Public Release: 

Special school helps African-American, poor children close literacy achievement gap, study finds

Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A specialized one-to-one teaching intervention helped the lowest-achieving African-American and disadvantaged children in first grade to close much of the literacy achievement gap with their peers, according to a new study.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that the intervention, called Reading Recovery, helped African-American and poor children who were the lowest achieving to reach average reading levels for first-graders within 16 to 20 weeks.

"Intervening early with systematic, one-to-one teaching can help children having the greatest difficulty learning to read," said Emily Rodgers, co-author of the study and assistant professor of education at Ohio State. "That includes minority and poor children, who often are victims of the achievement gap."

Rodgers conducted the study with Francisco Gomez-Bellenge, director of the National Data Evaluation Center at Ohio State, and Chuang Wang, an Ohio State graduate student. They presented their results recently in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The study involved first-grade students in Ohio. All of the students were tested twice on literacy measures: in the fall and again in the spring of their first-grade year. The participants included 4,764 students who were involved in Reading Recovery. These are students having extreme difficulty learning to read and write (usually in the bottom one-fifth of their class).

Another 1,038 students, the comparison group, were randomly selected first-grade children from schools in Ohio with Reading Recovery.. Analyses showed that within the random sample, an achievement gap opens across first grade along race, ethnicity and economic lines.

Reading Recovery is a professional development collaboration between school districts in Ohio and faculty in the College of Education at Ohio State. More than 200 school districts collaborate with Ohio State to provide professional development to teachers, who then work one-to-one with students for 30 minutes each day on both reading and writing tasks.

While other studies have shown that Reading Recovery does help the lowest-achieving students, this is the first to show that it makes a difference in closing the achievement gap that exists along racial-ethnic and economic lines, Rodgers said.

Comparisons between the fall and spring tests showed that this achievement gap was significantly narrowed for initially low-achieving African-American and economically disadvantaged children who went through the entire 20 weeks of Reading Recovery lessons, Rodgers said. This includes all students who finished the intervention, whether they were successful or not.

Those initially low-achieving African American and disadvantaged students who successfully completed the intervention caught up with the comparison group on two of three literacy measures: understanding about print and phonemic awareness. African American and disadvantaged students still trailed the comparison group on text reading level, Rodgers said, but all the students were reading at least at an average level for first graders.

"It is encouraging that all of the students, including African American and economically disadvantaged students, were able to significantly close the gap within 20 weeks, because if students fall behind early in their reading and writing skills, it is likely to be setting them up for failure in school," Rodgers said.

A 1988 study by another researcher found that students who fall behind in early grades will likely remain low-achieving in fourth grade. But the study also found that nearly nine out of ten children who were average in first grade remained average in fourth grade.

"That suggests that by getting children to average levels of reading in the first grade we will be making an investment that will help ensure future success in later grades," Rodgers said.


Contact: Emily Rodgers (614) 292-9288;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;

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