National Study of the Effectiveness of Reading Comprehension Interventions

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation

American children often struggle with comprehending the more complex texts used in elementary school science and social studies classes. This is especially true of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act calls for closing the gap between high and low achievers through instructional approaches shown to be effective by scientifically based research. Yet, little is known about the effectiveness of different approaches for teaching reading comprehension strategies, making it difficult for state and local educators to decide how to best use Title I funds to improve educational outcomes.

To help close this research gap, Mathematica conducted a study over the course of two school years evaluating the effectiveness of four supplemental reading comprehension programs in helping disadvantaged fifth graders improve their reading comprehension. The study used an experimental design, in which 89 schools were randomly assigned to use an intervention or not. The four programs used by schools and teachers were:

  • Project CRISS (developed by Creating Independence Through Student-Owned Strategies)
  • ReadAbout (developed by Scholastic Inc.)
  • Read for Real (developed by Chapman University and Zaner-Bloser)
  • Reading for Knowledge (developed by the Success for All Foundation)

More than 250 teachers and over 10,000 students from 10 school districts participated in the study. Data collection included classroom observations, teacher surveys, collection of administrative records data, and the administration of reading comprehension tests.


The study found positive impacts for one of the four curricula. In particular, when teachers had one prior year of experience using the ReadAbout curriculum, students scored higher on a reading comprehension assessment. The score improvement is equivalent to moving from the 50th to the 59th percentile on a standardized test. The study found no improvement in reading comprehension scores for students using the other three curricula.