Improving Reading in High Schools: Outcomes of Ramp Up to Advanced Literacy in a Large Urban District

By Muñoz, Marco A. | Planning and Changing, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Improving Reading in High Schools: Outcomes of Ramp Up to Advanced Literacy in a Large Urban District


Muñoz, Marco A., Planning and Changing


As emphasized in the recent No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001) legislation and the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA, 2002), it is critically important to identify "what works" in bringing all students to proficiency levels in core subjects like reading. One philosophy is that enacting effective educational change must involve an entire school rather than a collection of isolated programs. Use of whole-school reform models was boosted substantially by the congressional enactment in 1997 of the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration (CSRD) program. To date, there are close to 400 models that have been adopted under CSRD support (Desimone, 2002).

Although the philosophy and research-based grounding of CSR approaches should be conducive to schools improving student achievement, the evidence in support of such impacts remains limited (e.g., Berends, Chun, Schuyler, Stockley, & Biggs, 2002; Borman, Hewes, Overman, & Brown, 2003; Herman, 1999). Recently, Borman et al. (2003) conducted a meta-analysis on CSR. effects and found an overall achievement advantage for the CSR models examined. Models classified as having the strongest evidence of yielding benefits were Direct Instruction, Success for All, and the School Development Program. Effect sizes were in the +0.15 to +0.21 range, suggesting these models have a modest observed effect. Discouragingly, 17 out of the 29 models were classified as having insufficient statistically reliable or generalizable results to judge effects.

The lack of convincing empirical evidence for an educational program may be more a reflection of limited opportunities available for research on that program than of its ineffectiveness. However, in concert with an emphasis on accountability for schools, NCLB (2001) and ESRA (2002) explicitly advocate the use of rigorous scientifically-based research for determining which educational programs work to raise student achievement (Eisenhart & Towne, 2003; Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson, 2002).

The purpose of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of Ramp Up to Advanced Literacy, an unbundled CSR model, on the reading achievement of ninth grade students in a large urban school district in Kentucky. Using a pre- and posttest impact evaluation design, data from participating and non-participating schools and students were compared. In the current study, only the literacy instruction component of the program was implemented, which is atypical for this program; however, implementing whole-school reform programs is expensive. Given that the literacy component is at the core of a typical comprehensive school program, it remains relevant to describe the Ramp Up program as a CSR model. In the next section, an overview of the current literature on secondary school reading is presented.

Review of the Literature

Research on Reading at the Secondary Level

A voluminous body of research in reading and the broader topic of literacy has been generated by researchers. Since reading is arguably the most fundamental academic skill, research on reading has long been a prime focus of educational researchers. Modern educators have recognized reading competence as a vital skill in its own right and as a necessary skill to achieve competence in other academic subjects, including the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, and the social sciences. The demands of an information-based economy have made reading central to the debate on school improvement programs, including the federal legislation governing Title I and NCLB.

The basic skill of reading is an important concern of primary school educators. However, reading performance is an issue at all educational levels. Educators and others have voiced concerns about the reading ability of secondary students-especially when low ability creates barriers to effective job performance and enrollment in post-secondary education (Peterson, Caverly, Nicholson, O'Neal, & Cusenbary, 2000). …

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