Reading Is Fundamental

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Research FAQs

The Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Read for Success research study set out to test and confirm the efficacy of a new model to reduce summer learning loss in children from economically disadvantaged communities.

Q: How many students participated?

A: A total of 33,000 second, third and fourth grade students from 173 schools in 41 school districts across 16 states participated in the Read for Success model.

Q: How is the Read for Success research study different from other children’s literacy studies?

A: Size and setting. Very few studies on children’s literacy have been undertaken in rural and/or remote settings. The sample size (33,000) was large and diverse—rural, urban, non-urban, remote settings reaching schools that served children from diverse backgrounds, including 5% American Indian, 34% Hispanic, 28% White, and 19% Black students.

Q: Why were rural and non-urban school districts selected to participate? 

A: Very few studies have been done on children’s literacy in rural or remote settings, which have their own unique set of challenges that are different from those in more urban settings. Families in rural or remote areas often lack access—to stores, schools, libraries and learning resources, even transportation, public or private.

Q: Did RIF use academic expert advisors to develop the model?

A: Yes, our expert team included scholars on summer learning, rural education, diverse populations, special needs populations, children’s literature, elementary education, science and math education, content/Common Core, and second languages and language learning.

Q: How did RIF identify which six elements to include in the “recipe for success”?

A: RIF used decades of academic research to isolate and identify effective elements to include in the research in addition to interviews with local school administrative personnel, and summer learning and assessment scholars and experts.

Q: Did any of the elements in the “six-ingredient recipe” prove more effective than others?

A: RIF did not test the impact of each of the six elements that make up the model. We believe, however, that all are important to support learning and reading.

Q: How were the students tested?

A: Each year, Lexile reading measures based on the scores from the reading section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills were used in the spring (serving as a placement for the levels of summer books) and then, comparatively, in the fall (post-test). Across the two years of the study, these four administrations provided the data to determine the impact that Read for Success had had over the summer.

Q: Did all students have parental permission in order to participate in the research study?

A: To participate in a research study, students, as minors, had to have parent permission. Parents knew about the study and their involvement was essential to the success of the program. In many cases, schools had 100% parent support.

Q: Did RIF anticipate immediate gains in reading proficiency after one summer?

A: The hypothesis of the study was that summer learning loss in reading proficiency would be cut in half – from the 80% of low-income students who typically lose learning over the summer to 40%. Improvement in reading proficiency was not part of the study’s expectations in summer one or summer two.

Q: Was RIF surprised that over half of the students tested realized gains in reading proficiency? 

A: Yes! The fact that 57% of students saw improvements in reading proficiency after one year – verified in year two – was an unexpected but significant finding of the study.

Q: What do children gain from summer programs?

A: High-quality summer learning and enrichment programs have been shown to improve reading and math skills, school attachment, motivation and relationships with adults and peers. However, they are often expensive (according to the Summer Learning Association, the average summer program costs $258 a week per child).

Q: Will year-round schooling help solve the summer learning slide?

A: This particular study did not examine the issue of year-round schooling. We do believe, however, that students need to be encouraged to read all year long.

Q: What can parents do to support their child’s reading?

A: Parent behavior plays a significant role in a child’s development and ability to read. It’s important for parents and caregivers to surround children with books, rhymes, songs, stories and conversations. Storytelling and reading together should be part of a daily family routine, even ten to twenty minutes a day. The parent, as the child’s first teacher, is an important reading model.

Q: Why is third grade so important?

A: Third grade is a pivotal time in a young person’s academic experience. The content areas of science, social studies, and mathematics become the “subject” areas in third grade. Vocabulary in third grade texts is more difficult as are the concepts presented and the complexity of the sentences in third grade materials. In first grade, for example, one focus is on sound-symbol correspondence, so the child might be learning the sounds of short /a/: man, can, fan, pan. In third grade, however, a science lesson could involve electromagnetism. Clearly, the content is much more complex, much more sophisticated, and much more difficult in terms of content and vocabulary. 75% of students who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers in high school; and after third grade, cognitive demands increase yearly. Without a solid foundation from which to learn, children are at risk to fall behind.

Q: Can schools and school systems purchase the model?

A: The Read for Success model will be available for schools and community-based organizations to purchase from RIF.

Q: How much does the model cost to replicate?

A: When purchased from RIF, the Read for Success model costs approximately $100 per child over the course of a year compared to average summer program costs of $258 a week per child. Read for Success is an effective and inexpensive model for schools and organizations to adopt.

Q: If schools could only implement one of these six “ingredients” of the model, what would you recommend?

A: RIF recommends using all six elements that were tested in the study to achieve the greatest results.

Q: What will be the biggest challenge for schools who adopt the model?

A: The greatest issue will be full implementation of the model. This model extends and reinforces learning. It should complement the curriculum in the classroom by aligning the classroom collection of 35-40 books with the curriculum being taught. Then, the summer books—for children to choose and own—extend that learning. We know that content like science and math requires frequent and different ways of addressing and applying a concept. To achieve systemic change in a whole school, teachers, children and parents need to embrace the use of lots of books for teachers to use, lots of books for children to choose, with appropriate learning activities, and opportunities for enrichment.

Q: Is it worthwhile to consider a one-year intervention?

A: The Read for Success model should not be seen as a one-shot, one-year intervention. In fact, the need for multiple years in the model is borne out by the majority of studies, which do not show gain scores until the second year. This RIF model is a model that should be implemented fully and over time. It’s a recipe, and a school would need to follow it.

Q: What is RIF’s mission?

A: RIF’s mission is to motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth through elementary school.

Q: When was RIF founded? 

A: RIF was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1966 by Margaret McNamara when she was tutoring young boys and learned they did not own books. In 1977, Congress authorized RIF in federal legislation and created the nation’s first Inexpensive Book Distribution Program.

Q: How is RIF Funded? 

A: RIF receives funds from federal and foundation grants and through individual donor support.

Q: What’s next for RIF?

A: Through the Read for Success model, RIF is leading the way with advanced research to ensure children have the ability to develop strong literacy skills that will lead them to educational attainment, social engagement and economic stability. RIF will continue its mission of providing high-quality books for children who need them most. In addition, RIF will move forward with additional research to further improve the efficacy of the Read for Success model.