ensure students are successful readers by the end of third grade.
The center’s director, Deborah Reed, answered some questions about the summer reading study, which involves implementing programs in 120 classrooms through mid-August.
What does the research involve?
We are studying three different approaches to literacy instruction. One is computer based involving Lexia Core 5, another is a textbook-based approach using Reading Mastery, and the third is what we call business-as-usual in which schools conduct the literacy program they would normally choose to implement—as long as it is not Lexia Core 5 or Reading Mastery.
In the first two conditions, teachers were trained by the vendors on how to use the programs. But teachers in the business-as-usual condition received training in research-based literacy instruction that we developed and the Area Education Agencies delivered.
What is the commitment required of schools and students?
Schools are required to provide at least 70 hours of instruction, and up to five hours of breaks. How they break out the instruction, from number of hours in a day, days in a week, and number of weeks is up to the districts.
What are you hoping to discover through the research?
Most of this is uncharted territory. What we are looking for is the right combination of instruction, both in the approach to instruction as well as the time devoted to different components. Is four hours a day of instruction in four or five weeks better than two hours of instruction over eight to ten weeks? We don’t know, but the study should give us some guidance. The research should show us the best approach to instruction, and give us a clear idea on what can optimize student outcomes.
What will the state do with the research - recommend a specific pilot?
The goal is to recommend specific features that a summer reading program should have to optimize student outcomes. We will not recommend a specific approach or vendor.
You have been touring several districts that are participating in the research study. What have you seen so far?
Teachers are keeping up a lively pace in their instruction – that is very impressive. Kids are reading, working; they are doing lessons and having a variety of activities. The students are engaged and have very positive environments, which is really important when you consider the students have had difficulties with reading.
One district discovered a need for more phonics instruction. The placement tests showed that the kids who were below benchmarks needed more instruction in phonics than the teachers were accustomed to delivering in third grade. That was an a-ha moment for them.
Will intensive summer reading programs be expected to get all struggling students back on track?
No. It’s a piece of the big picture. It’s one more opportunity to provide much-needed help. You cannot expect the summer program to do it all. Starting in kindergarten and every year after, you provide quality instruction to all students, and then provide supplemental intervention to those who need it.
Should intensive summer reading programs be available to students younger than third grade?
The study is not designed to determine that. Still, a lot of schools have asked why we don’t have a program for an earlier age.
We think interventions are important for all ages and, intuitively, earlier intervention is better. However, sometimes we see more improvement with younger rather than older students because we expect a different level of performance and measure their skills in different ways. In kindergarten, we are measuring reading in simplistic ways, such as alphabet knowledge. If we measure whether a kid knows the alphabet, there is a finite number of items – 26 letters.
By end of third grade, the reading expectations are much more advanced and comprehensive, such as vocabulary growth and comprehension. There is an infinite number of measurements you could make for those skills.