All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
email this article Email  
Text Size: A A A  

Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools: A Best Evidence Synthesis

Many reading programs claim to boost student performance, but how is that measured? Johns Hopkins University examined more than 200 published studies to create this quick guide to programs.

What reading programs have been proven to help middle and high school students to succeed? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on four types of programs designed to improve the reading achievement of students in grades 6-12:

  • Reading Curricula (Curr), such as LANGUAGE!, McDougal Littel, and other standard and alternative textbooks.
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI), such as Jostens/Compass Learning, and Accelerated Reader.
  • Instructional Process Programs (IP), such as cooperative learning, strategy instruction, and other approaches primarily intended to change teachers' instructional methods rather than curriculum or textbooks.
  • Combined CAI and Instructional Process Models (CAI + IP) such as READ 180 and Voyager Passport.

Key findings

Overall, 36 experimental-control comparisons met the inclusion criterion, of which 7 used random assignment to treatments. No studies of reading curricula qualified, but there were 8 studies of CAI, 16 of instructional process programs, 10 of combined CAI and instructional process programs, and 2 of combined curriculum and instructional process programs. Effect sizes were averaged across studies, weighted by sample size.

  • Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI). Studies of CAI find minimal achievement outcomes. Mean weighted effect size across 8 studies: +0.10.
  • Instructional Process Strategies (IP). The largest number of high-quality studies evaluated instructional process programs, especially forms of cooperative learning (ES= +0.28 in 7 studies). Mean weighted effect size across 14 studies: +0.21.
  • Combined CAI and Instructional Process Programs (CAI + IP). Positive effects were found for READ 180. Mean weighted effect size across 9 studies: +0.22.
  • Combined Curriculum and Instructional Process Programs (Curr + IP). A randomized study of REACH found an effect size of 0.00, and the same study found an effect size of +0.17 for RISE.

Program ratings

Listed below are currently available programs, grouped by strength of effectiveness. Within each group, programs are listed alphabetically. The type for each program corresponds to the categories above (e.g., IP = Instructional Process Strategies).

Strong evidence of effectiveness


Moderate evidence of effectiveness

JostensCAIProvides an extensive set of assessments which place students in an individualized instructional sequence. Students then work individually on exercises designed to fill in gaps in their skills.
The Reading EdgeIPUses a cooperative learning structure that groups students for reading instruction according to their reading level across grades and classes.
READ 180CAI + IPAn intervention program that addresses individual needs of students through differentiated instruction, adaptive and instructional software, high-interest literature, and direct instruction in reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.
Student Team ReadingIP, Cooperative LearningA cooperative learning program in which students work in four or five member teams to help one another build reading skills.

Limited evidence of effectiveness

Accelerated ReaderCAIA supplemental program that assesses students' reading levels using a computer, which then prints out suggestions for reading materials at students' level.
Benchmark DetectivesIP, StrategyA form of strategy instruction that teaches students to use known words to decode unknown words, to use context as a check for making sense, to chunk words into meaningful units, and to be flexible in applying known word parts.
PALSIP,Cooperative LearningA cooperative learning program in which students work in pairs, taking turns reading aloud to one another and engaging in summarization and prediction activities.
RISE Curr + IPAn intervention guided by the philosophy that teachers, given time, resources, and strong professional development support, can create effective curriculum that is engaging and provides remediation for struggling adolescent readers.
Strategy Intervention ModelIP, StrategyA method in which low-achieving secondary students are taught metacognitive reading strategies, especially paraphrasing, to help them comprehend text.
Talent Development Middle SchoolIP, CSRA program which focuses on classic books, more high-level questions, and additional background information for students.
Voyager PassportCAI + IPA program with whole-group instruction, flexible small-group activities, and partner practice that engages students with DVDs, online learning activities, and other instructional strategies focused on comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and writing.

Insufficient evidence

Reading Apprenticeship
Xtreme Reading
Talent Development High School

No qualifying studies

100 Book ChallengeABD's of ReadingAcademy of Reading
Achieve 3000Achieving Maximum PotentialAdvancement Via Individual Determination (AVID)
AfterSchool KidzLitAlphabetic PhonicsAmerica's Choice-Ramp Up Literacy
AMP Reading SystemBarton Reading & Spelling SystemBe a Better Reader
BOLDBoys Town Reading CurriculumBreaking the Code
Bridges to LiteracyCaught ReadingCharlesbridge Reading Fluency
ClassworksCompass Learning (current version)Comprehension Upgrade
Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI)Corrective ReadingCRISS / Project CRISS
Cross-Aged Literacy ProgramDirect InstructionDisciplinary Literacy
Electronic BookshelfEssential Learning Systems™Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI)
Failure Free ReadingFast ForWordFast Track Reading
First StepsFluent ReaderGlass-Analysis method
GlencoeGreat LeapsHarcourt
HOSTSHoughton MifflinIMPACT
IndiVisual ReadingInStep ReadersIntensive Reading Strategies Instruction (IRSI) Model
Intensive Supplemental ReadingJamestown EducationJunior Great Books
Kaplan SpellReadKnowledge BoxK-W-L strategy
LANGUAGE!Learning Experience ApproachLearning Upgrade
Lexia Strategies for Older StudentsLike to ReadLindamood-Bell
LitARTLiteracy FirstLiteracy Seminar
Merit SoftwareMulticultural Reading and ThinkingMy Reading Coach
On Ramp ApproachOpen Book AnywhereOpen Court
Pathway ProjectPhonics for ReadingPhono-Graphix
PLATOPrentice Hall LiteratureProject Read
PuenteQuestioning the AuthorQuickReads-Secondary
Quicktionary Reading Pen IIRamp-Up LiteracyRave-O
ReadAboutRead NaturallyRead Now
The Reader's ChoiceThe Reader's JourneyReading in the Content Areas
Reading HorizonsReading Is FAMEReading Power in the Content Areas
Reading PlusReading with PurposeReciprocal Teaching
REWARDSRosetta Stone LiteracySaxon Phonics
Scaffolded Reading ExperienceScott ForesmanSecond Chance at Literacy Learning
Second Chance ReadingSlingerlandSoar to Success
Soliloquy Reading AssistantSound SheetsSpell Read P.A.T.
Spalding MethodStrategic Literacy InitiativeSuccessMaker
Supported Literacy ApproachText mapping strategyThinking Reader
Thinking WorksTransactional Strategies InstructionVocabulary Improvement Program
Voyager TimeWarp PlusWilson Reading SystemWisconsin Design for Reading Skills Development (WDRSD)
Write to Learn

Review methods

An exhaustive search considered more than 300 published and unpublished articles. It included those that met the following criteria:

  • Schools or classrooms using each program had to be compared to randomly assigned or well-matched control groups.
  • Study duration had to be at least 12 weeks.
  • Outcome measures had to be assessments of the reading content being taught in all classes. Almost all are standardized test, or state assessments.
  • The review placed particular emphasis on studies in which schools, teachers, or students were assigned at random to experimental or control groups.

Program ratings basis

Programs were rated according to the overall strength of the evidence supporting their effects on reading achievement. "Effect size" (ES) is the proportion of a standard deviation by which a treatment group exceeds a control group. Large studies are those involving a total of at least 10 classes or 250 students. The categories are as follows:

  • Strong Evidence of Effectiveness: At least one large randomized or randomized quasi-experimental study, plus at least one additional study of any qualifying design, with a collective sample size of 500 students and an overall weighted mean effect size of at least +.20.
  • Moderate Evidence of Effectiveness: Two large studies of any qualifying design or multiple smaller studies with a collective sample size of 500 students, with a median effect size of at least +0.20.
  • Limited Evidence of Effectiveness: At least one qualifying study with statistically significant differences and effect size of +0.10 or more.
  • Insufficient Evidence of Effectiveness: Studies show no significant differences.
  • No Qualifying Studies: No studies met inclusion standards.

Robert Slavin and Alan Cheung, et al. (2008)

This is a great list. I was wondering if there's updated studies since RTI has been implemented during the last 7 years? Always looking for effective reading programs to use with our middle and high school students.
Posted by: David Pino, School Psychologist  |  December 16, 2015 12:11 PM
Are there any new CAI's since the study? Technology seems to be creating new programs at warp speed. Also any information on low-cost programs? We are a poor district.
Posted by: kendra edmonds  |  April 17, 2016 08:39 AM
(Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.)

Post a new comment