The traditional READS program, for which Kim is the principal investigator, is backed by a decade of research showing positive results. Teachers participating in the curriculum facilitate in-class lessons and family engagement events near the end of the school year, and they then send books, comprehension activities, and gentle reminders and incentives to children’s homes throughout the summer. To ensure the program’s impact, the lessons are pre-scripted, the family engagement events and promotional materials are prescribed, and a computer algorithm matches books to each child.
In the new, adaptive approach to READS, teachers can modify the timing and content of the lessons, change how they reach out to families and what the family engagement events look like, choose different books for each child to receive, and implement different nudges and incentives throughout the summer and fall.
The study, which Kim led, compared the impact of the traditional READS program with the adaptive program. Fourth-grade teachers participated from 27 high-poverty schools throughout North Carolina. Each of these schools were randomly assigned either to follow the traditional program or to take an adaptive approach. Overall, the program reached 1,315 students.
An Adaptive Approach Wins Out
Across the board, the more personalized implementation of READS was more effective. At the adaptive schools:
- More families were engaged: 45 percent of families attended family literacy events, versus 35 percent at the traditional schools.
- Students read more: They read .37 more of the matched books delivered to them than the students in the traditional schools.
- Students read more challenging content: They were more likely to report that their books were “just right,” and less likely to report that they were “too easy,” than students in the traditional schools.
- Students completed more activities: A marginally significant, higher number of students filled out their comprehension summer work in the adaptive schools.
- Students learned more: Those in the adaptive schools scored significantly higher on literacy exams the following fall than students in the traditional schools.