Study: North Miami Middle School, FL

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Background of Study

It is well-known that students who are not reading by 8th grade have a greater chance of dropping out of school. Despite many efforts at improving the reading skills of these students, there has been no significant improvement in 8th grade reading scores across the country.

average reading scores

In attempting to analyze the reasons behind the failure of improvement, one should look at the work of Dr. Joseph Torgeson, Florida State University.

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His research suggests that those students who start 1st grade without an adequate base of phonics and phonemic awareness never catch up to their peers. This problem is extremely prevalent in the lower socio-economic students, especially those who are English Language Learners and do not speak English at home.

One area of potential problem in most reading programs used in schools is that they lack a strong phonics component, meaning the “average” student does not receive an adequate foundation in phonics.

The Study

Based on the hypothesis that many Middle School students who are significantly behind in their reading skills will benefit most from a phonics/phonemic awareness program that is implemented with fidelity, North Miami Middle School undertook a one academic year study to compare whether a phonics-based program worked better than a more typical reading program. Both programs were in electronic format.

The Florida Standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) were approved by the Florida State Board of Education in February 2014 and were implemented in grades K–12 in the 2014–2015 school year. All Florida schools teach the Florida Standards, and students are assessed through the computer-based statewide Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) each year. The students in this study were all in Level 1 (Inadequate) or Level 2 (Below Satisfactory) in ELA on the assessment administered in 2015. The FSA defines “Learning Gains” for each Level and Grade.

136 students in two evenly divided groups participated in the study. 68 students used the iReady program and 68 the MaxScholar program. The students worked on their program for 50 minutes each day for the entire school year. The results of the students were provided only as the total number of students in each group that made learning gains.


66% of students in the MaxScholar group made learning gains, while only 48% of students in the iReady group made those gains.


Low performing Middle School students can make more improvement with the use of a phonics-based reading intervention program like MaxScholar with teachers who have been educated in how to use these methods and materials than with a more “conventional” reading program without a strong phonics component.

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