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Reading / Effectiveness of Technology for Struggling Readers

This review examines the effectiveness of educational technology applications in improving the reading achievement of struggling readers in elementary schools. The review applies consistent inclusion standards to focus on studies that met high methodological standards. A total of 20 studies based on about 7,000 students in grades K–6 were included in the final analysis. Four major categories of education technology are reviewed:

  • Small-group integrated applications, such as Lindamood Phoneme Sequence Program and Read, Write, and Type. These tutorial educational technology applications use small-group interaction tightly integrated with reading curriculum.
  • Comprehensive models, including READ 180 and Read About. These programs use computer-assisted instruction (CAI) along with non-computer activities as students’ core reading approach.
  • Supplemental CAI programs, such as Destination Reading, Plato Focus, Waterford, and WICAT. These programs provide additional instruction at students’ assessed levels of need to supplement traditional classroom instruction.
  • The Fast ForWord program. This program supplements traditional CAI with software designed to retrain the brain to process information more effectively through a set of computer games that slow and magnify the acoustic changes in normal speech.

Findings of this review indicate that educational technology applications produced a positive but modest effect on the reading skills of struggling readers (overall weighted mean effect size=+0.14) in comparison to “business as usual” methods. Among the four types of educational technology applications reviewed, small-group integrated applications such as Lindamood Phoneme Sequence Program and Read, Write, and Type produced the largest effect sizes, but these were mostly small studies, which tend to overstate program impacts. Supplementary models, such as Jostens, had a larger number of studies and a more modest effect size. Comprehensive models and the Fast ForWord program did not produce meaningful positive effect sizes. However, the results of these two categories of programs should be interpreted with extreme caution due to the small number of studies involved.

Full Report
Cheung, A., Slavin, R.E. (2012, June). Effects of Educational Technology Applications on Reading Outcomes for Struggling Readers: A Best Evidence Synthesis. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Additional Report
A separate review has been completed on the effects of technology use on reading achievement in K-12 classrooms.


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Full Report Upper Elementary Reading Full Report (PDF, 700 KB)
Educator's Summary Upper Elementary Reading Full Report (PDF, 230 KB)


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