Response to Intervention for Middle School Students with Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention

By Vaughn, Sharon; Cirino, Paul T. et al. | School Psychology Review, March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Response to Intervention for Middle School Students with Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention

Vaughn, Sharon, Cirino, Paul T., Wanzek, Jeanne, Wexler, Jade, Fletcher, Jack M., Denton, Carolyn D., Barth, Amy, Romain, Melissa, Francis, David J., School Psychology Review

Abstract. This study examined the effectiveness of a yearlong, researcher-provided, Tier 2 (secondary) intervention with a group of sixth-graders. The intervention emphasized word recognition, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Participants scored below a proficiency level on their state accountability test and were compared to a similar group of struggling readers receiving school-provided instruction. All students received the benefits of content area teachers who participated in researcher-provided professional development designed to integrate vocabulary and comprehension practices throughout the school day (Tier 1). Students who participated in the Tier 2 intervention showed gains on measures of decoding, fluency, and comprehension, but differences relative to students in the comparison group were small (median d = +0.16). Students who received the researcher-provided intervention scored significantly higher than students who received comparison intervention on measures of word attack, spelling, the state accountability measure, passage comprehension, and phonemic decoding efficiency, although most often in particular subgroups.


Recognizing the large numbers of students who need academic and behavioral intervention in our schools, educators, policy makers, and researchers have called for school-wide intervention frameworks in which students' response to quality intervention is monitored and used to inform decisions about future intervention and placement (see Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007; Jimerson, Burns, & VanDerHeyden, 2007). However, there is minimal research-based guidance for effective implementation of tiered interventions for older students (e.g., Grades 4-8) and for effective reading interventions for older students (Kamil et al., 2008).

Edmonds and colleagues (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of 13 experimental and quasi-experimental studies that examined the effects of decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension interventions on the reading comprehension of students in Grades 6-12. The mean weighted average effect size of these studies on comprehension outcomes was 0.89, in favor of treatment students over comparison students, which suggested that older students with reading difficulties significantly benefited from interventions. Word-level interventions were associated with moderate effect size gains in reading comprehension (d = 0.34).

Scammacca and colleagues (2007) extended the Edmonds et al. (2009) meta-analysis to studies that examined reading outcomes in domains other than comprehension. The interventions were conducted with older students with reading difficulties and resulted in a mean effect size of d = 0.95 from 31 studies. Several of these studies measured outcomes using researcher-developed instruments; the average effect size was considerably lower when standardized, norm-referenced measures were analyzed (d = 0.42). Comprehension and vocabulary interventions were associated with the highest effect sizes, and word study interventions were associated with moderate effect sizes. Interventions implemented by researchers were associated with higher effect sizes than those implemented by teachers; and effects were higher for middle-grade students than for students in high school.

The findings from these two comprehensive syntheses on interventions with older students should be considered in light of several important issues that are not adequately reflected in aggregated effect sizes. First, the effect sizes favoring treatment students may have been inflated if the comparison students were not participating in any reading instruction. Unlike in elementary school where all students receive reading instruction, reading instruction at the middle school level may not be formal and may be represented as part of occasional vocabulary or comprehension activities in the content area. Second, most of the interventions represented in the syntheses were relatively short term (less than 2 months).

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Response to Intervention for Middle School Students with Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention


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