Looking for research that targets secondary fluency development is a difficult task. Most people assume that fluency is achieved in the elementary classroom and thus does not need to be addressed at upper levels. Further, many people assume that either the students struggle with reading because of significant decoding gaps (rarely true) or that comprehension instruction will fill in any gaps students may have. Since abundant research does support the idea that many secondary students are dysfluent readers, looking at interventions to support their skill set is important.
Cecil D. Mercer, Kenneth U. Campbell, M. David Miller, Kenneth D. Mercer, and Holly B. Lane collaborated on an intervention and published Effects of a Reading Fluency Intervention for Middle Schoolers With Specific Learning Disabilities in Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 2000, 15 (4). This research is used to support use of the Great Leaps Reading Program, the materials used in the study.
Students were identified for inclusion because they had a specific learning disability. With limited reading instruction at the middle school at which the students attended, an intervention was deemed appropriate. Students participated for between one and three years. Instruction was delivered daily in a one-to-one setting. The first year only the most impaired readers were targeted and later years included more mixed groups. Instruction was 5-6 minutes long and delivered by a special ed teacher the first year and by a paraprofessional the following years. Overall, "most of the students... made more total reading progress in 6 to 25 months of being in middle school than in 45 to 54 months of being in elementary school" (p. 187). One of the really nice things about this article is the inclusion of individual student data. It allows examination of the variance of the scores as well as understanding the average results.
Certainly the implication is that fluency and reading levels can be addressed meaningfully at the middle school level. Although there were a few students who made huge progress- 2-3 years of progress per year- there were some that did not- 3 in the single year study and 1 in the two year study made only .5 years growth overall. The authors correctly stress the need to evaluate data and try to determine the factors that contributed to their less stellar growth. Connecting the best individual intervention with the student is an art that we have not yet mastered.
This study does support the Great Leaps program as a one-to-one, daily instruction intervention. It also supports the concept that instruction can be provided by people other than teachers. If we are serious about reading growth, this kind of intense program is imperative for improving the reading skills of our least proficient readers. Classes full of students working on challenging close reading is unlikely to produce positive results for this group. They need something different.