An adult on the left points at her chin to show a mouth shape. The adult holds a card in their hand. On the right, a child looks upward at the adult's face.

Popular elementary school reading intervention program Reading Recovery is the subject of renewed scrutiny with the release of a group of working papers from a recent study into its efficacy.

The new study from the University of Delaware Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP) evaluated the reading performance of third and fourth grade students who had received Reading Recovery instruction in first grade compared to students who had not. The new data appear to show that students who received Reading Recovery interventions in the first grade had lower scores than those who did not on third and fourth grade reading tests despite showing significant improvements after the completion of the initial program.

These surprising results lend credence to growing criticism of the program, which costs in excess of $10,000 per student to teach strategies that some educators and researchers believe are not grounded in science. One particular concern is the lack of emphasis on word decoding; "If you don't build up those decoding skills, you're going to fall behind, even though it looked like you had caught up in first grade," says CRESP director and lead author of both studies Henry May in an interview with NPR. Reading Recovery states on its website that “since 1984, approximately 75% of students who complete the full intervention can meet grade-level expectations in reading and writing” and continues that “the few students who are still having difficulty after a complete intervention are recommended for further evaluation.” Reading Recovery remains widely used, although it remains to be seen if the results of this new study will translate into further movement away from the program and towards other strategies.