How to Select and Implement a Reading Intervention Program

According to the latest NAEP assessment data, 2023 reading scores declined across the country. Consequently, school leaders and educators have considered how to respond to this updated data. Many school districts have implemented or plan to implement a reading intervention program that yields rapid results. However, not every reading intervention program is made equal, and there are a lot of factors to consider before you make the investment. In this article, the DE team shares recommendations from experts on selecting and effectively implementing a reading intervention program for your district’s needs.

Four Factors for an Effective Reading Intervention Program

1. Evidence of Effectiveness 

It should come as no surprise that evidence of effectiveness is considered to be the biggest influence on decision-making for the majority of educators. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2015, educators increased their focus on programs with evidence of impact to ensure better student outcomes. When selecting any new curriculum resource, it is necessary to evaluate its effectiveness to determine if the proven impacts match district goals and needs.

“Effectiveness is huge, and most programs have some measures of data,” says Larry Shifflett, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Learning for Rockingham County Public Schools. “We rely on our teachers and their expertise to say, ‘here [are] the gains we’re seeing with the kids, and here’s the ease of the program and how it works’…so teacher buy-in is tremendous. They’ll know if it’s a good program or not.”

For reading intervention programs, there are a variety of skills that these programs may cover, and not every student needs remediation on every reading skill. Evaluating a program’s effectiveness on the specific components of reading students in your district need remediation on ensures that the program will match your goals and help your students succeed.

2. Teacher Buy-In

Of course, teacher judgment follows close behind, as a reading intervention can be implemented in a broad range of contexts, including across the whole school, in a subject-area classroom, or through a supplemental program. Teachers will be the ones directing and overseeing student use of the program, so having their buy-in is critical. 

Although a wealth of success stories from other schools and districts can point you in the right direction, you should also consider piloting the program in your particular school or district to understand if it’s right for you. Every state, district, and school has their own set of challenges, but they also have their own set of educators working hard to improve student achievement. Gaining educator support of a new initiative or curriculum ensures these resources will actually be used with fidelity, and a strong implementation will prepare educators to try new things.

After all, as Shifflett says, “The programs are no better than the people who run them…. We’re professionals, we’re the educators—and the programs are tools and resources we use to move [students] along.” Shifflett also advises, when you evaluate reading intervention programs, you should consider their flexibility and ensure that you’re taking into account teachers’ opinions of each program. How well can your teachers work with and around the program to maximize its effectiveness? How can you ensure this program doesn’t add to teachers’ plates, but instead alleviates some of the pressures of improving student reading abilities?

3. Flexibility with Hybrid and Remote Learning

The 2023 NAEP data indicated that higher-performing students were more likely to read for fun. To help inspire students to create positive reading habits, reading intervention programs should offer out-of-classroom access to resources. Allowing students to practice reading skills at home or at school also mitigates challenges that can come with student absenteeism or even changing school schedules due to events and assessments. 

As a teacher working directly with students in the classroom, Beth Carabetta, Reading Coach, Maloney High School in Meriden, CT, sets her students up for success by remaining flexible in her instructional approach, allowing students to select the texts of most interest to them, and encouraging students to continue their reading practice outside of the classroom. “Another thing that’s important to student success is being able to offer anytime-anywhere learning,” she continues. “To really make gains in reading, being able to utilize a program not only within the walls of the classroom but outside of the classroom as well.” 

4. Student Choice and Control

A 2015 study of eighth graders found that when students experienced a shift from assigned, required reading to independently chosen reading materials, student engagement saw a significant increase. Students who are struggling readers may not find reading exciting or fun but encouraging them to pursue their interests and read about topics that interest them can help create more positive connections with reading. Reading intervention programs that allow for student agency and choice can take some of the “work” out of the experience.

“Students—especially at the high school level—like to have a choice in the materials they’re reading and have some control over what they’re reading, provided that it’s at their level,” says Carabetta. “With the Reading Plus program, that’s definitely something that students have the ability to do.” That flexibility and control over what, when, and where students can engage with texts is one of the key characteristics to look for in your reading intervention.

“We were looking for [a reading intervention program] to give students confidence and make them feel empowered,” agrees Susan Perrone, Supervisor of Curriculum & Accountability, Meriden Public Schools, who supports Carabetta at the district level. “We wanted to make sure that, as secondary students, they weren’t looking at things that were elementary. We wanted a program that had choice…that motivated them to change…that made them want to learn. Reading Plus really seemed to hit that mark.” Choosing an easy-to-use, flexible, and evidence-based intervention program will help you maximize your return on investment.

3 Key Ingredients of a Successful Implementation

Once you’ve chosen a reading intervention that suits your needs, how do you implement it to ensure its success? There are 3 ingredients to keep in mind as you write out a recipe for successful implementation.

Strong Leadership

Effective school leaders who encourage a culture of literacy to keep both teachers and students engaged in reading instruction may have the biggest influence on the success of your reading intervention. When leaders are committed to the program, willing to invest their time and energy into making sure it’s successful, and communicative about its importance, reading intervention programs are more likely to provide the reading growth that your students need. 

Healthy Culture

A culture of safe, healthy, confident learning gives students the intrinsic motivation they need to drastically improve their reading scores. Motivation—along with comprehension and silent reading efficiency—is one of the most important components of developing reading skills in students.

Dedicated Teachers

At the end of the day, teachers are the leaders in their classrooms, and they already have strong relationships with their students, will help students believe that the program will work for them, and will use formative data from a the program to adjust and improve instruction as needed. Providing teachers with the support they need will be essential to the program’s success.

While the decline in reading scores is alarming and there is an urgency to respond, educators must be strategic when determining actions to help students gain necessary skills for proficiency. Now is the time to provide students with what they need to help them find success this year and, in the future, so that they can be on the path to graduate on time, pursue post-secondary opportunities and compete in a global economy. With this new assessment data in mind, it is important to consider what new information the data presents about student performance, instruction, and areas for growth. Reading intervention programs like Reading Park and Reading Plus can help educators tailor instruction to fit their students’ needs, and when implemented mindfully, can help make a great impact on student literacy skills.

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