Failing to Catch Up in Reading in the Middle Years
The findings of the impact evaluation of the Reading Catch-Up Programme in South Africa
In many developing countries, children are far behind the grade-specific curriculum. This article reports on an impact evaluation of one promising initiative, the Reading Catch-Up Programme, which was designed for a subset of South African schoolchildren, who are known to be behind the grade-specific English (second language) curriculum in the middle years. The intervention was implemented in the second term of 2012 in 792 public primary schools in the Gauteng province. The "Catch-Up Programme" contains three key elements, popularly called the "education triple cocktail", which included a set of scripted lesson plans, provision of high-quality reading materials, and on-site one-to-one instructional coaching.
The schools that were part of the initiative were instructed to suspend normal teaching of the curriculum for the term, and to replace it with a remedial curriculum covering English First Additional Language topics that should have been covered in Grades 1 to 3. This remedial curriculum was re-contextualized through daily scripted lesson plans covering 11 weeks of teaching. Overall, despite the promising findings of a preliminary non-experimental evaluation, the cluster randomized control trial study found no substantial or educationally meaningful programme impact. However, the study has identified two important secondary findings.
- First, for those schoolchildren with a stronger initial English proficiency, there was a moderate positive impact. This is despite the fact that the programme substituted the grade-level curriculum with remedial concepts that should have been covered in earlier grades. This suggests that the schoolchildren in the study may have been even further behind than was anticipated.
- A further finding from the impact evaluation relates to the effectiveness of instructional coaching as a component of the combined intervention model. The study found that the effectiveness of one-on-one instructional coaching may be dependent on the personal and professional characteristics of individual coaches. This finding complements existing research on the importance of the quality of the institutions implementing programmes.