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Effective Reading Programs for English Language Learners and Other Language-Minority Students

Educator’s Summary Last updated February 2, 2009

What reading programs have been proven to help English language learners succeed in reading? To find out, this review summarizes evidence on achievement effects of reading programs for English language learners and other language minority students in the elementary grades.

Key Findings

The research summarized in this article shows how much remains to be done on effective reading programs for ELLs and other language-minority students. Only a handful of studies met the minimal inclusion standards applied in this review, which principally required an experimental-control comparison of a reading program over at least 12 weeks, with evidence that the two groups were equivalent at pretest.

Among the 13 studies of interventions beginning in kindergarten or first grade that met the inclusion standards, the evidence supported structured, phonetic programs emphasizing language development, in both native language and English instruction.

Seven studies of reading in Grades 25 met the inclusion criteria. The evidence generally supported programs that make extensive use of cooperative learning, vocabulary instruction, and literature.

It is important to note that the programs with the strongest evidence of effectiveness in this review are all programs that have also been found to be effective with students in general. Typically, programs originally designed for use with English-proficient students are considerably adapted for use with ELLs, with more emphasis on vocabulary and oral language.

Program Ratings

Listed below are currently available programs, grouped by strength of effectiveness. Within each group, programs are listed alphabetically.

Program Ratings (Beginning Reading Programs)

Strong Evidence of Effectiveness


The Best Evidence Encyclopedia is a free web site created by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) under funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.


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