Reading Recovery

Study: Iversen & Tunmer (1993)

Iversen, S., & Tunmer, W. E. (1993). Phonological processing skills and the Reading Recovery program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 112-126.
Descriptive Information Usage Acquisition and Cost Program Specifications and Requirements Training

Reading Recovery is a highly effective, short-term intervention of daily one-to-one lessons that supplement good classroom teaching for the lowest-achieving first graders. The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of first- grade children with extreme difficulty learning to read and write and to reduce the cost of these learners to educational systems.

The lowest literacy achievers in Grade 1 receive a half-hour lesson each school day for 12-20 weeks with a specially trained Reading Recovery teacher. Daily and weekly records provide rich information for progress monitoring. As soon as children meet grade-level expectations and can continue to learn in the classroom, their lessons are discontinued, and new students begin individual instruction. Just as in the intent of RTI, two positive outcomes are possible: (a) responding to the intervention by meeting grade-level literacy expectations (approximately 75% of the children complete interventions) and (b) recommended for further evaluation and future support.

The intent of Reading Recovery lessons is to promote accelerated learning so that students can catch up with their peers and benefit from classroom instruction without supplemental help. Each lesson is individually designed and individually delivered by specially trained teachers and includes: reading familiar books, reading yesterday’s new book while the teacher takes a running record, working with letters and/or words using magnetic letters, composing a written message, assembling a cut-up story, and reading a new book.

Extensive training is required for the responsive, contingent teaching in Reading Recovery. Three levels of training form a network of expertise and support: (a) university-based trainers of teacher leaders; (b) site-based teacher leaders who train teachers; and (c) school-based teachers who deliver the intervention on their campuses.

Reading Recovery is intended for use in first grade. It is designed for any student at risk of academic failure. The academic area of focus is reading (including phonological awareness, phonics/word study, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary) and writing (including spelling, sentence construction, phonemic awareness, letter-sound relationships, phonological and orthographic awareness, analogy, and writing vocabulary).

Reading Recovery has been implemented in the United States for 25 years. During the 2008-2009 school year, 1,909 school systems in 47 states were implementing Reading Recovery and 34 school systems in 8 states implemented Descubriendo la Lectura.

Where to obtain:
Reading Recovery Council of North America
500 W. Wilson Bridge Rd., Suite 250
Worthington, Ohio 43085-5218
Phone: 614-310-7323

Also available at University Training Centers:
Initial per teacher costs for a new implementation in a school would include the cost of the year-long training (costs vary according to universities granting credit), the initial purchase of non-consumable children’s books to be used with students (about $2,500), professional books, materials, and supplies (approximately $250), and data processing fees (about $57).

Replacement cost per student for subsequent use: The cost of Reading Recovery per trained teacher is dramatically reduced after the training year. The only replacement costs are optional additions to the non-consumable set of books used with children and possible non-consumable professional books for teachers. Expenditures to the district/site include ongoing professional development, data processing fees, university affiliation fees if applicable, and miscellaneous supplies.

Reading Recovery is designed for use with individual students.

Reading Recovery takes 30 minutes per session with a recommended five sessions per week for 15-20 weeks.

The program includes a highly specified manual of teaching procedures from which teachers select to meet needs of each individual child. Technology is not required for the intervention with children. However, required data are sent electronically to the International Data Evaluation Center (IDEC).

An academic year of training with university credit is required for instructors.

For an academic year, teachers meet weekly with a registered Reading Recovery teacher leader who has completed a full year of training at a university training center to prepare for training teachers. While in training, teachers are also working with Reading Recovery students. Teachers learn to observe and discuss lessons behind a one-way mirror/glass.

Concurrent with the training, these teachers work with children in one-to-one lessons for part of the school day. Teacher leaders also make school visits and support implementation in schools.

Instructors must be professionals. When selecting Reading Recovery teachers, schools are encouraged to consider teaching experience, preferably with primary-grade students.

The training manuals have been trialed with thousands of children across the years and subsequent revisions followed. Books used for training Reading Recovery professionals also have evolved after trials with children.

Ongoing professional development is a requirement for all Reading Recovery professionals. Several professional development sessions are scheduled yearly and include continued observation of one-to-one teaching sessions. Reading Recovery teacher leaders also provide ongoing support to teachers at their schools.


Participants: Convincing Evidence

Sample size: 64 students in first grade across thirty schools in thirteen districts (32 students in the treatment group and 32 students in the control group).

Risk Status: At the beginning of first grade, all children identified as at-risk (see above) were given the Diagnostic Survey (Clay, 1985) and the Dolch Word Recognition Test (Dolch, 1939). Children were selected for Reading Recovery service based on the lowest combined scores on these assessments.

Triplets were formed in which 3 children (1 from each of the three groups) were exactly matched on the basis of their scores from two subtests of the Diagnostic Survey (Clay, 1985)—Letter Identification and Dictation. This procedure resulted in a relatively close match on all the pretreatment measures. Because each of the Reading Recovery teachers taught 4 children and because the standard intervention program taught children in small groups, it was possible to form the three matched groups without the teachers being aware of which, if any, children whom they were teaching were the target of the study.





p of chi square





Grade level







  Grade 1






  Grade 2






  Grade 3






  Grade 4






  Grade 5






  Grade 6






  Grade 7






  Grade 8






  Grade 9






  Grade 10






  Grade 11






  Grade 12













  American Indian






  Asian/Pacific Islander
























Socioeconomic status         

  Subsidized lunch






  No subsidized lunch












Disability status            

  Speech-language impairments






  Learning disabilities






  Behavior disorders






  Mental retardation












  Not identified with a disability






ELL status                           

  English language learner






  Not English language learner



















Training of Instructors: This was a standard Reading Recovery implementation. Teachers in this study were receiving their initial training during the course of this study. This is the usual procedure when implementing Reading Recovery in a new school.

Design: Unconvincing Evidence

Did the study use random assignment?: No.

If not, was it a tenable quasi-experiment?: Yes.

If the study used random assignment, at pretreatment, were the program and control groups not statistically significantly different and had a mean standardized difference that fell within 0.25 SD on measures used as covariates or on pretest measures also used as outcomes?: Not applicable.

If not, at pretreatment, were the program and control groups not statistically significantly different and had a mean standardized difference that fell within 0.25 SD on measures central to the study (i.e., pretest measures also used as outcomes), and outcomes were analyzed to adjust for pretreatment differences? Pretest differences were not adjusted for in the analysis.

Were the program and control groups demographically comparable at pretreatment?: The author indicated that the program and control groups are demographically comparable, but the data is not provided to back this up.

Was there attrition bias1? No.

Did the unit of analysis match the unit for random assignment (for randomized studies) or the assignment strategy (for quasi-experiments)?: Yes.

1 NCII follows guidance from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) in determining attrition bias. The WWC model for determining bias based on a combination of differential and overall attrition rates can be found on pages 13-14 of this document:


Fidelity of Implementation: Unconvincing Evidence

Describe when and how fidelity of treatment information was obtained: Reading Recovery teachers follow a standard lesson format, but make individual decisions within that framework to accelerate the progress of individual students. The teachers in this study received three individual visits from their teacher leader to support training and monitor fidelity. All of the teachers in this study were participating in professional development experiences required to provide Reading Recovery intervention services, including visits by the Reading Recovery teacher leader to observe lessons with students.

Provide documentation (i.e., in terms of numbers) of fidelity of treatment implementation: This is a study of an intervention that has been brought to scale at a national and international level. The lesson framework and extensive professional development ensure a high level of treatment fidelity. Individual differences among teachers and decisions intended to accelerate a particular child’s learning are part of the intervention that is being evaluated.

Measures Targeted: Convincing Evidence

Measures Broader: Convincing Evidence

Targeted Measure Score type & range of measure Reliability statistics Relevance to program instructional content

Text Reading Level task (referred to as Text Level)

The Ohio stanines for text level indicated an average of Level 2 for the fall of first grade, with a range of Level 9 to Level 12 for average performance in the spring of first grade. The National Data Evaluation Center random sample data indicated an average end of first-grade text level of 20 for a stratified national sample.

The scoring of running records, on which the text level decisions were based, was reliable across two scorings by a trained recorder over a 2-year interval (r = 0.98).

The gradient of difficulty reflected in these texts was similar to instructional materials used in the RR program and many early literacy classroom programs.

Letter Identification task

Students were asked to respond to 26 upper and 28 lowercase letter forms. The additional lowercase letters included two forms of a and g. The child could respond with a letter name, a sound, or a word beginning with that letter (maximum score = 54).

Cronbach’s α = 0.95


The Concepts About Print task (CAP)

The adult read one of the booklets to the child. The child was asked to help by responding to questions or requests related to book handling, directional behavior, visual scanning, and specific concepts related to printed language, like punctuation, and the relationship of letters and words within sentences (maximum score = 24).

Cronbach’s α = 0.78

split-half r = 0.95


Ohio Word Test (referred to as Word Recognition)

Scoring was based on the number of words read correctly (maximum score = 20).

Cronbach’s α = 0.92


Writing Vocabulary task

Scoring was a count of the number of words correctly generated.

Test–retest r = 0.62 and 0.97


The Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words (HRSIW, referred to as Dictation)

The task was scored on the number of phonemes correctly recorded (maximum score = 37).

Cronbach’s α = 0.96



Broader Measure Score type & range of measure Reliability statistics Relevance to program instructional content

Phoneme Segmentation Test

The task consisted of 22 test items. Each item was scored as 1 point if all the phonemes are separated and articulated (maximum score = 22). 

Cronbach’s α = 0.95


Phonemic Deletion Task

This is a 30 item task with one point for each correct response (maximum score = 30). 

Cronbach’s α = 0.92


The Dolch Word Recognition Test

Consists of a list of 220 high frequency words commonly used in beginning reading sight word instruction. Word list task of this type, like the Slosson Oral Reading task and the Ohio Word Test are reliable measures of early reading.

Kuder Richardson 21 internal consistency of 0.97 using the Dolch Word Test in an experimental study of sight word learning.



Number of Outcome Measures: 6 Prereading, 4 Reading

Mean ES - Targeted: Data Unavailable*u

Mean ES - Broader: Data Unavailableu

Effect Size:

Targeted Measures

Construct Measure Effect Size
Prereading Diagnostic Survey: Letter Identification 1.29***, u
Prereading Diagnostic Survey: Concepts About Print
Reading Diagnostic Survey: Text Level 11.29***, u
Reading Diagnostic Survey: Word Recognition
Reading Diagnostic Survey: Writing Vocabulary
Reading Diagnostic Survey: Dictation 2.43***, u

 Broader Measures

Construct Measure Effect Size
Prereading Phoneme Segmentation
Prereading Phoneme Deletion
Prereading Phonological Recoding
Reading Dolch Word Recognition Test 3.53u


*      p ≤ 0.05
**    p ≤ 0.01
***  p ≤ 0.001
–      Developer was unable to provide necessary data for NCII to calculate effect sizes
u      Effect size is based on unadjusted means
†      Effect size based on unadjusted means not reported due to lack of pretest group equivalency, and effect size based on adjusted means is not available


Visual Analysis (Single Subject Design): N/A

Disaggregated Data for Demographic Subgroups: No

Disaggregated Data for <20th Percentile: No

Administration Group Size: Individual

Duration of Intervention: 30 minutes, 5 times a week, 12-20 weeks

Minimum Interventionist Requirements: Professional, An academic year of training, with university credit

Reviewed by WWC or E-ESSA: WWC & E-ESSA

What Works Clearinghouse Review

Beginning Readers Protocol

EffectivenessReading Recovery® was found to have positive effects on alphabetics and general reading achievement and potentially positive effects on fluency and comprehension.

Studies Reviewed: 3 studies meet standards out of 79 studies total

Full Report

English Language Learners Protocol

Effectiveness: No studies of Reading Recovery® that fall within the scope of the English Language Learners (ELL) review protocol meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. The lack of studies meeting WWC evidence standards means that, at this time, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Reading Recovery® on ELL.

Studies Reviewed: N/A

Full Report


Evidence for ESSA

Program Outcomes: Reading Recovery has been evaluated in four qualifying studies (many other studies did not qualify because they only reported outcomes for successful students, or used developer-made measures). In comparison to control groups, the average effect size across the four studies was +0.43 on measures such as ITBS, CAT, Woodcock, and Gates. These outcomes qualify Reading Recovery for the ESSA “Strong” category, and for the “Solid Outcomes” rating (at least two studies with effect sizes of at least +0.20).

Number of Studies: 4

Average Effect Size: 0.43

Full Report

Other Research: Potentially Eligible for NCII Review: 3 studies

Baenen, N., Bernhole, A., Dulaney, C., & Banks, K. (1997). Reading Recovery: Long-term progress after three cohorts. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 2(2), 161.

Pinnell, G. S., DeFord, D. E., & Lyons, C. A. (1988). Reading Recovery: Early intervention for at-risk first graders (Educational Research Service Monograph). Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.

Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., DeFord, D. E., Bryk, A. S., & Seltzer, M. (1994). Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high-risk first graders. Reading Research Quarterly, 29(1), 8–39.