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Intervention Studies and Development of Empower™ Reading

In early studies, the LDRP team identified successes and failures in the remedial responses of disabled readers (Lovett, Ransby, Hardwick, Johns, & Donaldson, 1989; Lovett, Warren-Chaplin, Ransby, & Borden, 1990), and demonstrated that specific print-related transfer-of-learning deficits characterize this population (Benson, 2000; Benson, Lovett, & Kroeber, 1997).  Difficulties in achieving generalization of remedial gains motivated the development of new remedial reading programs that targeted the problem of transfer-of-learning with different instructional approaches.

In a subsequent influential study, the LDRP demonstrated superior outcomes and steeper learning curves for children ranging from 6 to 13 years of age who received a sequential combination of phonological and strategy-based remedial reading programs (Lovett, M.W., Lacerenza, L., Borden, S.L., Frijters, J.C., Steinbach, K.A., & De Palma, M. (2000)). These results led the team to develop the PHAST (Phonological and Strategy Training) Reading Program, which integrates both evidenced-based approaches (Lovett, M.W., Lacerenza, L., & Borden, S.L. (2000) and is the research version of Empower™ Reading: Decoding and Spelling.  

A subsequent multi-site NICHD-funded study with Grade 2 and 3 RD children confirmed generalization of PHAST program gains to measures of decoding and word recognition, text reading accuracy, reading rate, and reading comprehension after 70 hours of programming.   Program gains were maintained a year after the intervention ended. Results from this study also confirmed generalization of program benefits to a far wider population of impaired readers than typically studied in the learning disabilities research literature.  Program benefits were equivalent for young impaired readers of average IQ (90+) and below average IQ (70-89), and from a range of ethnic backgrounds and environmental circumstances (Lovett, Morris, Wolf, Sevcik, Frijters, et al., 2009; Morris, Lovett, Wolf, Sevcik et al., in press).

As part of a second multi-site NICHD-funded study, the PHAST Program was extended to include additional programming on text reading and comprehension processes. First, second and third grade students with RD received the multiple component interventions for 125 hours of small group intervention.  Children receiving these interventions demonstrated superior outcomes on measures of decoding, word identification, passage reading, and reading comprehension skill at the end of the program relative to a curricular control group. Intervention children maintained their gains and also showed continued growth one year after the intervention ended. The majority of children demonstrated age-appropriate achievement with a full year of small group intervention, but the earlier the intervention, the greater the number of children normalized with remediation (Lovett, Morris et al., 2008).

The PHAST program has also been proven effective with English Language Learners (ELL) who struggle to develop reading skills.  A separate study conducted by the LDRP compared the remedial outcomes of students who met criteria for RD but who differed in primary language status (Lovett, De Palma, Frijters, et al., 2008). The study included 166 disabled readers in the primary and middle school grades.  No differences were revealed for children of EFL (English First Language) and ELL status in intervention outcomes or in growth during intervention.  Despite the fact that the ELL sample was on average lower than the EFL sample in oral language skills, their level of reading impairment was equivalent and their response to remediation was the same.   

We recently conducted a study evaluating the efficacy of a high school version of the PHAST Reading Program known as PHAST PACES (Lovett, Lacerenza, De Palma, & Frijters, submitted). This reading program offers a combination of strategy instruction in word identification and text comprehension processes and phonologically-based remediation of decoding skills.  In a quasi-experimental design, 268 intervention and 83 waiting list control students meeting criteria for RD were assessed before and after the program.  After 60-70 hours of PHAST PACES instruction, struggling readers demonstrated significant gains on standardized tests of word attack, word reading, and passage comprehension, and on experimental measures of letter-sound knowledge and multisyllabic word identification relative to control students.  An average effect size of .68 was revealed on these outcome measures.  One year follow-up data on 197 PHAST PACES students revealed an average trend to decelerated growth after the intervention, except for passage comprehension outcomes that demonstrated continued growth over follow-up.

An important feature of Empower™ Reading is the attributional retraining and motivational reshaping woven into the program’s instructional dialogue.  In the LDRP’s IES-funded work on remediation for struggling middle school readers, we explored motivational and affective dimensions that mediate the struggling reader’s response to intervention.  Frijters identified patterns of motivation and attributions characterizing students with RD (Frijters 2004; Frijters et al., 2009).  RD students entered the PHAST programs having a motivational profile in which interest for reading and sense of competence on reading tasks was low. However, the LDRP found evidence of motivational change from measuring motivation and attributions before and after 125 hours of PHAST intervention. These changes suggested that the attributional retraining and motivational features inherent to PHAST instruction were successful in moving the attributions of these disabled readers from a learned-helplessness to a mastery orientation profile (Frijters et al., in preparation).  Recent evidence suggests that the students whose attributional profiles were most normalized through PHAST intervention made the greatest gains in reading fluency and reading comprehension during the PHAST program (Frijters, Dodsworth, Lovett, Sevcik, & Morris, 2009).

Our research in total provides strong evidence for the efficacy of the Empower™ Reading Program for students of different ages, backgrounds, and IQ levels.  Our multiple component Empower™ Reading interventions are effective at producing substantial reading gains for students in a range of school settings and may lead to differential response on varied dimensions of reading skill.  Empower™ Reading is associated with a feeling of increased competence among students and adoption of more adaptive attributions for reading, a motivational change that appears associated with greater growth in reading fluency and reading comprehension.