NASP Communiqué, Vol. 34, #2
The Effects of Evidence-Based Reading Intervention on Socially
By Jose M. Castillo, Larry J. Porter, Michael Curtis, NCSP & George
Estimates indicate that approximately 20-40% of children struggle with reading
and/or mental health problems in the United States (National Assessment of
Educational Progress, 2003; Hoagwood & Johnson, 2003). Given the lasting
detrimental consequences of getting off to a poor start in reading and developing
mental health problems, as well as the limited resources available to schools,
more efficient ways of preventing school-based problems are needed. Researchers
have suggested that many of the reading difficulties experienced by children
can be prevented by providing evidence-based reading instruction to all students
in the primary grades (Torgesen, 2002). Recently, evidence has emerged suggesting
that evidence-based instruction in reading leads to improvements in other socially
important outcomes as well.
In this article, “socially important outcomes” are defined as
those outcomes that are highly valued within the student’s environment.
For elementary school students, examples of these outcomes include reading
achievement and social skill development. Student progression and success within
the general curriculum are also highly valued because of the importance placed
on academic competence, as well as the negative life consequences associated
with retention (Jimerson, 1999) and special education placement (President’s
Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002, July). What follows is
a brief sample of the literature examining the direct and indirect effects
of preventing reading difficulties on socially important outcomes.
Universal Reading Instruction, the Baltimore City Schools Studies
In a series of studies, Kellam and colleagues implemented a universal,
evidence-based reading intervention known as Mastery Learning (ML) in Baltimore
City Schools (Kellam, Mayer, Rebok, & Hawkins, 1998). Key elements of the
ML intervention were a group-based approach to mastery and a flexible corrective
process. To examine the effects of ML, Kellam and colleagues randomly assigned
approximately 1,000 first grade students to ML, a universal behavioral intervention
condition, or a control condition. The ML intervention was implemented during
the fall of the school year and its effects were examined during the spring
of the same year.
Results of the Baltimore City Schools studies indicated that ML had a significant
direct effect on reading achievement over the course of first grade. Indirect
effects also were reported on aggressive and depressive symptoms. Thus, the
studies conducted by Kellam and colleagues suggest that universal, evidence-based
reading instruction can have a positive impact on the socially important outcomes
of reading achievement and social/emotional behaviors. The researchers
not only found that universal reading instruction significantly improved the
reading outcomes for first grade students, but it also reduced early
aggressive and depressive symptoms displayed by these students. Kellam et al.
(1998) suggest that the observed effects on aggressive and depressive symptoms
may be due to reduced frustration experienced because of failure on the socially
valued task of reading.
Response-to-Intervention, Systematically Adjusting Reading Instruction
to Student Needs
The Baltimore City Schools studies provide evidence for the efficacy of universal
reading instruction. O’Conner, Fulmer, and Harty (2003) examined the
effectiveness of systematically providing universal, secondary and tertiary
reading interventions in grades K-3 at two schools. A total of 92 students
received services through a three-tiered model on an as-needed basis. Tier
I services consisted of universal reading instruction and data-based decision
making. Tier II (i.e., supplemental intervention) consisted of flexible, small
group direct instruction that targeted areas of weakness three days per week.
Finally, Tier III (i.e., intensive intervention) services consisted of flexible,
individualized instruction that targeted specific areas of weakness five days
per week. Students attending the two schools from previous years served as
Results indicated that the students receiving tiered service delivery for
reading instruction outperformed the control students from previous years.
The effect sizes across tiers ranged from small to large on various measures
of reading achievement. Also, students in the experimental group had reduced
rates of special education identification. Thus, two socially important outcomes
for students in the experimental group involved improved reading achievement
and student success within the general curriculum. However, the authors noted
that the lack of control schools in the study is a limitation that necessitates
caution when interpreting their results.
VanDerHeyden, Witt and Gilbertson (2005) reported data on a problem-solving
model of assessment called Screening to Enhance Equitable Placement (STEEP)
that was implemented at the district level. This method of screening
students and providing tiered services involved a series of evidence-based
intervention procedures and sequentially applied decision rules at each stage
for reading and math. The four sequential stages were 1) universal screening
using curriculum-based measurement (CBM) reading and math probes; 2) class-wide
intervention for classes with a large proportion of students performing below
a functional instruction criterion; 3) brief performance/skill deficit assessment
for those students who do not respond to evidence-based universal intervention;
and 4) the response to a short-term, individualized intervention delivered
in the classroom for those students identified with a skill deficit.
To examine the effects of STEEP, VanDerHeyden and colleagues (2005) used a
multiple baseline design across the five elementary schools in the district.
Across the four schools with baseline data from either one or two years prior
to STEEP implementation, the number of evaluations for special education and
the total number of students who qualified for services were reduced in the
year(s) following STEEP implementation. Interestingly, a reversal component
in which STEEP procedures were withdrawn at one of the schools during the school
year indicated that both the number of evaluations and the number of students
who qualified for services returned to levels above baseline following STEEP
withdrawal. VanDerHeyden et al. (2005) also reported that the number of children
identified as having a specific learning disability (SLD) was reduced from
6% to 3.5% following STEEP implementation in the district. Gains on high-stakes
tests were observed in the school district during this time period as well
(VanDerHeyden & Jimerson, 2005).
Notably, STEEP’s focus on both reading and math means that the findings
in the VanderHeyden et al. study cannot be solely attributed to improvements
in reading outcomes. However, since approximately 85% of students identified
as SLD are referred for reading/language arts concerns (Office of Special Education
Programs, 2005, August 29), improved reading achievement was a likely contributor.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the provision of evidence-based interventions
to all students resulted in improvements in socially important student outcomes.
For example, greater numbers of students remained in the general education
curriculum and setting, thereby avoiding negative consequences associated with
special education placement. Improvements on high-stakes tests suggested improvements
in highly-valued academic skills as well.
Although the impact of preventing reading difficulties on the social outcome
of student progression was not examined in the aforementioned studies, it is
reasonable to suggest that improving reading outcomes would result in a reduction
in grade retentions. For example, schools in the State of Florida can automatically
retain students in third grade who perform at Level 1 on the statewide
reading assessment. During the 2003-2004 school year, 22% of the 206,435 third
graders who took the test scored at Level 1 (Florida Department of Education,
2005, August 29). Certainly, some of these grade retentions could have been
prevented with the use of evidence-based reading intervention. The improvement
in statewide assessment scores reported by VanDerHeyden and Jimerson (2005)
lends credibility to this argument.
The Role of School Psychologists in Preventing Reading Problems
The studies discussed above provide evidence that programs designed to prevent
reading difficulties can improve various socially important outcomes. Specifically,
improvements in reading, behavioral and social-emotional outcomes have been
found. Reductions in the number of students who were evaluated for special
education and the number of students who qualified for services, particularly
for SLD, were also found. Given the benefits of preventing reading difficulties
described above, school psychologists should strive to find ways to provide
evidence-based reading instruction to all students.
One potential way in which school psychologists can facilitate evidenced-based
reading intervention services is by making an explicit link between reading
achievement and socially important outcomes. Interventions that are traditionally
considered academic in nature can impact socially important outcomes beyond
reading (e.g., behavioral and social-emotional problems that interfere
with social skill development) as well as student progression within the general
curriculum. Presenting this information to teachers, administrators and student
support services personnel may provide incentive for implementing evidence-based
reading intervention. Given the limited resources available to schools and
the negative life outcomes associated with developing reading and mental health
problems, evidence-based preventive services that efficiently improve socially
important student outcomes are imperative.
Florida Department of Education (2005, August 29). Third Grade Reading
2004 State Profile. Retrieved August 29, 2005 from www.firn.edu/doe/commhome/pdf/3statesum.pdf
Hoagwood, K., & Johnson, J. (2003). School psychology: A public health
framework I. From evidence-based practices to evidence-based policies. Journal
of School Psychology, 41, 3-21.
Jimerson, S. R. (1999). On the failure of failure: Examining the association
of early grade retention and late adolescent education and employment outcomes.
Journal of School Psychology, 37, 243-272.
Kellam, S.G., Mayer, L.S., Rebok, G.W., & Hawkins, W.E. (1998). The effects
of improving achievement on aggressive behavior and of improving aggressive
behavior on achievement through two prevention interventions: An investigation
of causal paths. In B. Dohrenwend (Ed.), Adversity, stress, and psychopathology (pp.
486-505). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (2003). National Center for
Educational Statistics Reading Report Card Page. Retrieved November 30,
O’Connor, R.E., Fulmer, D., & Harty, K. (2003, December). Tiers
of intervention in kindergarten through third grade. Paper presented
at the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities Responsiveness-to-Intervention
Symposium, Kansas City, MO.
Office of Special Education Programs (2005, August 29). Office of Special
Education Programs Home Page. Retrieved August 29, 2005, from www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/index.html?src=oc
President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002). A
new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families.
Retrieved August 29, 2005, from
Torgesen, J.K. (2002). The prevention of reading difficulties. Journal
of School Psychology, 40, 7-26.
VanDerHeyden, A.M., & Jimerson, S.R. (2005). Using Response to Intervention
to enhance outcomes for children: Screening, service delivery, and systems
change. Manuscript submitted for publication.
VanDerHeyden, A.M., Witt, J.C., & Gilbertson, D. (2005). Effect of
a problem-solving model (STEEP) on accurate identification of children.
Manuscript submitted for publication.
© 2005, National Association of School Psychologists. Jose M. Castillo,
MA and Larry J. Porter, MA, are doctoral students in School Psychology; Michael
Curtis, PhD, NCSP, and George Batsche, EdD, NCSP, are Professors of School
Psychology and Co-Directors of the Institute for School Reform at the University
of South Florida, and Past Presidents of NASP. This article was solicited
by Assistant Editor Steve Landau.