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Building on the Best, Learning from What Works: Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction

This brief from the American Federation of Teachers examines the strengths and weaknesses of Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction, one of five promising reading intervention programs they evaluated (also see Direct Instruction, Early Steps, Lindamood-Bell, and Reading Recovery in this section).

Why are some schools effective at educating most students, even those from disadvantaged, high poverty areas, while others struggle fruitlessly to fulfill their academic mission? How can schools replicate the successes of their more effective counterparts?

Researchers, working for years to answer these questions, have described the characteristics of successful schools-e.g., high expectations for all students; challenging curricula; clear standards and a coherent, focused academic mission; high-quality professional development aligned to the standards; small class sizes, especially in the early grades; an orderly and disciplined learning environment; a supportive and collegial atmosphere; and an intervention system designed to ensure that struggling students can meet the standards. But, while we now know a great deal about which reforms are effective, comparatively little is known about how to achieve them.

As many schools have found out the hard way, systemic reform is extremely difficult-especially when it must occur simultaneously on many fronts, and is begun without benefit of high-quality curriculum materials, appropriate professional development, or readily available technical assistance. In fact, a number of schools-especially those that are already foundering-have found that lasting improvement is impossible without concrete, step-by-step implementation support.

According to a recent study of efforts to raise academic achievement for at-risk students (Stringfield, et al., 1996), the reform strategies that achieve the greatest academic gains are those chosen and supported by faculty, as well as administrators. Success is also dependent on the existence of a challenging curriculum, and on paying "a great deal of attention to issues of initial and long-term implementation, and to institutionalizing the reforms." This and other studies have also found that schoolwide reforms tend to be more effective than pull-out or patchwork programs, and that externally developed programs-particularly those with support networks from which schools can draw strength and tangible assistance-tend to do better than local designs.

Given these and similar research findings, we developed the criteria below to help identify promising programs for raising student achievement, especially in low-performing schools. You will find descriptions of five reading intervention programs on the following pages. Although each particular program has its own strengths and weaknesses, all show evidence of:

  • High Standards. The program helps all students acquire the skills and/or knowledge they need to successfully perform to high academic standards.
  • Effectiveness. The program has proven to be effective in raising the academic achievement levels of "atrisk" students in low-performing schools, based on independent evaluations.
  • Replicability. The program has been effectively implemented in multiple sites beyond the original pilot school(s).
  • Support Structures. Professional development, materials, and ongoing implementation support are available for the program, either through the program's developer, independent contractors, or dissemination networks established by schools already in the program.

In addition to information about each program's track record on raising student achievement, we have also attempted to gather and report details about main features and estimated costs. We hope that this information will assist members as they begin weighing the available options against student needs, school goals, and available resources. In deciding which programs warrant further investigation, we urge that you consider each program's "fit," as well the data on its efficacy and cost-effectiveness.

Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI)

Grades Covered Can be used in grades 1-12, with a primary focus on the elementarygrades.
Curriculum Materials As a reading intervention program used by reading specialists and teachers,ECRI requires six implementation guides, a family liaison guide, andworksheets for each ECRI tutor. Parents and peers need only one implementationguide, the family guide and worksheets.
Instructional Support/Professional Development For full classroom implementations, teachers are provided with a five-dayseminar on ECRI instructional techniques, effective scheduling of classtime, and methods for diagnosing and correcting reading problems.During the seminar, participants observe demonstrations, teach samplelessons, and pass proficiency tests in the use of new approaches.Intermediate and advanced seminars may also visit implementation sitesto demonstrate and/or monitor implementation. To implement the readingintervention program only, teachers and reading specialists attend athree-day seminar; parent, volunteer and peer tutors attend a one-dayseminar; and ECRI proficient teachers attend a half-day seminar.
School Reform/Restructuring Assistance None
Role of Paraprofessionals Classroom paraprofessionals (as well as volunteers) can be trained to workas ECRI tutors.
Cost of Implementation ECRI can be implemented as a classroom program across the entireschool. However, as a reading intervention only, start-up costs for a programserving 30 students-including training and materials-are estimatedat between $1,800 and $3,500. Costs of materials are negligible, withstaff development representing the largest expense. These costs (which canbe shared with neighboring program schools) include a $600 a day honorariumfor a trainer, plus travel and expenses. Additional costs mayinclude release time, depending on the type of implementation.
Results*/Effect Size The major evaluation of ECRI as a remedial (after-school) programshowed ECRI students (who were formerly performing below grade level)outscoring control students on the Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficultywith an effect size of +1.21.
*To give a sense of scale, an effect size of +1.00 would be equivalent to anincrease of 100 points on the SAT scale or 15 points of IQ-enough to movea student from the 20th percentile (the normal level of performance forchildren in poverty) to above the 50th percentile (the norm for mainstreamstudents).

The Exemplary Center for ReadingInstruction (ECRI) is a research-based,instructional program designed to improvestudents' ability to read, understand and communicatein English. Developed in the 1960s and 70s bya former Utah school district administrator, EthnaReid, the program focuses on pre- and inserviceprofessional development for teachers, and is meantto strengthen and supplement, not replace existingcurricula. First developed as a literacy instructionprogram, ECRI has been implemented across allsubject areas, with a focus on training teachers toestablish high levels of student mastery, maintainon-task behavior, and provide ample time for handsonwork and practice.

Although used primarily to enhance in-schoolreading and language arts instruction, ECRI canalso be implemented as an after school or summerschool reading intervention program. The interventionprogram, developed with special educationfunds from the Utah state education department,was originally designed to serve students with severelearning and behavioral problems. Today, ECRI'sintervention program in Salt Lake City operatesthrough the University of Utah's Division ofContinuing Education with the goal of improvingreading/writing/study skills of students fromthroughout the area. Typically, students in an afterschoolECRI program attend 90-minute classesthree evenings a week for five weeks. (They can registerfor as many as six sessions during the regularschool year.)

Main Features

Instructional approach ECRI teachers learnstrategies for instruction in word recognition,vocabulary, study skills, spelling, literature, penmanship,literal, critical, and interpretive comprehension,and creative and expository writing. Teachersare trained in the use of "directives" (scriptedlessons), designed to help increase student motivation,make a more efficient use of class time, andintroduce multisensory instructional techniques.Skills are taught in a careful sequence, whichattempt to move students to mastery at the fastestpossible pace. Once teachers are comfortable withthe ECRI instructional approach, they are encouraged to use its techniques across subject areas.

Teaching methods

For 80 to 120 minutes daily,students are grouped by reading level and taughtusing a three-step process: (1) First the teacherdemonstrates and models new skills for students. Ina typical lesson, teachers review previously learnedmaterial and introduce new concepts using at leastseven methods of instruction, teaching new vocabularywords, one new comprehension skill, a newstudy skill, and a new grammar/composition skill.(2) The teacher prompts students to check forunderstanding. Attaining high levels of rapid, accurateresponses from all students is a core ECRI strategy,and teachers are taught to diagnose and correctproblems quickly when there are errors/no responses.Teachers gradually reduce prompts as studentsrespond correctly without help. (3) During a practiceperiod, students work individually with supervision,and teachers hold individual conferences forre-teaching skills, test for mastery, and conductsmall group discussions.

Student mastery

High levels of student mastery(correct responses of 83 to 100 percent) are expectedfrom all students. Students demonstrate masterythrough class participation, small-group discussions,written work and regular curriculum-based assessments(oral or written), which have been developedby ECRI staff for use with most popular basals andanthologies. Student progress is measured individually,with each student allowed to proceed to thenext skills sequence once they have demonstratedmastery of previous material.

Student responsibility

ECRI requires that eachstudent take active responsibility for and help totrack his or her own learning by, for example,scheduling study time. Students are taught how todiagnose and correct for their own possible errors,and learn to judge when they are ready to beassessed.


ECRI can be used as a program to strengthenregular classroom instruction or as a remedial intervention.There have been more than 20 years offield tests to demonstrate ECRI's effectiveness inhelping to raise student achievement in reading andlanguage arts, with benefits found for students fromall socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.Research shows that the program is effective withregular education students. In addition, achievementgains have been found for Title I, remedialand special education students, as well as for studentswho don't qualify for special education butwho still have special needs. In studies of studentachievement effects, special education studentsmade normal curve equivalent (NCE) gains rangingfrom +7.76 to +23.29. Students receiving Title I servicesposted NCE gains from +7.99 to +25.66. Andfinally, students eligible for remedial services madegains ranging from +6.41 to +11.60.

The main evaluation of ECRI as an after-schoolprogram used volunteers to tutor two groups of randomlyassigned students who were experiencingreading difficulties. The experimental group wastaught by parents who had been trained to useECRI, while the control group was taught using ageneric reading intervention. ECRI studentsreceived lessons in reading, writing, and spelling. Atthe end of the school year, students in both groupswere tested using a standardized test (DurrellAnalysis of Reading Difficulty), which showed thatECRI students had made significantly greater gains(ES +1.21). The ECRI tutored group alsooutscored control students on each of the Durrelltest scores.

A second study included students from grades 2to 12. Prior to ECRI, remedial students had ashockingly low achievement gain of only threemonths (.3) for each year in school. Once ECRIwas implemented, schools saw gains of 17 monthsin the Gates-MacGinite test of oral and silent readingrates, and gains of 25 months in oral readingcomprehension and spelling.

Another study of the use of ECRI as a remedialreading program showed the results of students ingrades 1 to 6. This study included 114 studentswho were not reading on grade level. At the end ofthe school year, after approximately 45 hours ofECRI instruction, results showed NCE gains in allgrades, ranging from 11 to 19.88 NCE scores. An additional study of the use of ECRI as aremedial program involved 17 students in Hawaii ingrades 2 to 4. At the end of the first year, the studentsshowed NCE gains of 14.71.

Case Study

Cameron Elementary School (Fairfax County,Virginia) In Fairfax County, Cameron ElementarySchool's reading scores were below average, and wellbelow those of many schools in the district. With asmany as 40 percent of students suffering from lowreading achievement, the school decided to implementECRI as a summer school intervention. Bythe end of the summer, not only had students in the4th and 6th grades increased their scores by 10points, but they also ranked at or above the nationalaverage on standardized tests.


At the heart of ECRI's remarkable record of successis an effective and replicable professional developmentprogram. Initial training in basic ECRItechniques extends over five full days, including lectureand practice sessions, preparation of materialfor classroom use, and simulated teaching.Advanced training is available, but not required.(Training in the use of ECRI techniques to teachsubject areas other than reading/language arts, suchas history and science, is also available.) In addition,for a $600-a-day honorarium, ECRI staff membersare available for periodic site visits to monitorimplementations and model specific teaching strategies.

The program's goal is to move each student tomastery of learning as quickly as possible, utilizingan individualized, highly interactive and teacherintensiveapproach to instruction. Teachers andparaprofessionals should be aware of-and preparedfor-ECRI's fast pace, as well as its use of scripted"directives." It is important to stress, however, thatit is not the directives, but proper training in theiruse and the instructional techniques that theyembody, that account for the program's success.

Selected resources

Reid, E.R. (April 1986). "Practicing effective instruction: The Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction approach," Exceptional Children.

Briggs, K.L. & Clark, C. (1997). Reading ProgramsFor Students in the Lower Elementary Grades:What Does the Research Say? Austin, Tex.: TexasCenter for Educational Research.

Slavin, R.E. & Fashola, O.S. (1998) Show Me theEvidence! Proven and Promising Programs forAmerica's Schools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: CorwinPress.

Brandt, R. (March 1990). "On teaching reading: A conversation with Ethna Reid," EducationalLeadership.

The Reader, the newsletter of the Exemplary Centerfor Reading Instruction, can be found at www.xmission.com/~ereid/reader.htm

For more information

The Reid Foundation, 3310 South 2700 East,Salt Lake City, Utah 84109 Phone: 801/486-5083or 801/278-2334. E-mail: ereid@xmission.com.Fax: 801/485-0561.Internet:www.xmission.com/~ereid/ecri.htm

Additional Reading

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

American Educator, (1998) Vol. 22, Nos. 1&2: Spring/Summer.

Adams, M.J., Foorman, B.R., Lundberg, I. & Beeler, T. (1998). "The elusive phoneme."

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Hamilton, R.I. & Kucan, L. (1998). "Getting at the meaning"

Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K.E. (1998) "What reading does for the mind."

Greene, J.F. (1998). "Another chance."

Moats, L.C. (1998). "Teaching decoding."

Torgesen, J.K. (1998) "Catch them before they fall."

American Educator, (1995) Vol. 19, No. 2: Summer.

Adams, M.J. & Bruck, M. (1995). "Resolving the 'Great Debate'."

Beck, I.L. & Juel, C. (1995). "The role of decoding in learning to read."

McPike, E. (1995). "Learning to read: Schooling's first mission."

Moats, L.C. (1994). "The missing foundation in teacher education."

Blachman, B.A. (1997). Foundations of Reading Acquisition and Dyslexia: Implications for Early Intervention. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Chall, J.S. (1983). Stages of Reading Development. New York: McGraw Hill.

Gough, P. B. & Hillinger, M. L. (1980). "Learning to read: An unnatural act." Bulletin of the Orton Society,30.

Herman, R. and Stringfield, S. (1997). Ten Promising Programs for Educating All Children: Evidence ofImpact. Arlington, Va.: Educational Research Service.

Learning First Alliance (1998). Every Child Reading: An Action Plan. Washington, D.C.: LFA.

Learning to Read, Reading to Learn (1997). Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Teachers.

National Research Council (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.:National Academy Press.

Raising Student Achievement: A Resource Guide for Improving Low-Performing Schools (1997). Washington,D.C.: American Federation of Teachers.

Shaywitz, S.E. (Nov. 1996). "Dyslexia." Scientific American.

Slavin, R.E. & Fashola, O.S. (1998). Show Me the Evidence! Proven and Promising Programs for America'sSchools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Slavin, R.E., Karweit, N.L. & Wasik, B.A. [Eds.] (1994). Preventing Early School Failure: Research, Policyand Practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Stanovich, K.E. (1994). "Romance and reality." The Reading Teacher, 47.



Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

1. An effect size is a standard means of expressing achievementgains and losses across studies, showing differences betweenexperimental and control groups in terms of standard deviation.An effect size of +1.00 indicates that the experimentalgroup outperformed the control group by one full standarddeviation. To give a sense of scale, this would be equivalentto an increase of 100 points on the SAT scale, two stanines,21 NCEs (normal curve equivalent ranks) or 15 points of IQ(Fashola and Slavin, 1996)-enough to move a student fromthe 20th percentile (the normal level of performance for childrenin poverty) to above the 50th percentile (in range withmainstream America). Because of differences among studydesigns and assessments, this can only be considered a"rough" measure of comparison. In general, an effect size of+.25 or more is considered to be educationally significant.

2. Muir, R. I. (1974). "An Analysis of a Parent Tutorial Program for Children with Reading Disabilities" Unpublished master'sthesis, Brigham Young University.

3. Reid, E.M. (1974). "Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction: Submission to the Joint Dissemination Review Panel of the U.S. Department of Education." Washington:D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

4. RMC Research Corporation, Portsmouth, N.H., ECRIEvaluation, 1995.

5. Reid, E.M. (1989). "Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction: Submission to the Program Effectiveness Panel of the U.S. Department of Education." Washington, D.C.:U.S. Department of Education.

American Federation of Teachers. (1999). Building on the Best, Learning from What Works: Five Promising Remedial Reading Intervention Programs. Washington, DC: Author.

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