Memorandum submitted by Professor Robert
Slavin (LI 32)
Submitted by Professor Robert Slavin, Institute
for Effective Education, University of York
The full report, Slavin, RE, Lake, C, Davis,
S, and Madden, N, (2009), Effective Programs for Struggling
Readers: A Best Evidence Synthesis, is available on the Best
Evidence Encyclopaedia website www.bestevidence.org.uk
1. The importance of getting children off
to a good start in reading cannot be overstated. Success in primary
school is virtually synonymous with success in reading, and those
children who lack the ability to read as they move to secondary
education inevitably face problems in every subject as a result.
2. The past 25 years have seen extraordinary
developments in research, policy, and practice relating to programmes
that help children who are struggling to learn to read. This has
created a sense of optimism that these children can quickly be
brought back into the mainstream. However, although many strategies
now exist for these pupils it has been difficult for educators
and policy makers to access clear and useful information about
the strength of evidence supporting each programme and practice.
A REVIEW OF
3. A new review of the programmes available
for struggling readers has shown that there is much for schools
to be positive about, as a number of approaches have evidence
of effectiveness. This is good news in particular for schools
that have significant numbers of pupils who need extra help, but
limited resources with which to help them.
4. The review, Effective Programs for
Struggling Readers: A Best Evidence Synthesis (2009), considered
hundreds of existing studies, with 96 meeting the rigorous inclusion
standards. The aim was to evaluate the evidence of effectiveness
of programmes designed to help primary school children struggling
to learn to read, and summarise it for educators and policy makers.
It also sought to address wider questions, for example the long-term
impacts of early intervention.
5. One-to-one tutoring by trained teachers
and reading specialists is very effective. Children who have failed
to respond in normal lessons or to proven small-group tutorials
should receive one-to-one tutoring using proven models before
long-term special education services are considered. An emphasis
on phonics greatly improves tutoring outcomes for low-achieving
6. Reading Recovery, a widely used one-to-one
tutoring approach, has had less positive effects than more phonetic
programmes. Two UK studies found strong positive effects after
one year, but one of the studies followed pupils to Year 5 and
found that these effects did not last.
7. One-to-one tutoring by teaching assistants
is less effective than by teachers, but nevertheless poses a real
challenge to the idea that only certified teachers can be effective
tutors. The findings imply that schools might use a mix of teachers
and teaching assistants as tutors, using the qualified teachers
as leaders and to work with the lowest-achieving children.
8. Small group tutorials can be effective,
but are not as effective as one-to-one tutoring by teachers or
teaching assistants. They may be cost-effective, however, for
pupils with mild reading difficulties.
9. Co-operative learning whole-class models
can significantly enhance the learning of low achievers. Cooperative
learning is much less expensive than supplemental small-group
or tutoring services, and it benefits other pupils in the class.
10. Success for All, which combines cooperative
learning, one-to-one tutoring, and other elements in a whole-school
reform model, has the most positive outcomes of all programmes,
especially in the long term. A recent UK study found positive
effects from this approach.
11. Relatively brief tutoring in the early
years of school is not enough to ensure long term success. The
research showed that tutoring in the early years of school followed
by co-operative learning throughout primary school had the best
long-term outcomes for low-achieving pupils.
12. Programmes that provide extensive professional
development to teachers in proven models are more effective than
programmes that provide technology, alternative curricula, or
other interventions that do not change daily teaching practices.
13. Traditional IT programmes have little
impact on reading achievement.
14. The message of the review is optimistic.
There are many proven and promising approaches for struggling
readers, including alternative approaches to those currently supported
by government. We have both effective and cost-effective tools
at hand. While more research is always needed, we already know
enough to make a substantial difference in the reading performance
of under-achieving children. As schools are provided with greater
flexibility to choose their strategy for children with reading
difficulties, it is vital that objective and reliable evidence
is available to inform these choices.