How Science of Reading Research Affirms the Impact of Waterford’s Evidence-Based Reading Intervention Program

by Andy Minshew


In connection with the Science of Reading Virtual Summit, is sharing an article series exploring the science behind how students learn to read and what administrators can do to guide school and classroom strategies.

Sign up for the free summit to learn research-based strategies from early education experts, including Julie Christensen, Vice President of Curriculum at Waterford. Plus, find upcoming and on-demand video series led by early education experts through the Webinar Library, featuring topics chosen with administrators in mind, like:

  • Impactful Family Engagement Made Easy
  • Understanding the Six Literacy Strands
  • Improving Student Outcomes with Professional Services

Learning to read is seemingly effortless for only a small percentage of students–around 5%, according to Julie Christensen, Vice President of Curriculum at Waterford, in a recent webinar. The vast majority of students need systematic and explicit instruction to build reading proficiency. Investing in early childhood literacy programs–from PreK to second grade–is essential not only as a support for academic achievement but to provide students with the skills that will allow reading to be a lifelong tool for learning.

That’s why choosing research-based programs for core, supplemental, and intervention instruction is so important. Curriculum built on the science of reading helps students develop literacy skills in ways that align with how the brain learns, helping students learn most effectively and most efficiently. The most successful reading programs are those both driven by the science of reading and proven by peer-reviewed research.

With over forty years of experience creating accessible and high-quality learning content, Waterford’s early reading curriculum is aligned with the science of reading. It is also backed by third-party research that demonstrates Waterford’s effectiveness in helping students develop strong, lasting literacy skills. Read on to learn more about the proven impact of Waterford’s evidence-based reading programs and how you can use them as part of your school’s explicit, systematic approach to literacy instruction.

How Waterford Evaluates Early Reading Curriculum Efficacy

Waterford conducts regular third-party research studies to evaluate the effectiveness of the early reading curriculum. Over the past ten years, Waterford has conducted fifty-three studies–thirty-two of which are peer-reviewed, or evaluated by a board of researchers not affiliated with the organization.

A large and diverse sample size is key to designing studies with accurate measurements. Of utmost importance is making sure a wide variety of young learners are represented in these studies. In studies conducted over the past ten years, Waterford has evaluated 76,300 young learners using the early reading program either at home or school, including those who are:

  • Experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Receiving special education services
  • Speaking more than one language at home

When possible, Waterford studies also include randomized control groups in studies, with the only difference between the control and intervention groups being the curriculum they engage with. The students’ randomized group assignment helps ensure that differences in reading development observed between the groups are due to their curriculum and not any external factors.

An ESSA-Approved Reading Intervention Program with Significant Effect Size

Across all Waterford studies evaluating early literacy programs over the past ten years, students exhibit an average reading effect size of 0.47. This is nearly twice as large as the effect size criterion of 0.25, which is the cutoff that is widely considered to indicate a meaningful impact on student learning. Overall, this means that Waterford’s reading curriculum is shown to effectively build and strengthen reading skills.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), run by the U.S. Department of Education, evaluates and ranks early learning studies to provide educators with unbiased evaluations as they make decisions for their schools. After evaluating a 2016 ETI study of Waterford Upstart, an early literacy program for PreK studies, the WWC designated it as meeting ESSA Tier 1 standards.

ESSA Tier 1 is the highest possible ranking that an early learning program can meet according to WWC standards. It is only given to high-quality randomized control experimental studies that show statistically significant positive effects. Alongside the ESSA Tier 1 ranking, the WWC also assigned Waterford Upstart an Improvement Index of 14, which recognizes its significant and effective impact on early literacy.

A Reading Intervention Program Aligned with Standards and Certified by Experts

Waterford’s early learning programs are adaptive, meeting learners where they currently are and providing scaffolding that helps learners gain proficiency in key reading skills. As students progress through the program, they continually encounter new skills and practice existing ones to become fluent readers. This makes Waterford Early Reading an accessible intervention program for students, especially as they receive extra support in skills identified as areas for growth.

Because of this adaptability, experts at the following organizations have certified Waterford programs as effective resources:

  • The WiDA Educational Consortium
  • CASE: The Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • CAR: Certified Autism Resource, given by The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards

The WiDA Educational Consortium CASE: The Council of Administrators of Special Education CAR: Certified Autism Resource, given by The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards

Waterford programs also align with the PreK-2 state standards for all fifty states and dozens of early education organizations across the country, including:

Interested to see how your educational standards align with Waterford programs? Follow the link here to view Waterford PreK-2 correlations relevant to your state or district.

This article is the second in a two-part series on the research and impact of Waterford programs. To read part one, which explores the alignment between Waterford programs and the science of reading, visit How the Science of Reading Informs Waterford Curriculum.


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