University of Iowa

Reed and Colleagues to Measure Improvement of Literacy Outcomes of Students in Juvenile Justice Schools in New Four-Year Study

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The LIBERATE study will measure the impact of a blended literacy program on struggling readers in juvenile justice schools.

September 3, 2019

By Kate Alexander

Student Assistant, Iowa Reading Research Center

Iowa Reading Research Center Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed is collaborating with colleagues from other universities to study the efficacy of a blended literacy program with struggling adolescent readers in juvenile justice schools.

The nearly $3.3 million four-year study, funded by the Institute of Education Science (IES), will measure the impact of the intervention on literacy outcomes of readers, including readers with disabilities, and determine factors that mediate or moderate intervention impacts. Reed is collaborating with Principal Investigator Dr. David Houchins, a researcher and professor of special education at Georgia State University. They also will collaborate with researchers in Florida.

“Students in juvenile justice facilities often demonstrate serious literacy deficits in addition to learning, emotional, and behavioral difficulties,” Reed said. “It is necessary to provide them with evidence-based instruction, fitting the unique settings in which the education is taking place. The study seeks to contribute to that evidence base.”

The study, titled Literacy Instruction Based on Evidence through Research for Adjudicated Teens to Excel (LIBERATE), will take place in six long-term juvenile justice schools in Florida. Throughout Years 1 through 4, researchers will work with nine classroom teachers to recruit 1,488 students who struggle with reading. Students will be randomly assigned to the blended learning literacy intervention or the facilities’ typical reading instruction as a comparison. The research team will provide on-site and remote professional development to teachers to support them in implementing the reading intervention.

Various literacy assessments will be administered at students’ entry to and exit from the juvenile justice school, and student progress will be assessed every 3 months during their stay. Measures will include a computer-adaptive assessments of overall reading ability, vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension, syntactic knowledge, and word recognition. Researchers also will assess the speed at which students recognize words, their spelling ability, and the quality of their written expression. Finally, students’ behavior and mental health will be assessed to determine any role such factors may play in literacy outcomes.

“Through a careful and complete analysis, we hope to better inform the design and delivery of literacy instruction for court-involved youth,” Reed said.