Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI) Intervention Program

Black k-3 teacher working one on one with student

Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI), a promising reading intervention program evaluated by the American Federation of Teachers in their series “Building on the Best, Learning from What Works.”

AFT Series: Building on the Best, Learning from What Works

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. 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 "at-risk" 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.

Overview of Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI)

Grades Covered Can be used in grades 1-12, with a primary focus on the elementary grades.
Curriculum Materials As a reading intervention program used by reading specialists and teachers,ECRI requires six implementation guides, a family liaison guide, and worksheets for each ECRI tutor. Parents and peers need only one implementation guide, the family guide and worksheets.
Instructional Support/Professional Development For full classroom implementations, teachers are provided with a five-day seminar on ECRI instructional techniques, effective scheduling of class time, and methods for diagnosing and correcting reading problems.During the seminar, participants observe demonstrations, teach sample lessons, and pass proficiency tests in the use of new approaches.Intermediate and advanced seminars may also visit implementation sites to demonstrate and/or monitor implementation. To implement the reading intervention program only, teachers and reading specialists attend a three-day seminar; parent, volunteer and peer tutors attend a one-day seminar; 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 work as ECRI tutors.
Cost of Implementation ECRI can be implemented as a classroom program across the entire school. However, as a reading intervention only, start-up costs for a program serving 30 students — including training and materials — are estimated at between $1,800 and $3,500. Costs of materials are negligible, with staff development representing the largest expense. These costs (which can be shared with neighboring program schools) include a $600 a day honorarium for a trainer, plus travel and expenses. Additional costs may include release time, depending on the type of implementation.
Results*/Effect Size The major evaluation of ECRI as a remedial (after-school) program showed ECRI students (who were formerly performing below grade level)outscoring control students on the Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty with an effect size of +1.21.
*To give a sense of scale, an effect size of +1.00 would be equivalent to an increase of 100 points on the SAT scale or 15 points of IQ-enough to move a student from the 20th percentile (the normal level of performance for children in poverty) to above the 50th percentile (the norm for mainstream students).

The Exemplary Center for ReadingInstruction (ECRI) is a research-based instructional program designed to improve students' ability to read, understand and communicate in English. Developed in the 1960s and 70s by a former Utah school district administrator, Ethna Reid, the program focuses on pre- and inservice professional development for teachers, and is meant to strengthen and supplement, not replace existing curricula. First developed as a literacy instruction program, ECRI has been implemented across all subject areas, with a focus on training teachers to establish high levels of student mastery, maintain on-task behavior, and provide ample time for hands-on work and practice.

Although used primarily to enhance in-school reading and language arts instruction, ECRI can also be implemented as an after school or summer school reading intervention program. The intervention program, developed with special education funds from the Utah state education department, was originally designed to serve students with severe learning and behavioral problems. Today, ECRI's intervention program in Salt Lake City operates through the University of Utah's Division ofContinuing Education with the goal of improving reading/writing/study skills of students from throughout the area. Typically, students in an afterschool ECRI program attend 90-minute classes three evenings a week for five weeks. (They can register for as many as six sessions during the regular school year.)

Main features

Instructional Approach

ECRI teachers learn strategies for instruction in word recognition, vocabulary, study skills, spelling, literature, penmanship, literal, critical, and interpretive comprehension, and creative and expository writing. Teachers are trained in the use of "directives" (scripted lessons), designed to help increase student motivation, make a more efficient use of class time, and introduce multisensory instructional techniques.Skills are taught in a careful sequence, which attempt to move students to mastery at the fastest possible pace. Once teachers are comfortable with the 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 taught using a three-step process: (1) First the teacher demonstrates and models new skills for students. Ina typical lesson, teachers review previously learned material and introduce new concepts using at least seven methods of instruction, teaching new vocabulary words, one new comprehension skill, a new study skill, and a new grammar/composition skill.(2) The teacher prompts students to check for understanding. Attaining high levels of rapid, accurate responses from all students is a core ECRI strategy, and teachers are taught to diagnose and correct problems quickly when there are errors/no responses.Teachers gradually reduce prompts as students respond correctly without help. (3) During a practice period, students work individually with supervision, and teachers hold individual conferences for re-teaching skills, test for mastery, and conduct small group discussions.

Student Mastery

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

Student Responsibility

ECRI requires that each student take active responsibility for and help to track his or her own learning by, for example, scheduling study time. Students are taught how to diagnose and correct for their own possible errors, and learn to judge when they are ready to be assessed.


ECRI can be used as a program to strengthen regular classroom instruction or as a remedial intervention.There have been more than 20 years of field tests to demonstrate ECRI's effectiveness in helping to raise student achievement in reading and language arts, with benefits found for students from all socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Research shows that the program is effective with regular education students. In addition, achievement gains have been found for Title I, remedial and special education students, as well as for students who don't qualify for special education but who still have special needs. In studies of student achievement effects, special education students made normal curve equivalent (NCE) gains ranging from +7.76 to +23.29. Students receiving Title I services posted NCE gains from +7.99 to +25.66. And finally, students eligible for remedial services made gains ranging from +6.41 to +11.60.

The main evaluation of ECRI as an after-school program used volunteers to tutor two groups of randomly assigned students who were experiencing reading difficulties. The experimental group was taught by parents who had been trained to use ECRI, while the control group was taught using a generic reading intervention. ECRI students received lessons in reading, writing, and spelling. At the end of the school year, students in both groups were tested using a standardized test (DurrellAnalysis of Reading Difficulty), which showed that ECRI students had made significantly greater gains (ES +1.21). The ECRI tutored group also outscored control students on each of the Durrell test scores.

A second study included students from grades 2to 12. Prior to ECRI, remedial students had a shockingly low achievement gain of only three months (.3) for each year in school. Once ECRI was implemented, schools saw gains of 17 months in the Gates-MacGinite test of oral and silent reading rates, and gains of 25 months in oral reading comprehension and spelling.

Another study of the use of ECRI as a remedial reading program showed the results of students in grades 1 to 6. This study included 114 students who were not reading on grade level. At the end of the school year, after approximately 45 hours ofECRI instruction, results showed NCE gains in all grades, ranging from 11 to 19.88 NCE scores. An additional study of the use of ECRI as a remedial program involved 17 students in Hawaii in grades 2 to 4. At the end of the first year, the students showed 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 well below those of many schools in the district. With as many as 40 percent of students suffering from low reading achievement, the school decided to implement ECRI as a summer school intervention. By the end of the summer, not only had students in the 4th and 6th grades increased their scores by 10 points, but they also ranked at or above the national average on standardized tests.


At the heart of ECRI's remarkable record of success is an effective and replicable professional development program. Initial training in basic ECRI techniques extends over five full days, including lecture and practice sessions, preparation of material for classroom use, and simulated teaching. Advanced training is available, but not required. (Training in the use of ECRI techniques to teach subject areas other than reading/language arts, such as history and science, is also available.) In addition, for a $600-a-day honorarium, ECRI staff members are available for periodic site visits to monitor implementations and model specific teaching strategies.

The program's goal is to move each student to mastery of learning as quickly as possible, utilizing an individualized, highly interactive and teacher-intensive approach to instruction. Teachers and paraprofessionals should be aware of-and prepared for-ECRI's fast pace, as well as its use of scripted"directives." It is important to stress, however, that it is not the directives, but proper training in their use and the instructional techniques that they embody, 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 for America's Schools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

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

The Reader, the newsletter of the Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction, can be found at www.xmission.com/~ereid/reader.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, Policy and 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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"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943