SEDL to Evaluate Louisiana Striving Readers Project

November 30, 2009
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Louisiana was one of eight states to be awarded a 4-year Striving Readers grant from the U.S. Department of Education on October 1. SEDL, a national education research organization, will evaluate the program’s impact on adolescent literacy achievement and other teacher and student outcomes related to adolescent literacy.

The Striving Readers program aims to improve the literacy skills of middle school- and high school-aged students who are reading 2 or more years below grade level and to help build a strong, scientific research base around specific strategies that improve adolescent literacy skills. With a grant of more than $5 million, Louisiana will implement a middle school supplemental reading program, Passport Reading Journeys, developed by Voyager Expanded Learning, Inc. To date, 134 districts and 435 schools have adopted the Passport Reading Journeys curriculum across 35 states.

SEDL will evaluate whether students who use the Passport Reading Journeys program show greater advances in reading than students who receive typical supplemental reading services offered in their school. “Through this partnership with the Louisiana State Department of Education and Voyager Learning, we will be able to both provide resources to many students who need support in reading, as well as assess the effectiveness of those resources in advancing reading skills,” says SEDL CEO Wes Hoover.

SEDL will also examine whether the program’s impact varies according to student, classroom, and school factors. These include students’ grade, gender, race or ethnicity; students’ reading level when they begin the program and how much time they spend in the program; teachers’ qualifications, how long they have used the reading program, and whether they do so appropriately; and geographic locale and region of the school.

“The Striving Readers project will provide Voyager the opportunity to rigorously and robustly evaluate the efficacy of our adolescent literacy intervention through a randomized controlled trial design in selected school districts in Louisiana,” says Dr. Robert Pasternak, senior vice president of special education at Voyager Learning Company. “We are excited to have the opportunity to work with the Louisiana State Department of Education and SEDL through the Striving Readers Grant.”

Dr. Michael Vaden-Kiernan, director of Research and Evaluation for SEDL, will serve as the principal investigator for the project. Dr. Vaden-Kiernan feels the timing is right for this type of study with this intervention. “The widespread use of this program, years of delivering methods found to be effective in reading instruction for adolescents, and promising findings from quasi-experimental studies suggest the program is well positioned for an independent experimental efficacy trial to determine its effectiveness,” says Dr. Vaden-Kiernan.

Dr. Geoffrey Borman, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and deputy director of the university’s Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program, will serve as co-principal investigator. “There has been considerable recent interest in replicable methods for improving adolescent literacy, as witnessed by the 2008 publication of the IES Practice Guide Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices,” says Dr. Borman. “As suggested by this practice guide, there is still a lot to learn regarding best practices. Working together with the state of Louisiana, it is our hope that this study will provide rigorous and relevant evidence about what works that will help policymakers and practitioners in the state make informed decisions about the best methods to increase the reading achievement of adolescent students.”

Some 1,200 students at 10 middle schools stand to benefit from the program. “The need to improve reading achievement among our older students is serious and real. This grant will help ensure that struggling readers in these schools receive a literacy intervention targeted to their needs so they can get back on track and read at grade level or better,” says Dr. Jill Slack, director of the Literacy and Numeracy Initiative at the Louisiana Department of Education. The grant period will last from October 2009 to September 2013.

About SEDL

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit