Reading Recovery, a popular one-to-one tutoring program that Bush administration officials sought to shut out of a high-profile federal reading program, has gotten a rare thumbs-up from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.
“I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,” said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. “I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the [U.S. Education] Department.”
In the What Works review, posted online March 20, the clearinghouse said the program had “positive” effects—the highest evidence rating possible—on students’ alphabetic skills and general reading achievement. The reviewers also determined that the program had “potentially positive” effects, its next-highest rating, on reading fluency and comprehension.
That’s high praise from the clearinghouse, which the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences created in 2002 to vet research on “what works” in education. So few education studies meet the clearinghouse’s tough research-quality criteria that some critics have dubbed it the “nothing works” clearinghouse.
On the clearinghouse’s “improvement index,” a measure used to provide a common metric on program effects, researchers found that the average 1st grader who completed Reading Recovery could be expected to score 32 percentile points higher in general reading achievement than similar students not in the program.
Yet some of the program’s early critics said in interviews last week that many of their original concerns remained.
“I never said Reading Recovery is ineffective,” said Jack M. Fletcher, one of 32 researchers who signed a widely circulated 2002 letter critiquing the program. “The real issue with Reading Recovery is the idea that it has to be done individually, when there’s a substantial research base on small-group interventions that shows there’s no drop-off in effectiveness.”
What Works Reading Recovery Report