Implementation Matters: Systems for Success, A Descriptive Study of READ 180, Enterprise Edition, in Five Urban Middle Schools

Terry Salinger, Michele Toplitz, and Wehmah Jones; Berkeley Policy Associates Authors: Savitha Moorthy and Emily Rosenthal

Executive Summary

Districts and schools around the country have recognized the importance of addressing students’ reading difficulties as early as possible, and especially before they make the critical transition from the middle grades to high school. The foundation students acquire by eighth grade, especially in literacy, has a larger impact on their ultimate preparation for college, the workplace, and the military than anything that happens to them in high school. Although there have been some increases in student reading scores on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and in previous NAEP administrations in districts, the increases are small and there have been no significant changes from 2007 to 2009 in the score gaps between White and African American students or between White and Hispanic students at either grade 4 or grade 8.

Adolescents’ inadequate literacy skills present huge challenges, and one way to address them is to provide students with intensive, focused instruction on reading skills and strategies. Although such help may be included as part of out-of-school programs, the more common delivery model is instruction provided during the regular school day, either to replace or to supplement regular English language arts classes. These programs – often offered daily and lasting a full year – have great promise for improving students’ achievement, but districts and schools share much of the responsibility for ensuring that these interventions actually “work” with struggling readers. Local educators make decisions not just about program selection but also about how the programs are actually implemented – in real classrooms, with real teachers, and with real students.

Researchers have studied some—but not all—of the programs available for struggling adolescent readers, seeking to measure their impact on students’ achievement. Less research has been done to answer two critical questions about the process of implementing an intervention for struggling readers:

What factors at the district or school level contribute to or hinder on-model implementation?

What conditions need to be in place to sustain support and buy-in for the program and thereby contribute to ongoing successful implementation?

In 2007, Scholastic, Inc., and the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) partnered to seek answers to these questions, hoping that valuable lessons could be learned by studying the implementation of one widely used intervention for struggling readers—READ 180—in middle schools in five districts. They asked the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Berkeley Policy Associates (BPA) to conduct this descriptive study. The districts selected for participation are urban, are members of the CGCS, and use the most recent version of Scholastic’s READ 180, Enterprise Edition, in at least four middle schools.