Research on Achievement Marie Cincotta

Outcomes of Success for All October 15, 2001

By Robert E. Slavin and

Nancy A. Madden

Kappan (Volume 82, September 2000 p.p. 38-40; 59-66)


Success for All is a comprehensive school reform program for the education of children in reading, writing, mathematics and the social sciences. Robert Slavin, Nancy Madden and a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University founded Success for All. In this article Nancy Madden and Robert Slavin present research findings showing the positive results of their program and also respond to critics who have questioned the validity of the research.

Numerous studies have compared scores on standardized reading tests for students in SFA schools and control schools. Results show that SFA significantly improves reading performance, especially for students in the lowest twenty-five percent of their class. Evaluations also show positive impacts on the achievements of limited English students and special education students. In SFA schools, retention and special education placements also decline.

The research on SFA has been conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the university of Memphis and other researches in school districts throughout the United States. The criticism that research of SFA has been done only by the developers of the program is simply not true. Slavin and Madden point out research has primarily been conducted by outside evaluators. In a list presented of fifty-two researchers only five reported failure of SFA to improve students performance while forty-seven have found SFA to have worked successfully - thirty-five of whom were in fourteen institutions other than John Hopkins of the SFA foundation. Yet, critics of the program, focus mainly on the five negative findings.

The essential elements of SFA include:

· A reading program which stresses Story Telling and Retelling (StaR), and language development activities.

· A daily 90-minute reading period.

· Students grouped across classes and grades by reading level.

· Cooperative learning techniques.

· One-on-one tutoring by certified teachers for low achieving students.

· Eight-week assessments with adjustments to groups.

· Family support team.

· Program facilitator who works with teachers implementing the program.

· Professional development and training for teachers and tutors.

· An advisory committee made up on the principal, facilitator, teacher, parent representatives and family support team. This group meets to monitor program progress.

· Students are required to read for 20 minutes every night.

Educators and parents have always argued which reading program gets the best result. There is no clear answer to this question. Looking at the research presented in this article, SFA has an impressive record of accomplishment. Success for All was the whole school reform model our school chose to implement. I have taught the program for one year. At this point, it is too early in the program to see what results our students will show. SFA is a very structured reading program, which I find somewhat, limits a teacher’s academic freedom. There is a Getting along Together component, which I feel is a positive component of the program focusing on developing social skills among the students. I also like the emphasis the program has on cooperative learning. In theory, the ideas of the SFA program sound great, especially the limit of fifteen students in a group. However, this represents the ideal situation and in the reality, not many teachers have such a small group. There simply is not the space in our school to allow all supplemental teachers to have a reading group. One-on-one tutoring was provided for only three of my students, even though many were reading at a kindergarten or first grade level in second grade. The required twenty minutes of reading at night is a great idea, but not something every student does. Grouping by reading level is good. However grouping across age lines creates problems. Third graders resented being a class with second graders. The eight-week assessments promises changes in reading group placement and provision of tutoring services, but I found very little changes made after the testing.

The program is also very costly, something not mentioned in the article. Based on a school with a population of 500 students, Pre-k – 5th, the first year costs from $75,000.00 to $85,000.00, $20,000.00 to $23,000.00 for year three. Add $165 for each student over 500.

The issue of whether Success for All can deliver all it promises will be interesting to follow in our school. Of course, if the students at Martin Luther King do not show the results SFA promises, the blame will be put on the school and the implementation of the program and not the program itself.

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