Project READS: Proposal for Multi-District Randomized Controlled Trial of a Voluntary Summer Reading Intervention

Can a voluntary summer reading intervention, including a family literacy program, improve the reading motivation and achievement of fourth graders?

This individual-level field experiment addressed the summer decline in reading among students—particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds—which contributes to the achievement gap. The study included 1,800 fourth grade students in approximately 29 schools across three districts in southern California, Boston, and northern Virginia. In the first year of funding, the team built on an earlier study by enlarging the scale of the original intervention, in which activities and books slightly above reading level and carefully selected for interest were sent biweekly to students over the summer. The control group received books in the fall. In addition, in each school district, the team added a third group of students who received the regular intervention along with parental involvement (California sites), incentives (Boston sites), or increased longevity (Virginia sites). The researchers measured impact using pre- and post-intervention inventories of activity and motivation administered by classroom teachers as well as district- and state-administered reading tests. In the second year, the team allocated additional resources to improve the implementation and assessment of the intervention. They provided high-interest books to each teacher in the study to expose children to appropriate reading material prior to the summer. In addition, reading tests were administered to a larger group of participants. The researchers examined the scalability of the intervention and whether the additional intervention conditions have notable impact. At the California sites (all of which served high-poverty populations), the results showed no overall impact on reading comprehension. However, this could have been affected by the fact that children in this study self-selected difficult books, and fewer than half of the children attended a family literacy event. Findings from the Boston area—which included an incentives-to-read program—showed especially strong impacts for children who selected well-matched books and who already showed showed strong reading motivation. However, the investigators found no overall positive impact of incentives on reading comprehension scores. Initial results from the Virginia site reveal no impact on reading comprehension during the summer months. Among low-income children, receiving books during the school year resulted in larger comprehension gains than getting them in the summer.