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Abstract. Ten sixth-grade middle-school teachers and their 60 targeted students (14 students with reading disabilities, 17 low-achieving students, and 29 average-achieving students) participated in a four-month professional development and intervention program to enhance reading outcomes. The multicomponent reading intervention included three reading strategies: word identification, fluency, and content area comprehension. All three groups improved in accuracy of oral reading and fluency. Although many students made significant gains in word identification, fluency, and comprehension, a subgroup of very poor readers made little or no gains. Implications for enhancing outcomes for students with severe reading disabilities by providing intensive reading instruction (i.e., small-group explicit instruction) are provided.

Concern about students' reading abilities has been expressed at local, state, and national levels as well as in the broader political arena. President Clinton announced in a State of the Union address in 1996 that it was a national priority that every child read by the end of third grade. Many states including California, Texas, and Maryland have declared Reading Initiatives and are redesigning curricula and teacher standards. Additionally, early reading inventories are being developed in an attempt to better affect the quality of early reading practice and thus reading outcomes for youngsters.

Most, if not all, of these efforts aimed at improving reading have addressed the reading problems of students in kindergarten through third grade (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). There is good reason for this. Students who struggle with reading in the early grades are unlikely to improve considerably over time; fewer than one child in eight who is failing to read by the end of first grade ever catches up to grade level (Juel, 1988; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). The rationale for early reading intervention is sound and, if implemented effectively, should reduce considerably the number of poor readers at the middle-school level. However, there are now and will continue to be middle-school students who struggle with reading and learning from text because of reading disabilities, reading problems, and inadequate instruction (Greene, 1998; Williams, Brown, Silverstein, & deCani, 1994). For these students, effective content area reading instruction must be addressed.

Considerations for Designing Effective Content Area Reading Instruction

Although there is little disagreement that struggling readers exist, including students with reading disabilities and low achievers, there is less harmony about how to meet their needs at the middle-school level (Deshler & Schumaker, 1986; Vaughn, Schumm, Niarhos, & Daugherty, 1993). One consideration when designing a reading intervention for struggling learners and students with reading disabilities is what they need to learn to be more effective readers. At the middle-school level there is considerable emphasis on new vocabulary, connecting and summarizing ideas, and organizing and remembering information (Readance, Bean, & Baldwin, 1998). To use text to accomplish this, students must be able to decode difficult words, read fluently, implement strategies for understanding word meaning, monitor their learning while reading, and summarize and connect key ideas (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Beck, McKeown, Hamilton, & Kucan, 1997; Dole, Duffy, Roehler, & Pearson, 1991; Lenz, Ellis, & Scanlon, 1996). Thus, multiple reading interventions are necessary to ensure successful instruction and learning.

A second consideration when designing a reading intervention at the middle-school level is how instruction will be delivered. Middle-school teachers often work in interdisciplinary teams in which a core group of teachers provides instruction to the same cohort of students at some time during the day. Interdisciplinary teaming allows for optimal strategy instruction because the team can implement reading interventions throughout the day as part of content area instruction. Thus, the same core strategies would be implemented consistently thereby increasing the probability of use and generalization across contexts (Vaughn & Schumm, 1994).

A third consideration when designing a reading intervention at the middle-school level is where students need to learn to be more effective readers. With the recent reauthorization of IDEA (1997), access to the general education curriculum for all students within the general education classroom is required. Thus, some students with reading disabilities will receive most, if not all, of their education within the general education classroom. Therefore, if students with reading disabilities and struggling readers (low achievers) in general are going to acquire greater proficiency in reading and learning from text, instruction in reading skills such as word identification, fluency, and comprehension must be provided by their general education teachers. Of concern is the effect of reading intervention across the content areas on the performance of average-achieving students; that is, will this group of students benefit from this instruction as well?

This article describes the results of a study that addressed all three of these considerations. The study was conducted for four months with a middle-school team of teachers who were responsible for teaching the core disciplines (English/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science) and for implementing the multicomponent reading intervention, which included word identification, fluency, and comprehension.

Overview of the Professional Development and the Multicomponent Reading Intervention

Professional development experiences with general education teachers targeted at enhancing outcomes for students at risk for or with learning disabilities have yielded several lessons about how such programs can best be designed (Englert & Tarrant, 1995; Gersten, Morvant, & Brengelman, 1996; Harris, 1995; Jenkins & Leicester, 1992; Mathes, Fuchs, Fuchs, Henley, & Sanders, 1994; Richardson & Anders, 1998; Schumm & Vaughn, 1991; Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, & Klingner, 1998). Results indicate that the following components yield the more effective professional development: (a) specific, usable instructional practices rather than a list of approaches; (b) shared decision making between researchers and teachers about how to address issues; (c) peer coaching that provides support for implementation of instructional practices; (d) genuine dialogue around classroom-based issues and dilemmas; and (e) intensive, ongoing opportunities for collaborative professional development. The four-month research project presented in this article reflected these critical components of professional development.

Furthermore, research has documented that instructional practices provided for teachers need to be easy to implement (Gersten, Vaughn, Deshler, & Schiller, 1997) and address the immediate needs of teachers. The multicomponent reading intervention, which consisted of three reading strategies, introduced to the cohort of middle-school teachers in this study was selected to meet their immediate needs for enhancing the reading and content learning of their students.

First, teachers requested from the researchers a strategy to assist their students in identifying difficult words. The Word Identification Strategy (Lenz, Schumaker, Deshler, & Beals, 1984), which is based on the Strategies Instruction Model (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996) and has been implemented successfully with middle-school students (Lenz et al., 1996), was selected to help students identify unknown words. It was chosen because of its documented success in helping low achievers and students with reading disabilities decode multisyllabic words.

Second, the teachers requested from the researchers a strategy to enhance students' speed and accuracy with reading text. Partner Reading (Delquadri, Greenwood, Whorton, Carta, & Hall, 1986; Mathes et al., 1994), which is designed to provide a highly structured approach to repeated reading, was selected because of the researchers' success with the strategy in other studies. Teachers were given guidelines for how to organize their classroom, pair students, and teach students to practice reading and rereading while giving each other feedback and questions about understanding text.

Third, teachers recognized that many of their students were struggling with reading comprehension and learning from text. Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) was identified by researchers as an effective practice for enhancing comprehension within heterogeneous classrooms (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998; Klingner & Vaughn, 1999; Vaughn & Klingner, 1999).

This article describes the effects of a multicomponent reading intervention, which included reading strategies for word identification, fluency, and comprehension, on the reading outcomes of students with reading disabilities, low-achieving students, and average-achieving students.


Participants and School Setting


A total of 60 sixth-grade students (i.e., three groups of average achievers, low achievers, and students with reading disabilities) at a middle school in a large metropolitan school district in the southwestern United States participated in this study. The total school population consisted of 759 students (i.e., 68% Hispanic, 19.9% African American, and 11.2% European American; 84.8% qualified for the free or reduced cost lunch program; 24% of the student body was identified as Limited-English Proficient [LEP]). The students who participated in the study were representative of the total school demographics.

Participants included 14 students with reading disabilities (LD) in reading (reading disability). School district criteria for identifying a specific learning disability in reading included a discrepancy of a minimum of 16 to 20 points between assessed intelligence and reading achievement and evidence that the learning problems were not caused primarily as a result of sensory or physical disabilities. All of the students with LD had failed the reading section of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) by scoring below 70%. Thirty-three percent of the students with LD spoke English as a second language; all of them were fully included and received special education support while in general education sixth-grade content area classes. Additional student information, which was suggested by the Council for Learning Disabilities' Research Committee (Rosenberg et al., 1993) as minimum standards for describing participants with learning disabilities, is provided in Table 1.

Table 1 Summary Description of Students with Reading Disabilities
Gender Ethnicity SES

7 Females 43% African American Free or Reduced
7 Males 57% Hispanic Cost Lunch

Gender Ethnicity IQ

7 Females 43% African American TONI(a)
7 Males 57% Hispanic X = 96.36
 Range = 78-110

Gender Ethnicity Reading Achievement

7 Females 43% African American W-j(b)
7 Males 57% Hispanic Broad Reading
 X = 79.07
 Range = 60-94

 Word Identification
 X = 77.64
 Range = 64-94

 X = 82.57
 Range = 63-97

(a) Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (Brown, Sherbenou, & Johnsen, 1990).

(b) Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery-Revised (Woodcock & Johnson, 1989).

Also, 17 low-achieving (10 boys and 7 girls) and 29 average-achieving (12 boys and 17 girls) sixth-grade students participated in the study for its duration. These students were randomly selected from a group of students who were identified by grades and TAAS test scores with either a passing score (70% of TAAS objectives passed) for the low-achieving students or a mastery score (all TAAS objectives passed) for the average-achieving students. Thirty-three percent of these participants spoke English as a second language; 61% were Hispanic, 24% were African American, and 15% were European American.


A total of 10 sixth-grade teachers participated, with two teachers representing each content area (science, social studies, English/language arts, mathematics) and special education. One special education teacher was assigned by the principal to each team before the study began. Table 2 provides a summary description of pertinent teacher information.

Table 2 Summary Description of Teachers
Gender Ethnicity Degree Taught

10 Female 8 European American 7 B.S. Average = 8.2
 2 African American 3 ME.D. Range 1-25

 Average # of Students
 Average with Reading Disabilities
Gender Class Size in Each Class

10 Female 26 8

Note. B.S. = Bachelor of Science; ME.D. = Master's in Education.

Instructional Organization

The school organizational structure consisted of team teaching and block and flex scheduling. In the teaming model, students belonged to one of two teams (i.e., 30 students per team) and received their daily content area instruction from the same group of sixth-grade teachers for language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The content area teachers shared planning and advisory periods and worked collaboratively to address students' needs. Other teachers who were not on the teams taught the elective subjects and physical education.

The block schedule was employed to permit more daily instructional time per content area. "A" and "B" days were designated where half the content area classes were taught on one day and the other half on the next day. This scheduling format alternated weekly (i.e., 3 "A" days and 2 "B" days one week were followed by 2 "A" days and 3 "B" days the next week and so forth). Although 90 minutes were allocated for each instructional time block, the teachers used the "flex" schedule option (i.e., increasing or decreasing the 90 minutes) on occasions when additional or less instructional time was needed. For example, one content area teacher might request an additional 30 minutes of time so students could complete a project; the other content area teachers would have to decide collaboratively to "give up" that amount of class time for that day.

Inclusion Model

Full inclusion of students with high-incidence disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, mild behavior disorders) was implemented at the participating school for the first time during the academic year in which this study occurred. One special education teacher was assigned to each sixth-grade team. The special education teachers worked in four content area classes (i.e., mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies) consisting of 25 to 30 students each, with 3 to 5 students who were identified as having learning disabilities (LD). The special education teachers worked with individual and small groups of students who required extra assistance and instruction during the regular class periods and advisory times. Both general and special education teachers participated in co-planning during planning periods. No resource pullout program was available during the academic year, but two self-contained classes were available for students with more severe disabilities.


Professional Development

Content area and special education teachers attended three all-day workshops conducted by the researchers and/or consultants who specialized in the particular strategy--word identification, fluency, and comprehension strategies. One strategy was taught at each workshop. Two workshops occurred in January (i.e., one at the beginning and one at the end of the month), and the third workshop took place in mid-February. At each workshop, teachers were given materials to guide their implementation of each strategy. The format of each workshop included lecture, modeling, and guided practice; teachers then had time to develop an implementation plan as a team. Each content area teacher selected a strategy to implement. The special education teachers were responsible for aiding the implementation of all three reading strategies during their class work with students.

Following each workshop, workshop leaders provided co-teaching and modeling to classroom teachers to support implementation efforts. Also, teachers and researchers met during a planning period on average twice a month to discuss ideas and problem solve issues related to implementation of the multicomponent reading intervention.

Multicomponent Reading Intervention

Based on the needs of students at the middle-school level who were learning to read and comprehend content area text-based material, this study used a multicomponent reading intervention consisting of three research-based reading strategies: Word Identification (Lenz et al., 1984), Partner Reading (Delquadri et al., 1986; Mathes et al., 1994), and Collaborative Strategic Reading (Klinger & Vaughn, 1996; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998).

Word identification. The goal of word identification instruction is to help students develop and apply strategies for decoding multisyllabic words found in secondary textbooks (Lenz & Hughes, 1990). The ability to decode, unknown words both rapidly and accurately is an important prerequisite to reading fluency and comprehension.

The Word Identification Strategy (Lenz et al., 1984) helps students decode unfamiliar words in content area text. The strategy uses a mnemonic, DISSECT, to help students remember the steps of the strategy. Students first learn the strategy steps through repetition. Students must be able to name and state the meaning of each of the letters of the strategy. Then, they apply the mnemonic to decoding multisyllabic words until they determine the word's pronunciation. Whole-class instruction is used to teach the strategy with individual tutoring as needed. The mnemonic includes the following steps:

Discover the context (examine syntactic and semantic clues).

Isolate the prefix (divide the prefix from the root word).

Separate the suffix (divide the suffix from the root word).

Say the stem (read what is left of the word once the prefix and/or the suffix has been separated).

Examine the stem (divide up the letters of the stem to make decoding easier and apply knowledge of phonic rules). If the student cannot decode the stem, then the Rules of 2's and 3's are used. Rule 1 states that if a stem or part of the stem begins with a vowel, divide off the first two letters. If the stem begins with a consonant, divide off the first three letters. Rule 2 states that if you can't make sense of the stem after using Rule 1, take off the first letter of the stem and use Rule 1 again. Finally, Rule 3 gives hints on how to pronounce the word when two different vowels are together (i.e., try making both vowel sounds as in diet; or try pronouncing them together using only one of the vowel sounds as in believe).

Check with someone.

Try the dictionary.

Partner Reading. Reading fluency represents the ability to read words as wholes (i.e., word recognition) with accuracy and at an appropriate rate (speed) in connected text (Samuels, 1997). The ability to read fluently illustrates the student's comprehension of words and the text structure, and is demonstrated by appropriate intonation and lack of interruptions (Adams, 1990). Reading fluency is an important skill for secondary students because of the large quantities of text they must read for school assignments (Bryant & Rivera, 1997). We know that students who are not fluent readers at the secondary level benefit from explicit instruction in reading fluency. The goal of reading fluency instruction is to help secondary students become more fluent readers so more emphasis can be placed on comprehending content area text. Several strategies exist to promote reading fluency. We chose Partner Reading for this study based on previous experience with the strategy by the second author.

Partner Reading is a peer-mediated strategy that focuses on building fluency through repeated readings and modeling of fluent reading. Partner Reading implementation procedures consisted of the following steps. First, teachers paired students according to reading ability, where Partner 1 was the stronger reader of the pair. Student partners took turns reading for three minutes, with Partner 1 reading first followed by Partner 2 reading the same reading passage. Partner 1 used word correction procedures to help Partner 2 decode unknown words. Next, a one-minute timing was conducted, with Partner 1 reading first and graphing the number of words he or she read in one minute. Partner 2 then read the same passage for one minute and charted the total words read for the timing. Finally, Partner 1 and Partner 2 took turns asking each other comprehension questions about the story.

Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR). Comprehension involves the ability to construct meaning before, during, and after reading by integrating text information with the reader's background knowledge (Snider, 1989). The ability to activate one's prior knowledge about a topic, self-question, identify main ideas and supporting details, paraphrase, and summarize are critical skills of effective comprehension development. Thus, utilization of effective strategies to foster reading comprehension is one of the most significant goals of educators (Pressley, Brown, El-Dinary, & Afflerbach, 1995).

CSR consists of four reading strategies (i.e., prediction, vocabulary, main idea, and summarization) to teach students how to comprehend content area text material. Students work in cooperative learning groups to learn from each other and to resolve questions about vocabulary and concepts. Before starting to read, students activate their prior knowledge by previewing the text material to be read by brainstorming what they know about the topic. Students then use text features (e.g., illustrations and headings) to make predictions about the content. Next, they read short segments of the text (e.g., a paragraph or two) and use vocabulary strategies, such as context clues, to determine the meaning of unknown words, concepts, or phrases, referred to as "clunks." This step, called "click and clunk," is characterized by students taking turns to read portions of the text (i.e., clicking) and using fix-up strategies (e.g., read the sentence before or after the clunk, reread the sentence without the clunk--which word makes sense) to figure out words or concepts (i.e., clunks) they do not understand. "Getting the gist" or finding the main idea of each reading segment helps students tackle conceptually dense material (e.g., science text) and requires self-questioning about one's comprehension of the material. To find the main idea, students decide "who" or "what" was the focus of the reading segment and what was the most important information about the "who" or "what." Students construct a sentence that summarizes the important information in the reading segment by trying to keep the sentence to about 10 words. Finally, students wrap up by summarizing key concepts and by asking questions (e.g., Who? What? Why? How?) to reflect back on important ideas, events, and vocabulary. Students record their predictions, clunks, gists, and wrap-up questions on a learning log.

General Implementation Procedures

Implementation procedures for teaching each strategy included: (a) pretesting, (b) describing and modeling the strategy, (c) having students practice the strategy's steps, and (d) having students apply the strategy to text (i.e., narrative text in English language arts and expository text in science, social studies, and mathematics) or "warm-up" activities.

First, instruction in all three reading strategies was provided to the whole class with the teacher or researcher modeling the procedures for the students. Each content area teacher took primary responsibility for teaching one of the strategies while the other content area teachers focused on having students apply the use of the strategy to their classes. For example, the English/language arts teacher taught the Word Identification Strategy and the mathematics teacher had students use the strategy to decode new math vocabulary. Both special education teachers worked with individual and small groups of students with disabilities who were experiencing difficulty with the day's assignment. These teachers reminded students to use the steps of the strategy. This differentiated instruction was crucial in enabling the students with reading disabilities to learn the strategies.

Second, the multicomponent reading intervention, which consisted of the three reading strategies, was integrated into daily class instruction. Each strategy was implemented two or three times a week for 16 weeks as part of the regular class instruction. Typically, the English/language arts teacher chose to implement the Word Identification Strategy as part of "warm-up" time at the beginning of class on words that were going to be studied for a particular novel. Word Identification was also integrated into instruction along with CSR to help students decode and comprehend new words that were part of an instructional unit. In addition, students were reminded to use DISSECT to decode unknown words in text and story problems. The teachers decided to implement Partner Reading during their 30-minute advisory period at the end of the school day so as not to take away from content teaching time. Partner Reading was conducted in student pairs. Finally, the teachers chose to integrate CSR into social studies, science, and English/language arts instruction to help students comprehend various types of text (expository and narrative). CSR was implemented in cooperative learning groups of four to six students. Thus, once teachers and students had moved beyond instruction that focused on learning the multicomponent reading intervention, teachers worked at integrating the three reading strategies into their content instruction.


A variety of instructional materials were used. For the Word Identification Strategy, a poster of the DISSECT steps was provided to each teacher and bookmarks with the steps were given to students. Partner Reading materials included individual student folders containing a reading passage, graph for recording fluency scores, word correction procedures, and comprehension questions. Reading passages contained expository text; reading levels were selected based on Partner 2's reading level. Teachers used timing devices to record one- and three-minute fluency timings. For CSR, posters of the four strategies were prepared for each teacher. Reading material (i.e., narrative and expository) included textbook content, literature, and magazines. Also, students were provided with cooperative learning role cards specifying their role (e.g., leader, time keeper, "clunk" expert) and responsibility.


Word Identification Test

Reading passages used to measure comprehension (see Reading Comprehension Test) also were used to measure students' ability to decode words and read accurately. Students read the 400-word passage aloud during untimed conditions. The researchers noted words decoded correctly, the total number of words read, and the total number of words read accurately to establish a percentage correct score.

Word Identification Strategy Verbal Practice Checklist (WISVPC)

The WISVPC was an individually administered probe to determine students' ability to tell the meaning of the letters of the mnemonic, DISSECT. In order for students to move through the steps of the Word Identification Strategy, they must be able to state the meaning of the mnemonic to promote application to decoding words in text-based material (Lenz et al., 1984). Although the focus of data collection for the Word Identification Strategy was on students' ability to explain the steps, teachers reported student application of the strategy to decode multisyllabic content words.

Test of Oral Reading Fluency (TORF)

The TORF (Shinn, 1989) was individually administered to evaluate students' oral reading fluency on a one-minute timed sample. The number of correct words per minute provides an index of students' fluency development relative to the application of the strategy. Expository and narrative reading passages were selected from the Timed Readings (Jamestown Publishers) and Reading Milestones (Dormac, Inc.) materials, respectively; text contained 300- to 400-word passages. Reading passages were selected based on reading levels determined through Fry Readabililty (Fry, 1972) measures and comparable fluency scores obtained from average readers' ability with the material. Materials were counterbalanced across assessment sessions.

Reading Comprehension Test

Expository text on the sixth-grade reading level from the Timed Readings materials (Jamestown Publishers) were used to measure students' reading comprehension accuracy. Each 400-word reading passage contained five recall and five inference comprehension questions including factual, main idea, summarization, and vocabulary questions. A percentage correct score was obtained for each reading passage. The grade level of each reading passage was identified by the publisher and confirmed through Fry Readabililty measures. Materials were counterbalanced across assessment sessions.

Intervention Validity Checklist (IVC)

The purpose of the intervention validity checklists was to monitor the extent to which the elements of the three reading strategies were implemented in each of the target teachers' classrooms. A separate intervention validity checklist was designed for each reading strategy (i.e., word identification, fluency, and comprehension) and was modified slightly from use in a previous study (Vaughn et al., 1998). Each checklist contained from 15 to 20 items, which were rated by a member of the research team on a three-point scale (0 = does not implement, 1 = implements on a limited basis, and 2 = implements on a regular basis). During each IVC observation for each reading strategy, a score of 0 for a particular activity meant that the activity was not observed during the observation, a score of 1 indicated the presence of the activity but not consistently throughout the lesson, and a score of 2 indicated the regular occurrence of the activity as appropriate. Scores were based on the fidelity of implementation. The intervention validity checklist was implemented three times during the 16 weeks of implementation for each reading strategy. Interrater reliability of researchers' scoring was 90% or better. Sample items for each of the three WCs are provided in Table 3.

Table 3 Representative Items from Intervention Validity Checklists (IVCs)
 Does on a
 Not Limited
 Do Basis

Collaborative Strategic Reading

Students preview passages before reading. 0 1
Students use strategies for clunks. 0 1
Students state the who or what about the 0 1
 paragraph read and the important thing
 about the who or what.
Students generate wrap-up questions. 0 1
Students use learning logs. 0 1
Teachers conduct a whole-class wrap-up to 0 1
 review clunks and what was learned.
Teachers provide ongoing instruction in 0 1
 comprehension strategies.

Partner Reading

Students work with partners to read 0 1
 assigned passages.
Teachers remind students to use fix-up 0 1
 strategies for clunks.
Partners take turns reading orally. 0 1
Partner 1 models oral reading fluency 0 1
 for Partner 2.
Partner 1 prompts Partner 2 to use 0 1
 strategies for clunks.
Students take one-minute timed test. 0 1
Students chart their data. 0 1

Word Identification Strategy

Teachers ask students to state the steps 0 1
 of the strategy.
Teachers ask students to tell when to 0 1
 use the strategy.
Teachers provide practice opportunities 0 1
 (e.g., warm-up on vocabulary words,
 mini-lesson) to use the strategy
 in materials.
Students apply DISSECT to unknown words 0 1
 (evidence on paper, sounding out).

 on a

Collaborative Strategic Reading

Students preview passages before reading. 2
Students use strategies for clunks. 2
Students state the who or what about the 2
 paragraph read and the important thing
 about the who or what.
Students generate wrap-up questions. 2
Students use learning logs. 2
Teachers conduct a whole-class wrap-up to 2
 review clunks and what was learned.
Teachers provide ongoing instruction in 2
 comprehension strategies.

Partner Reading

Students work with partners to read 2
 assigned passages.
Teachers remind students to use fix-up 2
 strategies for clunks.
Partners take turns reading orally. 2
Partner 1 models oral reading fluency 2
 for Partner 2.
Partner 1 prompts Partner 2 to use 2
 strategies for clunks.
Students take one-minute timed test. 2
Students chart their data. 2

Word Identification Strategy

Teachers ask students to state the steps 2
 of the strategy.
Teachers ask students to tell when to 2
 use the strategy.
Teachers provide practice opportunities 2
 (e.g., warm-up on vocabulary words,
 mini-lesson) to use the strategy
 in materials.
Students apply DISSECT to unknown words 2
 (evidence on paper, sounding out).

Data Collection Procedures

Pretest data collection procedures occurred in January prior to initiation of the project and posttest data collection took place in May at the conclusion of the research. Both individual and group measures were administered by trained research assistants. Training was conducted by the first author. During group administration, the research assistant and classroom teacher were present to provide assistance and support student effort. Additionally, three trials were conducted on the DISSECT steps to determine student understanding of the strategy. Trial 1 occurred at the end of January following one month of instruction. Trial 2 occurred at the beginning of March, and Trial 3 was conducted in May. Data collection procedures consisted of students stating the name and explaining the meaning of each letter of the mnemonic individually to research assistants.


A series of one between-subjects variable and one within-subjects variable repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) were performed to test differences among average achievers, low achievers, and students with reading disabilities at two points in time on the basis of word identification, fluency, and comprehension. The between-subjects variable was student achievement with three levels (i.e., average achievers, low achievers, and students with LD in reading) and the within-subjects variable was time with two levels (i.e., pretest and posttest). For each outcome variable, three hypotheses were tested: (a) achievement level main effect, (b) time main effect, and (c) achievement level-by-time interaction effect. Eta squared, a measure of the explained variance (i.e., .01 = small, .06 = medium, .14 = large) was used to describe effect sizes (Cohen, 1988). Due to the exploratory nature of the investigation, the level of significance was set a priori at the .05 level. Means and standard deviations for the variables are shown in Table 4.

Table 4 Means and Standard Deviations for Word Identification, Fluency, and Comprehension
Achievement Level Mean (SD)

Word Identification

Average Achievers (n = 29) 97.44 (1.80)
Low Achievers (n = 17) 93.82 (6.52)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 80.57 (10.94)


Average Achievers (n = 29) 113.34 (28.57)
Low Achievers (n = 17) 84.76 (28.63)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 46.57 (36.18)


Average Achievers (n = 29) 59.66 (15.00)
Low Achievers (n = 16) 36.88 (17.78)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 28.57 (12.92)

Achievement Level Mean (SD)

Word Identification

Average Achievers (n = 29) 97.21 (2.47)
Low Achievers (n = 17) 94.53 (5.67)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 85.86 (8.33)


Average Achievers (n = 29) 128.21 (31.98)
Low Achievers (n = 17) 97.88 (29.97)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 62.79 (44.20)


Average Achievers (n = 29) 59.31 (21.54)
Low Achievers (n = 16) 40.00 (20.00)
Students with Reading Disabilities (n = 14) 33.57 (22.40)

Additional analyses were conducted with just the reading performance scores of the students with reading disabilities. Specifically, a series of t-tests for correlated samples were performed to examine changes from pretest to posttest on the basis of word identification, fluency, and comprehension at the .05 level. The effect sizes were computed by dividing the mean difference by the standard deviation of the mean difference to show the difference between the two means in standard deviation units, and were described as .2 = small, .5 = medium, .8 = large (Cohen, 1988).

Reading Outcomes for Achievement Groups

Word Identification Strategy Verbal Practice Checklist (WISVPC). Students' performance on the WISVPC revealed that all three achievement groups increased in their ability to explain the seven steps of the DISSECT mnemonic. Average achievers outperformed the low achievers, who outperformed the students with reading disabilities in mean number of steps explained correctly. Trial 1 frequency data showed that after about one month of instruction in DISSECT, almost half of the average achievers knew all seven steps; however, only one third of the low achievers and students with reading disabilities could explain all the steps. These data were shared with the language arts teachers, who were responsible for teaching this strategy. As a result, they reported an increased effort (i.e., more practice) on their part to ensure that more students were learning the steps. Interestingly, in Trial 2 the majority of the average (89%) and low achievers (59%) had learned all seven steps compared to the students with reading disabilities (27%). However, 36% of the students with reading disabilities were able to explain all seven steps by Trial 3. Means and standard deviations and frequency data for the number of steps out of seven memorized and explained for each achievement group across the three trials are reported in Table 5 and Table 6, respectively. In addition, teachers who participated in the study observed student application of the Word Identification Strategy, including students who were low achievers and who had reading disabilities. Examples of application consisted of some students using the strategy to decode multisyllabic content words orally and in written form by using lines to separate prefixes and suffixes from the base word.

Table 5 Means and Standard Deviations Across Three Trials by Achievement Group for the Word Identification Strategy Verbal Practice Checklist
Achievement Group Trial 1 Trial 2

Average Achievers 5.54 (2.49) 6.85 (.46)
Low Achievers 4.75 (2.34) 5.88 (1.87)
Students with Reading Disabilities 3.69 (3.07) 5.00 (1.90)
 (n = 13) (n = 11)

Achievement Group Trial 3

Average Achievers 6.68 (1.16)
Low Achievers 6.12 (1.32)
Students with Reading Disabilities 5.29 (1.82)
 (n = 14)

Table 6 Frequency Data on Number of Mnemonic Steps Identified Across Three Trials by Achievement Group for the Word Identification Strategy
 Trial 1 Trial 2

 # of # of
Achievement Steps Steps
Group n = 7 Frequency n = 7 Frequency

Average 0 4 0 0
Achievers 1 0 1 0
 2 0 2 0
 3 1 3 0
 4 0 4 0
 5 3 5 1
 6 3 6 2
 7 17 7 24
 (n = 28) (n = 27)

Low 0 1 0 0
Achievers 1 0 1 1
 2 1 2 1
 3 2 3 0
 4 1 4 1
 5 1 5 1
 6 2 6 3
 7 4 7 10
 (n = 12) (n = 17)

Students 0 4 0 0
with Reading 1 0 1 0
Disabilities 2 1 2 2
 3 2 3 0
 4 0 4 3
 5 0 5 0
 6 2 6 3
 7 4 7 3
 (n = 13) (n = 11)

 Trial 3

 # of
Achievement Steps
Group n = 7 Frequency

Average 0 0
Achievers 1 0
 2 0
 3 0
 4 0
 5 1
 6 3
 7 24
 (n = 28)

Low 0 0
Achievers 1 0
 2 0
 3 2
 4 0
 5 1
 6 5
 7 9
 (n = 17)

Students 0 0
with Reading 1 0
Disabilities 2 2
 3 1
 4 0
 5 4
 6 2
 7 5
 (n = 14)

Word identification. Results of the ANOVA revealed that group differences on the basis of word identification were statistically significant, F(2,57) = 34.34, p [is less than] .001, effect size = .55, power = 1.00. The highest word identification scores belonged to average achievers, followed by low achievers and the students with reading disabilities group. The time effect was also statistically significant, F(1,57) = 7.61, p [is less than] .01, effect size = .12, power = .77. The word identification scores increased significantly from pre- to posttest. Also statistically significant was the achievement level-by-time interaction effect, F(2,57) = 5.63, p [is less than] .01, effect size = .16, power = .84. To better understand the nature of the interaction effect, an analysis of simple effects was performed. Results showed a substantial increase from pre- to posttest in the special education group. Changes in low and average achiever groups were negligible. When the analysis was limited to the students with reading disabilities, t-tests for correlated samples showed statistically significant increase from pretest (M = 80.57, SD = 10.94) to posttest (M= 85.86, SD 8.33), t(13) = 2.40, p [is less than] .05, effect size = .64.

Fluency. Results of the ANOVA showed differences among the three achievement levels as being statistically significant, F(2,57) = 22.74, p [is less than] .001, effect size = .44, power = 1.00. Average achievers had the highest scores, followed by low achievers and students with reading disabilities. The time effect was also statistically significant, F(1,57) = 21.03, p [is less than] .001, effect size = .27, power = .99. The fluency scores increased from pre- to posttest. The achievement level-by-time interaction effect was not statistically significant, F(2,57) = .07, p = .94, effect size = .002, power = .06. For the students with reading disabilities, the increase from pretest (M = 46.57, SD = 36.18) to posttest (M = 62.79, SD = 44.20) was statistically significant, t(13) = 2.52, p [is less than] .05, effect size = .67.

Comprehension. Similar to previous results, differences among the three achievement levels on the basis of comprehension were statistically significant, F(2,56) = 23.29, p [is less than] .001, effect size = .45, power = 1.00. The highest comprehension scores belonged to average achievers, followed by low achievers and the students with reading disabilities. The time effect, F(1,56) = .61, p = .44, effect size = .01, power = .16, and the achievement level-by-time interaction effect, F(2,56) = .26, p = .77, effect size = .01, power = .09, were not statistically significant. In this case, t-tests for correlated samples showed that the increase from pretest (M = 28.57, SD = 12.92) to posttest (M = 33.57, SD = 22.40) in the students with reading disabilities group was not statistically significant, t(13) = .81, p = .43, effect size = .22. Posttest comprehension score for one student in the low achiever group was not available. Therefore, that student was not included in the analyses pertaining to comprehension.

Intervention Validity Checklist (IVC)

IVC data were analyzed according to the average number of behaviors rated as "2" (i.e., implements on a regular basis). Scores of 80%-100% were viewed as demonstrating high fidelity of implementation, scores of 60%-79% were rated as partial fidelity, and scores below 60% were classified as low fidelity. Ratings showed that the Word Identification Strategy (47%) demonstrated a relatively modest implementation, whereas CSR (69%) and Partner Reading (70%) were implemented with considerably more fidelity.


The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a multicomponent reading intervention (word identification, fluency, comprehension) implemented by teacher teams on the reading outcomes of students with reading disabilities as well as low- and average-achieving students. Overall, the results indicate that most of the students made gains on all three measures and that informal interviews with teachers revealed that they perceived that they benefited from professional development in reading.

Reading Outcomes

Reading outcomes are described for reading strategy (i.e., word identification, fluency, and comprehension) of the multicomponent reading intervention.

Word identification. In word identification, mastery is considered as 99% correct oral reading (Lenz et al., 1984). All three groups of students improved in accuracy of oral reading; none reached the mastery level, but the average and low achievers were within the range of mastery. Mean oral reading accuracy scores, mean number of mnemonic steps mastered, and number of students with reading disabilities who could explain at least six steps demonstrated that these students can benefit from explicit strategy instruction in the general education classroom. However, a group of students with reading disabilities continue to struggle with general education instruction--even when it is based on research-based practices. These students require more intensive teaching through small-group instruction and increased time reading.

Additionally, the authors of the Word Identification Strategy offer some cautions that were evident in this study. First, the strategy works best when the word being read is in the student's listening vocabulary. In this study, 38% of the students with reading disabilities were English-language learners with a limited English vocabulary, which may have impeded their ability to explain the strategy steps. Second, the strategy was designed to be taught to small groups of secondary-level students with reading disabilities who read at the third-grade level or above. In this study, the strategy was implemented in whole-class instruction. Although some special education support service was available in class, some of the students with reading disabilities required more intensive, small-group assistance. Third, the emphasis of strategy instruction is on students' ability to apply the strategy. We focused on teaching the students the strategy steps and encouraging transfer across classes by having all content area teachers remind students to use DISSECT and by having a poster with the strategy steps displayed in all content classes.

Fluency. The fluency results were particularly encouraging for all three groups of students. Data showed that with intensive practice, students with reading disabilities in particular gained from the program, which consisted of two to three 30-minute fluency training sessions per week. These data suggest that students with reading disabilities can benefit from a fluency-building strategy and that many struggling readers would profit from repeated reading fluency instruction incorporated into their curricula. However, most middle-school curricula do not include fluency building as a target skill.

Comprehension. For comprehension, although slight mean score gains were noted for the low achievers and students with reading disabilities, differences were not statistically significant and effect sizes were small. Comprehension strategy training takes time for both teachers and students. Moreover, students require assistance in applying strategies to content area text, which also takes time. This study occurred over a period of four months where teachers and students were learning strategies for three different reading skill areas (i.e., word identification, fluency, and comprehension). One could surmise that students with reading disabilities need to learn effective decoding strategies (e.g., word identification) and develop fluency (e.g., partner reading) satisfactorily before comprehension can take place more readily. Furthermore, students were taught to use comprehension strategies within highly dense and vocabulary-rich texts of science and social studies. These texts are challenging for average- to high-achieving students and virtually unreadable by most low-achieving students and students with reading disabilities. Although most teachers exerted considerable effort to locate text that was connected to the topic and at appropriate reading levels for their struggling readers, comprehending content text remains challenging for struggling readers.

Professional Development

Although not the primary purpose of this study, a secondary outcome that was observed by the research team and commented on frequently by the teacher team was the extent to which teachers' participation in learning and implementing the multicomponent reading intervention enhanced their knowledge, skills, and confidence in providing reading instruction to students with reading disabilities and low achievers. With the exception of the English/language arts teacher, these teachers did not "see" themselves as reading teachers and were not confident in their skills and knowledge to provide instruction in this area. However, participating in the semester-long program provided them with new instructional practices for enhancing reading and confidence in their skills to work with students who were very poor readers and had identified reading disabilities. As noted by the science teacher, "it pulled us together as a team, and it was really nice to meet other professionals who had the same goals in mind as we do. It was also really encouraging to find out that there were strategies that we could implement on a daily basis."


limitations influence the effects and interpretation of this study. While four months is a relatively long intervention study (cf. Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 1999), it is a short period of time in the learning history of middle-school students. We believe that for substantial change to occur, schoolwide implementation of effective reading and content strategies for middle-school students needs to begin their first year in middle school and continue throughout the middle-school years. Also, we recognize that for many teachers it takes time to use and implement these strategies as part of their daily routine. While implementation at some level occurred for all teachers, it was not at the highest level for all teachers at all times as demonstrated by the IVC data. This again speaks to the need for more extensive and long-lasting investigations of professional development programs in the context of schoolwide reform. Furthermore, there was no control group to determine whether the progress made by students on the outcomes measured could be attributed at least in part to the enhanced focus on teaching reading. Identifying an appropriate and adequate control school, teachers, and students was not possible for this study.

Future Research

Recommendations for future research are suggested within the framework, which was introduced earlier in this article, of considerations for designing effective content area reading instruction; that is, focusing on what reading strategies should be taught and how and where instruction should occur. First, reading strategy instruction (i.e., what should be taught) should be implemented and studied on a year-long basis to allow teachers and students more time to learn and apply the strategies. The critical component of strategy instruction is students' ability to apply the strategies independently; this takes time as students come to understand strategy instruction and the importance of applying their knowledge of strategic learning across content area instruction. It also takes time and study to determine issues struggling readers face and instruction they require to independently apply effective strategies before, during, and after the reading process.

Second, content area text (i.e., how teachers teach content material) that can be used to teach the curriculum and can be read by struggling readers is a major challenge in schools with a large English-language learner population or with a large student population that has low reading scores. The readability of content area texts issue must be addressed so that teachers can access materials that can be used effectively with diverse student populations who may not be able to comprehend adequately traditional textbooks.

Finally, the role of the special education teacher in middle-school inclusive settings (i.e., where instruction is delivered for students with reading disabilities) warrants further study to determine how students with reading disabilities can best be taught the decoding and fluency-building techniques they need to become better readers. Students with severe reading disabilities who may not benefit entirely from general education instruction must receive appropriate instruction; thus, more effective inclusive practices including intensive instruction must be explored more thoroughly and instructional options provided for teachers.

Implications for Practice

There is growing consensus that to the extent possible students with reading disabilities are best educated in the general education classroom. However, the issue of how to provide this education is paramount. Based on our research, we recommend a two-pronged approach. First, the overall quality and nature of instruction for students with disabilities within general education classrooms must be improved (Abbott, Walton, Tapia, & Greenwood, 1999; Gersten et al., 1996; Greenwood, 1998; Vaughn et al., 1998). Ideally, for this to be accomplished, schoolwide practices that enhance outcomes for all students need to be identified and implemented.

Second, the overall intensity of instruction for struggling readers and students with reading disabilities must be increased (Jenkins, Jewell, Leicester, Jenkins, & Troutner, 1991; Vaughn, Moody, & Schumm, 1998; Zigmond et al., 1995). This is a challenging endeavor. Some evidence suggests that for the intensity to be sufficient, one-on-one instruction provided by well-trained professionals may be needed (Vellutino et al., 1996; Wasik & Slavin, 1993). However, one-on-one instruction is expensive and may not be appropriate, particularly at the middle-school level (Shanahan & Barr, 1995; Vaughn & Schumm, 1994). Thus, in this study, we attempted to provide the necessary intensity by offering the same professional development strategies to an entire team of middle-school teachers. The rationale was that if all the teachers who these students encountered utilized the same three strategic approaches for building reading and content area knowledge, students would both acquire and practice the skills with sufficient intensity. As one student participant reported to us, "I just decided I might as well learn to use the strategies since I couldn't get away from them." Nevertheless, there remains a group of students with reading disabilities who require intensive, individualized or small-group instruction in addition to the general education curriculum.

Teachers who have participated in focus groups and interviews reveal that they are eager to participate in professional development that enhances their skills and knowledge to meet the diverse needs of learners in their classroom but also satisfies the reality principles of teaching (Gersten et al., 1997). Teachers crave instructional practices that enhance outcomes for all students (Schumm et al., 1995). This research has demonstrated that teams of middle-school teachers can effectively implement to their whole class a multicomponent reading intervention (word identification, fluency, and comprehension) that can be applied to content area reading. Most students can benefit from this instruction; however, special educators are challenged to create instructional settings that provide intensive instruction for students with reading disabilities within inclusive classroom environments.


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Request for reprints should be addressed to: Diane Pedrotty Bryant, School of Education, The University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712.

DIANE PEDROTTY BRYANT, Ph.D., is associate professor, University of Texas at Austin.

SHARON VAUGHN, Ph.D., is professor, University of Texas at Austin.

SYLVIA LINAN-THOMPSON, Ph.D., is research associate, University of Texas at Austin.

NICOLE UGEL, Ph.D., is research associate, University of Texas at Austin.

ALLISON HAMFF, B.A., is a graduate research assistant, University of Texas at Austin.

MARTY HOUGEN, Ph.D., is administrative supervisor, Austin Independent School District, Austin, Texas.
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Author:Hougen, Marty
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
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Date:Sep 22, 2000

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