What is the evidence that STARI works?

What STARI Teachers are telling us:"As the year went on, one of my students became more confident and comfortable during discussions. He became a quiet mentor and leader.""In the beginning, she didn’t have a lot of confidence in her reading. Now she's a really good reader and reads independently.""One student hated fluency to begin with and just about refused to read aloud. Now, he sometimes volunteers to read first!""I had a student who never earned more than a C–, and is now earning the highest score in the class and 'loves to read.'""I had a student who slammed shut the novel Game and said, 'that’s the first book I’ve ever read!'"Our Research

STARI was tested in a large-scale randomized trial across four districts in the 2013-2014 school year. Eligible students were chosen by lottery (random assignment), and the RISE and GISA assessments were used to measure impact.

Evaluation of STARI was led by James Kim (Harvard University). Results published in: Kim, J. S., Hemphill, L., Troyer, M. T., Thomson, J. M., Jones, S. M., LaRusso, M. & Donovan, S. (in press). Engaging struggling adolescent readers to improve reading skills. Reading Research Quarterly.

Preliminary results:

  • STARI students outperformed students in the control group on all six RISE subtests, even though the large majority of control group students received other reading interventions.
  • STARI students scored 8 percentile points higher, on average, in both Efficiency of Basic Reading Comprehension and Word Recognition and 7 points higher in Morphological Awareness than control students.
  • STARI students substantially reduced the gap between their reading skills and the skills of classmates who scored proficient on the state reading/ELA assessment.

ITT (“intent-to-treat”) represents the​ ​impact for all students who were assigned to STARI, regardless of the amount of curriculum they completed. But the amount of the program students actually covered mattered.​ ​TOT (“treatment-on-the-treated”) represents the​ ​impact​ ​when controlling for engagement with the program, as measured by the percent of workbook pages on which students had done any work.

Figure 1. Impact of STARI on the RISE assessment components and the GISA in 2013-2014. To make comparisons across subtests simpler, comparison group performances have been standardized at the 50th percentile. +p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01


Figure 2. STARI Effect Sizes on the RISE and the GISA in 2013-2014. +p < .10; *p < .05; **p < .01


Research base

STARI is built around key research findings about reading comprehension.

Students’ reading engagement–their interest in what they read and commitment to reading–plays a critical role in supporting comprehension, especially for adolescents (Guthrie, 2008). Activities that involve inquiry into issues of importance in students’ lives and that connect students with peers have the potential to increase adolescents’ reading motivation and achievement (Guthrie, Klauda, & Ho, 2013).

Talking over what has been read with peers and a teacher can support more complex understanding of a text. Classroom discussion of books, especially when accompanied by instruction on argumentation strategies and use of evidence from the text, can result in gains in both literal and inferential comprehension (Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, & Gamoran, 2003; Murphy, Wilkinson, Soter, Hennessey, & Alexander, 2009).

Reading comprehension builds from a base of reading fluency: students’ ability to read smoothly, accurately, and at a good pace. Reading interventions that aim to improve comprehension need to also address gaps in students’ fluency and stamina, gaps that are often evident for older struggling readers (Cirino et al., 2013; Hock et al., 2009).

Directly teaching comprehension strategies can result in improved understanding of what is read, especially when instruction is accompanied by opportunities to apply the strategies when reading moderately complex text with peers (Sporer, Brunstein, & Kiesche, 2009). STARI uses the Reciprocal Teaching approach to comprehension strategy instruction (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).



Applebee, A. N., Langer, J. A., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English. American Educational Research Journal, 40, 685-730.

Cirino, P. T., Romain, M. A., Barth, A. E., Tolar, T. D., Fletcher, J. M., & Vaughn, S. (2013). Reading skill components and impairments in middle school struggling readers. Reading and Writing, 26, 1059-1086.

Guthrie. J. T. (2008). Engaging adolescents in reading. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Guthrie, J. T., Klauda, S. L., & Ho, A. N. (2013). Modeling the relationship among reading instruction, motivation, and achievement for adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 48, 9-26.

Hock, M. F., Brasseur, I. F., Deshler, D. D., Catts, H. W., Marquis, J. G., Mark, C. A., & Wu Stribling, J. (2009). What is the reading component skill profile of struggling adolescent readers? Learning Disability Quarterly, 32, 21-39.

Murphy, P. K., Wilkinson, I. A. G., Soter, A. O., Hennessey, M. N., & Alexander, J. F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on students’ comprehension of text: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 740-764.

Palincsar, A. M., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Reciprocal Teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1, 117-175.

Sporer, N., Brunstein, J. C., & Kieschke, U. (2009). Improving students’ reading comprehension skills: Effects of strategy instruction and reciprocal teaching. Learning and Instruction, 19, 272-286.

Development of STARI was led by Lowry Hemphill (Wheelock College) through a SERP collaboration with Harvard University and four Massachusetts school districts. The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100026 to the Strategic Education Research Partnership as part of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

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