“Reading Recovery has one clear goal: to dramatically reduce the number of learners
who have extreme difficulty with literacy learning and the cost of these learners to educational systems”

– Marie Clay (1998)

What is the research base for Reading Recovery?

Reading Recovery is based on substantial research about how children learn to read and write. Its roots are in Marie Clay’s research in classrooms and clinics as well as intensive studies from other disciplines. The What Works Clearinghouse independent review of Reading Recovery’s experimental research clearly establishes the effectiveness of the intervention based on scientific evidence. Additional research supports the development and effectiveness of the Reading Recovery intervention.

  • The Observation Survey used in Reading Recovery has a strong research base.
  • Studies documenting the development of Reading Recovery are found in Reading Recovery: A Guidebook for Teachers in Training (Clay, 1993).
  • Reading Recovery is subjected to ongoing evaluation through the collection of data on every child. Also see Measuring Outcomes and Effectiveness Research.
  • Numerous follow-up studies document the continued progress of Reading Recovery children.

Do Reading Recovery students continue to make progress in subsequent years?

Numerous research and evaluation studies using widely accepted standardized measures and/or state assessment tests demonstrate that Reading Recovery students make continued progress after the intervention has ended.

Is Reading Recovery expensive?

One-to-one teaching may sound expensive, but Reading Recovery is economical for several reasons.

  • It is effective in both the short-term and long-term.
  • It is a way to reduce costs associated with retention and long-term placements in special education, Title I, and other compensatory programs.  See also a Great Britain study of Reading Recovery’s impact on The Long Term Costs of Literacy Difficulties.
  • It is a way to identify children who may need additional support through response to intervention (RTI).
  • It is a way to build capacity in teacher expertise through professional development.

Is the Observation Survey valid and reliable?

Validity and reliability for all six tasks of the Observation Survey have been documented, and the Observation Survey highly correlates with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. National norms have been developed to assist in interpreting scores.

Is Reading Recovery a classroom program?

No. Reading Recovery helps low-achieving children make accelerated gains to reach average grade-level performance. To achieve this rapid learning, children have lessons that are individually designed and individually delivered. Individual rather than group learning is essential so that children waste no time with what they already know. Reading Recovery, in combination with strong classroom instruction, gives children the best chance for success.

Is Reading Recovery aligned with any specific reading or classroom approach?

Reading Recovery is not aligned with any specific classroom approach. For decades, educators and parents have debated the best approach for teaching children to read. Research demonstrates that children have individual learning strengths and that no single approach is best for all children.

As Marie Clay responded to this question in 1999: Reading Recovery aims to bring a high proportion of the lowest achievers to average band performance in their classrooms in both reading and writing, getting them off to a good start in literacy learning. Even critical reviewers of the program acknowledge that such changes occur.

Children can enter Reading Recovery from any program and return to any program. Reading Recovery does not require classroom programs to change. However, some things make it harder for Reading Recovery children to continue to improve after discontinuing, and these things include a weak classroom program or one with low achievement outcomes.

The Reading Recovery program cannot be compared with any classroom program or any teaching method. It is designed to take the children who become the lowest achievers in any classroom program and were taught by any teaching method and provide them with a series of lessons supplementary to that program.

Reading Recovery also functions as a prereferral program offered prior to referral to special education.

What is the role of phonics in Reading Recovery?

Within each lesson, Reading Recovery teachers attend to all of the essential components of reading, including phonemic awareness and phonics. They give specific and explicit attention to letters, sounds, and words, both while reading and writing extended text and as direct instruction. Reading Recovery teachers recognize that decoding must be purposeful. They help children learn to use connections between letters and sounds and to use their knowledge of how words work in order to solve problems with difficult words while maintaining comprehension.

Does Reading Recovery raise the average achievement of the class?

Reading Recovery does not necessarily increase mean (average) scores of the class. Reading Recovery does, however, increase the actual number of children who read within the average range of their first-grade cohort and decrease the number of children who need extra help. A child who successfully completes Reading Recovery lessons must be reading at grade-level standards (documented in national evaluation data that compares Reading Recovery students to a national random sample of students in the U.S.).

Does Reading Recovery change the school system?

Reading Recovery was not designed to take the place of a comprehensive plan for literacy but to provide a safety net within a comprehensive literacy plan. Reading Recovery builds the capacity of the system to serve all children at the level needed for success. Comprehensive literacy plans for schools and systems must include high-quality classroom instruction, effective early safety nets such as Reading Recovery, and continued extra support for a few students.

All three components are necessary to help every student succeed. Reading Recovery professionals have a long history of supporting comprehensive approaches to serve all children. Reading Recovery teachers also work with children in classrooms and groups at least half of every teaching day, thus contributing broadly to the school program.

Many U.S. educators have discovered that Reading Recovery becomes a catalyst for identifying literacy needs and for making changes as needed. For example, classroom teachers often report changes in their own practices such as observing and assessing children, choosing appropriate texts, focusing on strengths, teaching to develop a network of strategic activity, and teaching with higher expectations.

Why does Reading Recovery serve the lowest-achieving children?

At least two rationales guide the decision to serve the lowest-achieving children.

  • Most children do not require the support of Reading Recovery. Because it is difficult to predict literacy outcomes prior to the intervention, the most extreme cases are selected and Reading Recovery serves as a period of diagnostic teaching.
  • If the lowest achievers are not selected, they may never catch up to the class average, thus requiring expensive special support programs in subsequent years.

Any school or system not taking the lowest children is out of compliance with the Standards and Guidelines of Reading Recovery in the United States.

Why is Reading Recovery for individuals rather than small groups?

The most effective and efficient way to bring children who are struggling with literacy learning in first grade to grade-level performance is one-to-one teaching. It enables the teacher to design each lesson to meet the unique needs of each struggling reader without wasting time on what the child already knows.

Does Reading Recovery drop children who are likely to fail?

Children may not complete the Reading Recovery lesson series for two reasons: they move before the intervention is completed or they enter Reading Recovery too late in the school year to complete the intervention.

The Reading Recovery design calls for up to 20 weeks of instruction. Children who reach grade-level standards may not require the full 20 weeks. Removing a child from Reading Recovery before 20 weeks for any other reason is rare (e.g., child returns to a kindergarten placement). Such decisions are made at the school level and written documentation is provided. The child’s data are always retained and included in evaluation reports.

Any school or system arbitrarily removing children from Reading Recovery is out of compliance with Standards and Guidelines of Reading Recovery in the United States.

Is Reading Recovery a private business?

Reading Recovery is not an independent business venture: It is a not-for-profit intervention that involves collaboration among schools, districts, and universities. In the United States, the name Reading Recovery has been a trademark of The Ohio State University since December 1990, when action was taken to identify sites that meet the Standards and Guidelines of Reading Recovery in the United States. The purpose of the trademark is to protect the quality and integrity of Reading Recovery across multiple implementation sites. Use of the royalty-free trademark is granted annually to sites that meet quality standards.

How does Reading Recovery fit into response to intervention (RTI) models?

Reading Recovery is a compelling option for schools that are designing response to intervention (RTI) models to meet the needs of struggling readers and writers. Collaborative efforts among general educators, special educators, and Reading Recovery professionals can lead to the development of a promising RTI model.

The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA; IDEA) encourages early intervention to determine if a child responds to the intervening instruction. The goal is to limit referrals by distinguishing between children who are learning disabled and children whose difficulties are related to experience and instruction. This goal closely parallels Reading Recovery’s goal “to dramatically reduce the number of learners who have extreme difficulty with literacy learning and the cost of these learners to educational systems” (Clay, 1994).

Does Reading Recovery work with English language learners (ELL)?

Reading Recovery outcomes for English language learners are quite similar to those of native English speakers. Research studies by Ashdown & Simic and by Neal & Kelly document the outcomes.

Does Reading Recovery reduce achievement gaps?

Research and evaluation data reveal that Reading Recovery reduces achievement gaps in at least four areas:

  • The gap between low and average achievers
    NDEC Annual Evaluation Reports
  • The gap between higher income and poverty status children
    Batten and Rodgers, Gómez-Bellengé, Wang, & Schulz
  • The gap among minority-status children
    Batten and Rodgers, Gómez-Bellengé, Wang, & Schulz
  • The gap between English language learners and native English speakers
  • Ashdown & Simic and Neal & Kelly.


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