Do reading curricula make a difference?


Curricula Compared 

  • Harcourt
  • Houghton Mifflin
  • Open Court
  • Reading Mastery
  • Scott Foresman
  • Success for All

Source: Teach Effectively April 7, 2009

Reporting in the Journal of School Psychology, Elizabeth Crowe and colleagues recount the methods and results of a study of children’s reading growth during the primary grades. They placed special emphasis on questions about whether different core curricula result in different rates of growth and whether students from lower-SES backgrounds achieve more under one or another curriculum. Although the results of the study do not provide conclusive evidence that any one curricula trumps all others, they give glimpses of programs’ different effects.

In their study, Crowe et al. examined growth in “oral reading fluency” for 30,000 students in Florida (US) receiving instruction using six different core reading curricula during 1st-3rd grades. Generally, they found that almost 3/4ths of the variation in students’ scores was attributable to child factors, but the 1/4th attributable to other factors included differences in the curricula they experienced. They also found, of course, that children’s reading performance, as measured in words read correctly per minute, increased over the grades; however, the increases began to slow late in 3rd grade. In addition, they reported that students from lower-SES backgrounds had lower reading rates than their advantaged peers, but that curricula did not produce different rates of growth for low- versus high-SES students.

Still, when one examines the data closely, it becomes clear that Reading Mastery pretty consistently finishes in the top group at each grade level and on each way of examining the outcomes. Crow et al. note this finding in their discussion:

Overall, students in the Reading Mastery curriculum demonstrated generally greater overall ORF growth than students in other curricula. Also, they more frequently met or exceeded benchmarks for adequate achievement in first, second, and third grade. In first grade, regardless of SES status, students generally met adequate achievement benchmarks. Among second graders, on average, only students using Reading Mastery and Success for All met benchmarks, while the lowest scores for students were among those using Houghton Mifflin. In third grade, on average, students did not reach the adequate achievement benchmark. However, Reading Mastery students came closest to the benchmarks because scores among these students were the highest across curricula.

Here is the full abstract for the study:

Policy changes at the federal and state level are endeavoring to improve student achievement at schools serving children from lower-SES homes. One important strategy is the focus on using evidence-based core reading curricula to provide a consistent framework for instruction across schools. However, rarely have these curricula undergone rigorous comparative testing. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compare the effects of six core reading curricula on oral reading fluency growth, while appraising whether these effects differ by grade level and for children living in lower (SES) households. Over 30,000 students in first through third grade Florida Reading First classrooms comprise this academically and economically diverse cross-sectional. Hierarchical Linear Modeling was used to model latent growth curves for students’ reading fluency scores over the school year. Growth curves revealed differences across curricula as well as between students of lower and higher SES, suggesting that reading fluency growth trajectories for curricula varied depending on student SES and grade level. Findings indicate that while there are similarities among curricula, they sometimes differ in their ability to promote reading skill growth. Differences by grade level and SES were also detected. However, many of these differences were small. Implications for the use of curriculum as a conduit for improving reading instruction are discussed.

Crowe, E. C., Connor, C. M., & Perscher, Y. (2009). Examining the core: Relations among reading curricula, poverty, and first through third grade reading achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 47, 187-214.

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