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Ed. Magazine

Phase Two: The Reach

Reach Every Reader on its impact and the project’s next phase
James Kim
Professor James Kim
Photo: Matt Kalinowski

When Reach Every Reader was launched in 2018 with the lofty goal of ending the early literacy crisis and improving reading outcomes for children in the United States, researchers adhered to a simple refrain about the project’s aims: serve science, serve people. 

A partnership between the Ed School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Integrated Learning Initiative, and the Florida Center for Reading Research and College of Communication & Information at Florida State University, Reach Every Reader is now reaching the end of its first phase, which included work in 47 states reaching more than 58,000 children, 28,000 educators, and 7,000 parents and caregivers through research studies and offering public resources. 

Each team in the partnership tackled a different aspect. At the Ed School, Professor James Kim’s READS Lab partnered with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina to develop the Model of Reading Engagement (MORE), a set of tools focused on improving students’ ability to read for understanding in science, social studies, and English. “The message from our study is that it’s not just reading, it’s reading complex nonfiction text. That’s the reading crisis in America,” says Kim. “In order to help kids do that, you need to have all those basic skills, but you really have to build background and vocabulary knowledge. And that’s what our program did well.” 

Kim worked as an adviser with the district before Reach Every Reader began, but the grant that funded Reach Every Reader allowed for MOREs development and implementation. The MORE program features a “spiral” curriculum about science topics that builds upon itself as students matriculate from first to third grade. 

The research showed improvement in third grade reading comprehension as well as math testing, which Kim described as a “really exciting” transfer of skills Reach Every Reader hopes to replicate in other districts during its next phase. The project recently received a federal Education, Innovation, and Research grant that will allow MORE programming to expand into 100 different school districts around the country in the next five years. 

“The message from our study is that it’s not just reading, it’s reading complex nonfiction text. That’s the reading crisis in America.”

Professor James Kim

Kim described a student’s reading ability by third grade as a “very sticky indicator” of a variety of student outcomes, which is often why those metrics garner so much focus. 

“If you’re not reading proficiently by third grade, you’re more likely to drop out of high school, you’re less likely to be college and career ready,” Kim says. “There are all kinds of downstream consequences of not being ready to read. But you can’t solve the problem in third grade, you have to start earlier.” 

The urgency of the literacy crisis was only amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the middle of MORE's research phase. That crisis — and the impact the pandemic had on learning loss and schools struggling to help students — presented the team with a choice: continue to provide the intervention to just the treatment group, as planned, or disrupt the original research focus and offer it to all students in the district. Kim and his team chose to help all students. 

“When you have extreme circumstances like the pandemic, you’re faced with more extreme choices,” says Senior Lecturer Elizabeth City, Ed.M.'04, Ed.D.'07, Reach Every Reader’s executive director. “We landed on, ‘We’re going to serve people, and then we’re going to figure out how to serve science from there.’” 

City raved about the MORE team’s ability to be “nimble” in responding to the pandemic’s challenges, a “beautiful example” of the tension that comes with putting research into practice. 

“One of the hardest things in academia is to have really rigorous research that actually gets into practice and makes a difference for learners,” says City. “We were able to do incredibly rigorous research and also help people in real time. I think Jimmy’s team is our very best example of that.” 

City noted the “enormous amounts of work left to do” in the field, but also working to scale the MORE programming in new school districts is a huge step forward for the project’s next phase. She pointed to something a Reach Every Reader colleague from Florida State likes to say about the work as it enters year six. 

“Phase one was about the reader, and phase two is about the reach,” City recited. “Really trying to understand what’s going to work for every reader is phase one. Now let’s get the reach.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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