Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

Featuring Kim Marshall, Author of the Marshall Memo

This week, Kim Marshall summarizes the article “Getting to Scale: Evidence, Professionalism, and Community” by Robert E. Slavin which was published in the Journal for Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) in January 2016.

Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

            “One of the very, very few unquestioned success stories of evidence-based reform is Reading Recovery,” says Robert Slavin (Johns Hopkins University) in this article in Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. First brought to the U.S. from New Zealand in 1984, this one-on-one reading program for at-risk first graders now involves about 6,000 teachers and 47,000 students in 42 states. Slavin attributes this going-to-scale success to three factors:

            • Evidence – Studies have established the success of Reading Recovery since the 1980s, says Slavin: “What this means is that in schools throughout the United States and in other countries, there is a well-defined group of struggling readers that can readily be taught to read. The evidence establishes, beyond any doubt, that nothing about these children means they are doomed to fail in reading.” Of course not all children succeed after 12 or so weeks of Reading Recovery, but that provides an excellent diagnostic indicator of out-of-the-ordinary reading problems requiring more-intensive interventions.

            • Professionalism – The key to Reading Recovery’s spread has been high-quality professional development (including behind-the-glass observation and critique of every teacher conducting lessons), well-defined procedures, and adaptation in light of new data.

            • Community – Reading Recovery works through district partnerships with 19 universities around the U.S., with teachers and professors, says Slavin, “engaged in a process of learning and contributing intellectually to a whole that is bigger than themselves.”

            The problem, Slavin concludes, is that Reading Recovery and other primary-grade remedial programs are reaching only about 6 percent of the approximately 800,000 first graders nationwide with moderate to severe reading difficulties. “In a country as wealthy as the United States,” he says, “why should every struggling reader not have access to Reading Recovery or a tutoring program with equal evidence of effectiveness? The reading success of first graders is far too important to leave to chance, yet in this as in many other areas of education reform, vulnerable children are left to chance every day. Why can’t educators use what they know to solve the problems they can solve, while working at the same time to expand their knowledge?

“Getting to Scale: Evidence, Professionalism, and Community” by Robert Slavin in an issue of Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk devoted to Reading Recovery, January-March 2016 (Vol. 21, #1, p. 60-63),

Want to read the full article? Access it through Taylor and Francis here.

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