Effective Reading Programs for the Elementary Grades: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Dec. 24, 2009

Source: Review of Educational Research. Vol. 79, Iss. 4; pg. 1391-1466. (December 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article reviews research on the achievement outcomes of reading programs for all elementary children, Grades K through 5, applying consistent methodological standards to the research.

Focus of the Current Review

The purpose of the review is to place all types of initial reading programs intended to enhance reading achievement on a common scale, to provide educators and policy makers with meaningful, unbiased information that they can use to select programs most likely to make a difference with their students. The review emphasizes practical programs that are or could be used at scale. The review also seeks to identify common characteristics of programs likely to make a difference in reading achievement.

The scope of the review includes all types of programs that teachers, principals, or superintendents might consider to improve the success of their children in reading: curricula, instructional technology (IT), instructional process programs, and combinations of curricula and instructional process.

Review Methods

The review methods used here are adaptations of a technique called best-evidence synthesis (Slavin, 1986, 2008). Best-evidence syntheses seek to apply consistent, well-justified standards to identify unbiased, meaningful information from experimental studies; discussing each study in some detail; and pooling effect sizes across studies in substantively justified categories. 


Sixty-three studies of beginning reading programs and 79 studies of upper elementary reading programs met stringent methodological requirements, and these studies provide support for many replicable approaches.
The research also identified types of approaches that have not been successful in improving elementary reading performance.

Furthermore, this article finds extensive evidence supporting forms of cooperative learning for both beginning reading and upper elementary reading.

The review concludes that instructional process programs designed to change daily teaching practices have substantially greater research support than programs that focus on curriculum or technology alone.

Slavin, R. E. (1986). Best-evidence synthesis: An alternative to meta-analytic and traditional reviews. Educational Researcher, 15(9), 5-11.

Slavin, R. (2008). What works? Issues in synthesizing education program evaluations. Educational Researcher, 37(1), 5-14.

Updated: Mar. 02, 2010