Download featured IES Practice Guide

About 30 California Department of Education staff who work on literacy and school improvement issues met to expand their knowledge and understanding of evidence-based strategies for improving adolescent literacy at this invitation-only event, sponsored REL West  in partnership with the California Comprehensive Center.

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Crotti


Adolescent Literacy Research: Implications for California's Policy and Practice

December 04, 2009

Sterling Hotel
1300 H Street
Sacramento, California

Goals of the Event

  • Develop further understanding of current research on improving adolescent literacy achievement, and the resources available on the Doing What Works (DWW) website.
  • Deepen understanding of how to recognize and apply good evidence to make research-based policy and practice decisions.
  • Discuss and apply research findings and DWW resources to California Department of Education policies and practices.

Part of a U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) initiative to bring evidence to practice, the event was designed to deepen participants’ understanding of how to recognize and apply good research evidence to improving adolescent literacy achievement. It featured Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices, one in a series of research-based practice guides published by IES, as well as related resources from its Doing What Works website.


Three presentations provided participants with information about IES-sponsored research and resources targeted to improving adolescent literacy achievement.  A panel of staff from the California Department of Education (CDE) and a school district administrator provided reflections on application of the research to state and district efforts to improve outcomes for struggling secondary readers.

A DVD overview of IES practice guides explained the levels of evidence for the recommendations, how they are determined, and why they are important. Included in the presentation were components of each practice guide and the practice guides that are currently available.

Joseph Torgeson, formerly the Morcom Professor of Psychology and Education at Florida State University, director emeritus of the Florida Center for Reading Research, and panelist for the featured practice guide, organized his remarks around three big ideas that provide the context for the five recommended practices:

  • We will not make significant overall improvements in adolescent literacy outcomes unless content area teachers fully embrace their role in this effort. 
  • We must take the problem of motivation and engagement in content area classes and all reading classes very seriously.  We must engage student motivation more broadly if literacy levels are going to increase significantly. 
  • Because most samples of adolescent struggling readers will include students with a wide range of reading difficulties, middle and high schools, for the time being, should have the capacity to provide interventions focused across a full range of reading difficulties, from decoding, to vocabulary, to reading and thinking strategies.

Torgeson provided an overview of the five research-based practices recommended in Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices:

  • Provide explicit vocabulary instruction.
  • Provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction.
  • Provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation.
  • Increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning.
  • Make available intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers that can be provided by trained specialists.

Torgeson concluded his presentation by making a case for the importance of differentiating instruction for students by sharing a quote: When there is great diversity among students in their literacy skills and their ability to acquire new skills, little variation in teaching will result in great variation in student learning.

Meg Livingston Asensio, manager of education research dissemination at REL West, presented an overview of the structure and content of the Doing What Works website (, which was recently redesigned and updated. Doing What Works provides resources for educators at all levels of the system that support the evidence-based recommendations contained in the What Works Clearinghouse practice guides. Livingston Asensio walked participants through the Learn, See, Do components of the adolescent literacy section of the website.

The panel presentations focused on three aspects of bridging research, policy, and practice related to the research in effective practices for improving adolescent literacy:

  • Cheryl Cartin, K-12 ELA Program Specialist, Elk Grove Unified School District, shared examples of ways that the district is working to reduce the "knowing/doing" gap in order to improve literacy outcomes for secondary students. Cartin gave examples of the progress the district is making in relation to each of the five recommendations in the practice guide.
  • Laura Wagner, Accountability & Improvement Division, CDE, discussed the work CDE is doing to bring coherence to the state system of support for districts and schools to close the achievement gap. She explained how assessment tools, such as the Academic Program Survey (APS) and District Assessment Survey (DAS), are being revised and augmented. The state is also working with its partners in this work, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the California Comprehensive Center, to more clearly define what full implementation of the nine Essential Program Components (EPCs) looks like. Phase two of development will include how to do evidence-driven strategic planning using the tools. Wagner also summarized key issues that support providers are experiencing in the field.
  • Shobhana Rishi, Professional Development & Curriculum Support Division, CDE, related the research to the state's Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtI2) model, showing how and where each of the five recommended practices connected to its scope and sequence. She spoke of the challenge of building the capacity to have enough trained specialists in middle and high schools, outside of special education, to meet students' intervention needs. She concluded that the RtI model provides a promising way to meet the challenges put forth in the adolescent literacy practice guide.

Interactive Session

Following the panel discussion, participants engaged in discussions at their tables, responding to key questions regarding the presentations they had seen:

  • We just heard a presentation that clearly outlined five research-based strategies for improving adolescent literacy. What new understandings do you now have about improving reading achievement, instruction, and intervention for older students?
  • With implementation of these strategies, what positive changes would you anticipate in disticts' and schools' ability to support the literacy levels of older students who are not being successful? What role might the resources on the Doing What Works website play?
  • What are some common roadblocks that districts and schools face in implementing such research-based practices? What are some potential solutions to overcoming them?
  • How might the practice guide recommendations enhance current state initiatives and assessment tools, such as RtI2, APS, and others? What are ways that the state department might further support adolescent literacy improvement efforts by districts and schools?

The morning concluded with an opportunity for participants to share some of their reflections, and summary remarks by Phil LaFontaine, Professional Development and Curriculum Support Division, CDE.

For Windows:

For Mac:

How can we help you?

Do you want to know the latest research or where to turn for information? This free collaborative service from the 10 RELs provides references, referrals, and brief responses to education questions. To ask a question, visit the national portal and select REL West -- or directly.

Search By State