Reading Recovery, an intervention program recommended by many reading authorities around the world and used with millions of children in the US, apparently may not be as beneficial as claimed. A suite of as-yet-unreviewed studies by Henry May and his collaborators included a study that shows not-so-great outcomes in follow-ups of children who received Reading Recovery in their early years.
Reading Recovery, for those who need a little background, is a remedial method for addressing reading problems in the primary grades. It is predicated on tutoring work by Marie Clay of New Zealand. The basic idea is to have teachers of early childhood students—especially first grade—spend up to 30 minutes a day with individual students in tutorial sessions. It does not expressly teach fundamental components of decoding (e.g., letter-sound correspondences, blending), skills that are often considered important for early learners of reading. Mostly if focuses on ideas like the three-cuing strategy.
So, one concern about Reading Recovery is that it promotes guessing. Another is its cost; it takes a teacher away from her or his class for extended periods to focus on one individual student. Another concern is that gains realized after implementing Reading Recovery during first grade may not be sustained (Buckingham, 2019). A third concern is that studies (e.g., Iverson & Tunmer, 1993) that found Reading Recovery less effective than alternatives are used as arguments favoring Reading Recovery. Yet another concern is that in it’s own evaluations of effectiveness, it excluded students who were not responsive to the intervention (i.e., it pruned the sample).
Champions of Reading Recovery (e.g., Reading Recovery Community; D'Agostino & Harmey, 2016; Sirinides et al., 2018) argue that it "works"). Not everyone agrees. Shanahan and Barr (1995) were early doubters and others have followed (e.g., Reynolds & Wheldall, 2007).
On 23 April 2022, Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak of American Public Media provided coverage at "New Research Shows Controversial Reading Recovery Program eventually had a negative impact on Children.” Here’s the lede for their article:
One of the world’s most widely used reading intervention programs for young children took a hit to its credibility today following the release of a new study at the American Educational Research Association conference.
Reading Recovery — a one-on-one tutoring program for first graders — has long been controversial because it’s based on a theory about how people read words that was disproven decades ago by cognitive scientists. A 2019 story by APM Reports helped bring widespread public attention to the fact that reading programs based on this theory teach kids the habits of struggling readers.
The new, federally funded study found that children who received Reading Recovery had scores on state reading tests in third and fourth grade that were below the test scores of similar children who did not receive Reading Recovery.
Those educators among us who employ Reading Recovery should take this news as an important cautionary tale. Sometimes fancy poop may not be much more than plain pony poop.
However, please do not mistake this post as a thorough scientific analysis. Educators need scholars to examine interventions such as Reading Recovery in systematic and objective ways. I hope analysts will take the challenge.
UPDATE 10:40 AM GMT 24 April 2022: Over on the often-informative Filling the Pail, Greg Ashman has a take on the topic that’s worth reading.
Buckingham, J. (2019). Reading Recovery: A failed investment. The Centre for Independent Studies. https://www.cis.org.au/publication/reading-recovery-a-failed-investment/
D'Agostino, J. V., & Harmey, S. J. (2016). An international meta-analysis of Reading Recovery. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 21(1), 29-46. https://doi.org/10.1080/10824669.2015.1112746
Hurry, J., Fridkin, L., & Holliman, A. J. (2022). Reading intervention at age 6: Long‐term effects of Reading Recovery in the UK on qualifications and support at age 16. British Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 5-21. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3752
Iverson, S., & Tunmer, W. E. (1993). Phonological processing skills and the Reading Recovery program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 112–126. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.52
May, H., & Blakeney, A. (2022). Replication of short-term experimental impacts of Reading Recovery's Investing in inovation Fund (I3) scale-up with regression discontinuity. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1R4eZlidReG-1zFA4LKL9nX9sPbkM-t0q
Reynolds, M., & Wheldall, K. (2007). Reading Recovery 20 years down the track: Looking forward, looking back. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 54(2), 199-223.
Shanahan, T., & Barr, R. (1995). Reading Recovery: An independent evaluation of the effects of an early instructional intervention for at-risk learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 958-996. https://www.jstor.org/stable/748206
Sirinides, P., Gray, A., & May, H. (2018). The Impacts of Reading Recovery at scale: Results from the 4-year i3 external evaluation. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(3), 316-335. https://doi.org/10.3102%2F0162373718764828
• Hat tip to Shanna H. for helping me with this post.