AIR posted RCT results for Literacy First, providing high-dosage tutoring to struggling readers in 2nd grade. Quick take: Well-conducted RCT finds positive impact on end-of-year reading scores, but unfortunately no long-term (grade 5) impact on reading or science achievement.

Program:

  • Literacy First provides tutoring in reading to K‑2 students in low-income schools in central Texas. Students reading below grade level are selected to participate; they receive daily, one-on-one, 30-minute lessons over the full school year with a trained AmeriCorps volunteer.

Study Design:

  • The study sample comprised 798 at-risk readers entering 2nd grade (88% Hispanic, 93% low income). Based on careful review, this was a high-quality RCT (e.g., baseline balance, prespecified outcomes). Sample attrition by grade 5 was 47% but nearly identical for T vs C (so within WWC standards for acceptable bias under optimistic assumptions in reading & cautious assumption in science).

Findings:

  • At end of grade 2, the study found a statistically significant impact on reading comprehension of 0.19, representing ~20% improvement over the annual reading gain otherwise expected in grade 2. But by grade 5, the impacts on reading & science were negligible (0.04 & -0.08 respectively, not statistically significant).

Comment:

  • I think this is an important study. Many RCTs have found positive short-term impacts of tutoring in early grades, but few have long-term follow-up to see if it leads to enduring gains in student outcomes. (Here's one other, with more positive results.)

  • Disclosure: My former employer, Arnold Ventures, funded this study.

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