Although the meta-analysis was published in 2007, 2004 was the date of the most recent studies in the group. Only 31 studies were analyzed. This limitation allows room for skepticism on the part of the reader. Many other studies, not the least of which was the National Reading Study from 2001 that formed the basis of the Reading First recommendations, were not included in the analysis.
This analysis does, however, focus on secondary learners that struggle with learning. Although struggling readers were teased out, focusing on this groups is important. Far less reading research goes on at the secondary level than at the elementary level. Consequently, identifying best practice for secondary reading instruction is challenging.
They make 9 implications for practice with regard to struggling learners:
- Adolescents benefit from interventions.
- Older learners benefited from interventions at both the text and word level.
- Older students benefit from improved vocabulary.
- Word-study interventions benefit students with word level weaknesses.
- Teachers can provide effective interventions.
- Comprehension strategies can be beneficial.
- Older readers do not make the same progress in reading comprehension as in other areas.
- Learning disabilities does not mean cannot benefit from reading interventions.
- Long term research is required to identify interventions that will close the learning gap.
Interestingly, many of the findings are vague, with small effect sizes. Smaller effect sizes may indicate particularly difficult to remediate areas or the presence of confounding variables. Vocabulary instruction, for example was very helpful for increasing vocabulary of taught words but did not necessarily increase reading comprehension. Fluency instruction was found to have very little impact on reading comprehension.
One bit of information that I found was the research supported the idea that early intervention is better. This is not a surprise. Catching problems early has been a focus of many special education programs. Response to Intervention utilizes this concept as well. Knowing that earlier interventions are more effective should encourage us to intensify interventions in the elementary and middle school levels. Perhaps reading interventions should be provided in summer school even if there is not significant regression, a bar for special education extended year services.
Earlier this year while in the copy room, I was asked if it was true that if students did not learn to read by fourth grade, they never would. My response was, thankfully, confirmed by this research. We can increase reading skills of our struggling learners. It requires intensive instruction and motivation. If generally effective reading instruction has occurred through the high school level, closing the gap may not be possible, but we can improve the reading our students do. We do have to decide how serious we are. One-on-one daily instruction for roughly an hour a day, will, if delivered with fidelity to research practices, result in significant improvement. Water down the instruction and you water down how effective you are.