The report concluded that first grade students who participated in the SFA program since kindergarten significantly outperformed students in the control group on two measures of phonics and decoding skills, the Woodcock-Johnson Word Attack scale and the Woodcock-Johnson Letter-Word Identification scale. Phonics and decoding are considered fundamental skills necessary for children to become proficient readers. Outcomes were similar for different categories of children, including African-American, Hispanic, and White children. The findings are consistent with a prior large, randomized evaluation of SFA conducted by Borman et al. (2007).
The report found that SFA schools improved their program implementation in the second year, both by enacting more aspects of the SFA program and by increasing the number of classrooms utilizing SFA practices, especially cooperative learning, a core element. Teachers reported being more comfortable with the program in the second year and felt that students in their second year of the program were performing particularly well.
“We are delighted to see the stronger reading achievement results from the second year of implementation,” said Nancy Madden, Success for All Foundation’s CEO. “Based on the pattern of earlier evaluations, we can expect to see comprehension and fluency outcomes next spring, when the outcomes for second graders are reported in the third year of the study.”
“The MDRC findings are particularly important as evidence is becoming increasingly important in policy,” said Robert Slavin, Chairman of the Success for All Foundation. “For example, one newly permitted category of School Improvement Grants (SIG) requires just this kind of evidence of effectiveness.”
Success for All was first developed in 1987 by Madden and Slavin, both researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The program provides extensive professional development to all teachers in methods such as cooperative learning, classroom management, frequent assessment and feedback, use of data to guide instruction, strategies for English learners, and family support. It also uses a response-to-intervention approach, including individual and small-group tutoring for struggling readers. In recent years, the program has added embedded multimedia elements to enrich lessons, add motivation, and model learning strategies.
In 2010, Success for All Foundation (SFAF) was awarded a $49 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand its comprehensive school improvement program. The $650 million Investing in Innovation program, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, supports efforts to start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for high-needs students. SFAF was one of nearly 1,700 applicants to apply for the competition in its first year and one of just 4 to win a nearly $50 million scale-up grant, the highest award available. SFAF had the highest-rated application of all scale-up proposals.
To help meet the mandatory 20 percent match required by the Department of Education, SFAF received financial support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Bowland Charitable Trust, and the Rural Schools and Community Trust.
In addition to funding the MDRC study, SFAF is using the i3 grant money to reduce first-year costs to schools wishing to adopt SFA by offering $50,000 grants to Title I school-wide projects. It also created local coaching support centers in high-poverty districts and improved the availability of high-quality coaching for SFA.
The full report by MDRC can be found at http://www.mdrc.org/sites/default/files/success_for_all_interim_findings.pdf.
A final report will be released at the end of the third implementation year in 2015.