Study shows reading program boosts scores

For the second year in a row, students using a "visual discrimination" literacy program achieved significantly higher sight-word assessment scores than students who were not exposed to the program, according to the results for Phase Two of a five-year study conducted by Empirical Education. The PCI Reading Program is designed to teach students with intellectual disabilities how to read. An alternative to traditional phonics-based approaches, the program uses visual discrimination - the ability to quickly distinguish one letter from another - to increase a student's sight-word vocabulary.

Researchers found that the effect of the PCI Reading Program is larger after two years than it was after one year, with students who used the PCI Reading Program achieving sight-word assessment scores that were 31 percentile points higher than the scores for students not using the program.

Empirical Education is conducting a five-year longitudinal efficacy trial in two Florida districts, Brevard Public Schools and Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Phase Two of the study focused on students with intellectual disabilities in grades 3-8 taught in self-contained classrooms. The research analysis compared the assessment scores of 26 students who had received the PCI Reading Program as their primary language arts instruction for two years, to those of 51 students who received no exposure to the program.

For Phase One of the study, Empirical Education conducted a randomized control trial in Brevard Public Schools and Miami-Dade County Public Schools during the 2007-08 academic year. Participating teachers were randomly divided into two groups: one using the PCI Reading Program and a control group using the standard reading program. After one year, students using the PCI Reading Program had substantial success in learning sight words when compared with students in the control group. The difference between the two groups amounted to 21 percentile points.

Empirical Education will present this research at the 2010 American Educational Research Association Annual Conference in Denver this month in a session entitled, "Reading, Written Expression, and Language Arts."