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Replication Randomized Controlled Trial of Annual Book Fairs to Promote Summer Reading in Grades 1 – 3, Conducted in Rural, High-Poverty Elementary Schools

Findings of positive effects on English language arts (ELA) achievement after two years corroborate findings of the initial RCT, but are not quite conclusive due to lack of statistical significance.

Grantee: University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The study’s final report is forthcoming. 

Description of the Intervention: The Annual Book Fairs program provided students in high-poverty elementary schools in rural East Tennessee with books to read over the summer for three consecutive years starting at the end of first grade. The goal was to prevent summer learning loss. In the spring of each school year, students attended the fair, located in their school building, where they could order from among 400 books in a variety of genres (e.g., pop culture, series books, science). At each fair, students picked 10 – 14 books to keep as their own, which were delivered to them on the final day of school.

A prior high-quality RCT of this program, conducted in two high-poverty, largely minority school districts in Florida, found statistically-significant positive effects on state test scores in reading after three years (effect size of 0.14).

Study Design: In this study, 1,525 first-grade students in 43 schools in 7 districts in rural East Tennessee, whose parents had consented to study participation, were randomly assigned to a treatment group that participated in the Annual Book Fairs program or a control group that did not (they received a National Geographic activity or book of humor). The sample was approximately 50% female, 75% economically disadvantaged, and 90% white (in contrast to the Florida RCT, whose sample was almost 90% Black or Hispanic). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, final reading outcomes for the full sample – i.e., English language arts (ELA) scores on the state test – were measured at the end of third grade (i.e., two years after study entry), rather than at the end of fourth grade as originally planned. 

Impact on the Primary Outcome: The study found a positive impact on state ELA scores at the end of third grade of 0.17 standard deviations, which represents about a 28% improvement over the annual gain in reading otherwise expected for third graders. This result corroborates the positive impact of 0.14 in the initial, Florida RCT. However, the Tennessee result was not statistically significant (p=0.13) and is therefore a highly promising but not quite conclusive replication of the earlier result.

Study Quality: Based on careful review, we believe the study was well-conducted and produced valid findings. 1

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    For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by similar baseline characteristics of the treatment versus control groups), modest sample attrition, and valid analyses that were publicly pre-registered. One reason the study finding did not reach statistical significance may be that the study was unable to use baseline literacy measures as a covariate, as originally planned, since the study schools used many different types of baseline tests. In addition, unlike the original study in which the treatment group experienced three book fairs, in the replication, the treatment group experienced only two years of book fairs prior to taking the 3rd grade state test.