Reading Fluency

NWEA Study: New Intervention Designed to be Easy for All Teachers Helps Secondary Students Struggling the Most

A yearlong study examining the impact of a reading fluency intervention for middle-schoolers shows a “statistically significant” improvement in test scores of the students scoring the lowest at the beginning of the year, according to a report released today by K–12 assessment and research organization NWEA.

The study, funded by the Reading Reimagined program of the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund, provided a specific reading fluency protocol to struggling sixth-grade readers in a large, urban school district throughout the 2022-23 school year — and provided professional learning to the students’ teachers, NWEA said in a news release. 

The research shows that students who scored below the 50th percentile on the Capti Assess Reading Efficiency sub-test at the beginning of the year “demonstrated a statistically significant positive difference between the pre- and post-tests.”

Additionally, “teachers noted observing a positive impact from the protocol on students’ reading abilities, specifically for those students who previously performed below the grade-level expectations for reading,” NWEA’s report said.

The study is centered on a new protocol designed to be easier for teachers to implement: It can be used with text from any subject matter, and teachers “do not need any training in reading pedagogy,” NWEA said. 

The intervention protocol, designed for grades 6 and up, “leveraged Repeated Reading, as well as language strategies at the word and sentence level, and student engagement via culturally relevant passages and goal setting.” 

While most formal reading instruction and interventions focus on elementary school, this particular protocol was designed for older students, NWEA said, because “national data show that almost 70% of eighth graders are not considered proficient in reading based on 2022 test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card.” 

“Reading Reimagined is urgently pursuing solutions for foundational literacy skill instruction for students in grades 3-8, who often still need, but rarely receive, ongoing direct instructional support to achieve lasting reading proficiency.” Reading Reimagined’s Executive Director Rebecca Kockler continues on to share that “NWEA’s fluency protocol is one of many tools that Reading Reimagined has already and will continue to make freely available to all educators seeking to support their students’ literacy development. We are excited to see it being used in classrooms across the country.”

The full research report details the demographics of the students in the study as well as the framework of the intervention.

The study included three classrooms with a total of 72 students from Gwinnett County (Georgia) Public School’s middle school; 97% of students were from historically marginalized populations (74% Hispanic, 13% Asian, 10% Black, and 1% identifying as two or more races), according to the report. The students were evenly split between male and female, and 69% of the participating students qualified for free lunch or reduced lunch; 76% identified as English Language Learners. 

“The same protocol was used in all three classes. Each class’s work featured student buy-in, teacher support and modeling, peer engagement, and direct practice of specific reading skills,” NWEA said. “We designed the steps in the protocol to make students feel comfortable and supported (e.g., by specifying the use of choral reading rather than singling out students to read in front of an entire class). Teachers received a two-hour training session on the purpose and design of the study (one hour) and then on the Fluency Protocol itself (one hour), including opportunities to engage in each of the strategies that are included in the protocol.

Educators discussed with students “the meaning of fluency and why it is important, and emphasizing the connection between reading and comprehension,” the report said. “Teachers also explained the study and the students’ role in it. Parents were notified, with an option to deny participation. Students then completed a goal-setting activity.

“Educators taught two mini-lessons … focused on strategies students would use during the study: using affixes and syllables to assist with the decoding of multisyllabic words. Each lesson was designed to last 15 minutes and to require no prior knowledge from educators for teaching foundational skills.

“Students were able to vote, by class, for the passages they wanted to focus on throughout the study,” the report said. “NWEA carefully chose these passages to align both quantitatively (readability indices) and qualitatively (human analysis of grade-level appropriateness) to the needs of Grade 6 students. The passages were identified as likely being of high interest to students from historically marginalized populations. Students were able to select from a pool of 18 passages to narrow down the pool to the six passages per class that would be read as part of the study.”

The results for all students showed no significant difference between the pre-test and post-test but did show statistically significant improvement between the pre-test and the delayed/lagged test, which followed the post-test by two or three months, NWEA said.

The results for students struggling the most, however, revealed “very large” effects and remarkable improvements in scores, according to the report.

“When selecting only the students scoring below the 50th percentile according to the Reading Efficiency subtest national norms at pre-test (235 points), the mean score for students (n = 22) at pre-test on the Capti Assess Reading Efficiency subtest was 227.22 points, with a standard deviation of 6.47 points,” the report said. “At post-test, the mean score on the reading efficiency subtest was 236.04 points, with a standard deviation of 10.91 points. At delayed/lagged test, the mean score was 233.24 points, with a standard deviation of 13.90 points. A repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to compare the effect of the Fluency Protocol intervention on students’ Reading Efficiency subtest score at pre-test, post-test, and delayed/lagged test. Overall, there was a statistically significant increase across time (p = .007) with a very large effect size (η2 = .39). There was a statistically significant difference between pre-test and post-test (p < .01), and pre-test and delayed/lagged test (p = .04).”

Learn more at or read the full research results from NWEA

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].