Scientific Research

Scientific Research Base

Reading Recovery is backed by rigorous research and has been documented as an effective intervention by both the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse and Evidence for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  

Reading Recovery is unique in its research base. In addition to a sound foundation of research leading to its development, Reading Recovery has been evaluated for its effect on:

  • student outcomes across a wide variety of populations
  • teacher learning and change
  • the teaching-learning process
  • factors related to literacy learning
  • implementation factors that influence success
  • much more…

Reading Recovery has a strong scientific research foundation based on 40 years of the founder’s work (Clay, 1966, 2009b). Outcome evidence with young children is available in several countries across the world (Watson & Askew, 2009).

Scholarly inquiry and evaluations of Reading Recovery meet the definition of scientifically based research, as briefly outlined below:

  • The structure and design are consistent with a large body of substantial research on reading and writing that began in the 1960s and continues today.
  • Research uses systematic, empirical methods to collect data annually on all children.
  • Reading Recovery uses systematic and simultaneous replication studies to document outcomes for all children served, adhering
    to standardized methods, instruments, and timelines across all schools, districts, sites, and states. Replication outcomes have been remarkably consistent.
  • Reading Recovery research and evaluation is reported in numerous published peer-reviewed articles and research reviews offering support for various aspects of the intervention (Borman et al., 2019; Borman et al., 2020; D’Agostino, 2018; D’Agostino & Harmey, 2016; D’Agostino & Murphy, 2004; May et al., 2016; Pinnell et al., 1994; Schwartz, 2005; Sirinides et al., 2018).
  • Evaluating the outcomes of Reading Recovery was an integral part of the original design of the intervention, and it continues today. The International Data Evaluation Center (IDEC) collects and reports outcomes, accounting annually for all children served in the United States. (See Chapter 10 in this guide for more comprehensive information about IDEC.)
  • Years of replication data reveal that a large majority of children who have the opportunity for a complete Reading Recovery intervention are able to work within the average range of their first-grade class and continue to make progress along with their peers. Local results are available for analysis from IDEC at the site, district, and school levels. Site coordinators in collaboration with teacher leaders produce executive summaries that communicate responses to questions from district leaders about Reading Recovery outcomes.
  • Each child is assessed before entering Reading Recovery, again upon leaving the intervention, and at the end of the school year. Each child leaves Reading Recovery with a documented intervention outcome status.

Across the past 35 plus years, data on more than 2.4 million children served by Reading Recovery in the United States have been collected, analyzed, and reported by IDEC.

While there are a number of research studies conducted, peer-reviewed and published about the positive impact of Reading Recovery, there are four primary evaluations/reviews conducted by external experts.

What Works Clearinghouse

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)

The What Works Clearinghouse, an investment of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education, again confirmed the effectiveness of Reading Recovery during a 10-year review of research studies.

The research arm of the U.S. Department of Education doubled down on the findings of its 2013 review, finding additional positive effects for students of the early literacy intervention. Among the data in the 2023 report, an IES release cited, “…moderate evidence that Reading Recovery® positively impacted student achievement in literacy immediately after the intervention. There is also promising evidence that the program positively impacted writing productivity and receptive communication immediately after the intervention and writing conventions 3 years after the intervention.”

Learn More about WWC Ratings of Reading Recovery:

Evidence for ESSA

Reading Recovery has been evaluated by Evidence for ESSA in four qualifying studies (many other studies did not qualify because they only reported outcomes for successful students, or used developer-made measures). In comparison to control groups, the average effect size across the four studies was +0.43 on measures such as ITBS, CAT, Woodcock, and Gates. These outcomes qualify Reading Recovery for the ESSA “Strong” category, and for the “Solid Outcomes” rating (at least two studies with effect sizes of at least +0.20).

An Evaluation of the Four-Year i3 Scale-Up

Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of the Four-Year i3 Scale-Up by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education(May et al., 2016)
included a randomized control trial (RCT) that studied immediate impacts in the scale-up schools. Among the largest such studies ever conducted, the RCT included 3,444 matched pairs (total of 6,888 students) in 1,122 schools in the analytic sample.

  • The 4-year study revealed medium to large impacts across all outcome measures.
  • Students who participated in Reading Recovery significantly outperformed students in the control group on measures of overall reading, reading comprehension, and decoding.
  • The growth rate in Reading Recovery students over approximately a 5-month period was 131 percent of the national average for first graders.
  • Results were similar in two subgroups: English learners and students in rural settings.

Lessons learned from the i3 evaluation of Reading Recovery are provided by Schwartz (2016). Also see Schwartz (2018) and Schwartz & Lomax (2020) for an explanation of using i3 data to reconsider What Works Clearinghouse evidence categories for Reading Recovery.

Addressing Literacy Needs of Struggling Spanish-Speaking First Graders

Addressing Literacy Needs of Struggling Spanish-Speaking First Graders: First-Year Results From a National Randomized Controlled Trial of Descubriendo la Lectura

A multisite, multicohort, student-level randomized control trial of Descubriendo la Lectura (DLL) students revealed statistically significant effects on all outcomes evaluated (Borman et al., 2019; Borman et al., 2020).

“This study represents the first experimental impact analysis of the DLL Program. Similar to the sister English-language version of the program, Reading Recovery, DLL demonstrates strong impacts for the sampled students across many dimensions of literacy in reliable ways that are replicated from teacher to teacher…DLL appears to produce impressive impacts of a magnitude rarely seen for educational programs of any type (Borman et al., 2020, p. 2015).

Given the growing number of Latino English learners and the lack of evidence-based educational opportunities they are provided, we investigated the impact of one potentially effective literacy intervention that targets struggling first-grade Spanish-speaking students: Descubriendo La Lectura (DLL). DLL provides first-grade Spanish-speaking students one-on-one literacy instruction in their native language and is implemented at an individualized pace for approximately 12 to 20 weeks by trained bilingual teachers. Using a multisite, multicohort, student-level randomized controlled trial, we examined the impact of DLL on both Spanish and English literacy skills. In this article, we report findings from the first of three cohorts of students to participate in the study. Analyses of outcomes indicate that treated students outperformed control students on all 11 Spanish literacy assessments with statistically significant effect sizes ranging from 0.34 to 1.06. Analyses of outcomes on four English literacy assessments yielded positive effect sizes, though none were statistically significant.

Reviews of Other Research

With more than 30 years of data, Reading Recovery is the world’s most widely studied early intervention. Scholars both inside and outside Reading Recovery have summarized the studies to identify trends and suggest future direction for research.

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Fall 2023