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.
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.
See the full report: Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis .
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
(Formerly Jostens, Compass Learning)
|CAI||Provides 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 Edge||IP||Uses a cooperative learning structure that groups students for reading instruction according to their reading level across grades and classes.|
|READ 180||CAI + IP||An 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 Reading||IP, Cooperative Learning||A 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 Reader||CAI||A supplemental program that assesses students’ reading levels using a computer, which then prints out suggestions for reading materials at students’ level.|
|Benchmark Detectives||IP, Strategy||A 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.|
|PALS||IP,Cooperative Learning||A 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 + IP||An 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 Model||IP, Strategy||A method in which low-achieving secondary students are taught metacognitive reading strategies, especially paraphrasing, to help them comprehend text.|
|Talent Development Middle School||IP, CSR||A program which focuses on classic books, more high-level questions, and additional background information for students.|
|Voyager Passport||CAI + IP||A 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.|
|Talent Development High School|
No qualifying studies
|100 Book Challenge||ABD’s of Reading||Academy of Reading|
|Achieve 3000||Achieving Maximum Potential||Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID)|
|AfterSchool KidzLit||Alphabetic Phonics||America’s Choice-Ramp Up Literacy|
|AMP Reading System||Barton Reading & Spelling System||Be a Better Reader|
|BOLD||Boys Town Reading Curriculum||Breaking the Code|
|Bridges to Literacy||Caught Reading||Charlesbridge Reading Fluency|
|Classworks||Compass Learning (current version)||Comprehension Upgrade|
|Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI)||Corrective Reading||CRISS / Project CRISS|
|Cross-Aged Literacy Program||Direct Instruction||Disciplinary Literacy|
|Electronic Bookshelf||Essential Learning Systems||Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI)|
|Failure Free Reading||Fast ForWord||Fast Track Reading|
|First Steps||Fluent Reader||Glass-Analysis method|
|IndiVisual Reading||InStep Readers||Intensive Reading Strategies Instruction (IRSI) Model|
|Intensive Supplemental Reading||Jamestown Education||Junior Great Books|
|Kaplan SpellRead||Knowledge Box||K-W-L strategy|
|LANGUAGE!||Learning Experience Approach||Learning Upgrade|
|Lexia Strategies for Older Students||Like to Read||Lindamood-Bell|
|LitART||Literacy First||Literacy Seminar|
|Merit Software||Multicultural Reading and Thinking||My Reading Coach|
|On Ramp Approach||Open Book Anywhere||Open Court|
|Pathway Project||Phonics for Reading||Phono-Graphix|
|PLATO||Prentice Hall Literature||Project Read|
|Puente||Questioning the Author||QuickReads-Secondary|
|Quicktionary Reading Pen II||Ramp-Up Literacy||Rave-O|
|ReadAbout||Read Naturally||Read Now|
|Read On!||READ RIGHT||Read XL|
|The Reader’s Choice||The Reader’s Journey||Reading in the Content Areas|
|Reading Horizons||Reading Is FAME||Reading Power in the Content Areas|
|Reading Plus||Reading with Purpose||Reciprocal Teaching|
|REWARDS||Rosetta Stone Literacy||Saxon Phonics|
|Scaffolded Reading Experience||Scott Foresman||Second Chance at Literacy Learning|
|Second Chance Reading||Slingerland||Soar to Success|
|Soliloquy Reading Assistant||Sound Sheets||Spell Read P.A.T.|
|Spalding Method||Strategic Literacy Initiative||SuccessMaker|
|Supported Literacy Approach||Text mapping strategy||Thinking Reader|
|Thinking Works||Transactional Strategies Instruction||Vocabulary Improvement Program|
|Voyager TimeWarp Plus||Wilson Reading System||Wisconsin Design for Reading Skills Development (WDRSD)|
|Write to Learn|
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.