Background: Large-scale randomised controlled trials are relatively rare in education. The present study approximates to, but is not exactly, a randomised controlled trial. It was an attempt to scale up previous small peer tutoring projects, while investing only modestly in continuing professional development for teachers.
Purpose: A two-year study of peer tutoring in reading was undertaken in one local education authority in Scotland. The relative effectiveness of cross-age versus same-age tutoring, light versus intensive intervention, and reading versus reading and mathematics tutoring were investigated.
Programme description (if relevant): The intervention was Paired Reading, a freely available cross-ability tutoring method applied to books of the pupils' choice but above the tutee's independent readability level. It involves Reading Together and Reading Alone, and switching from one to the other according to need.
Sample: Eighty-seven primary schools of overall average socio-economic status, ability and gender in one council in Scotland. There were few ethnic minority students. Proportions of students with special needs were low. Children were eight and 10 years old as the intervention started. Macro-evaluation n = 3520. Micro-evaluation Year 1 15 schools n = 592, Year 2 a different 15 schools n = 591, compared with a comparison group of five schools n = 240.
Design and methods: Almost all the primary schools in the local authority participated and were randomly allocated to condition. A macro-evaluation tested and retested over a two-year period using Performance Indicators in Primary Schools. A micro-evaluation tested and retested within each year using norm-referenced tests of reading comprehension. Macro-evaluation was with multi-level modelling, micro-evaluation with descriptive statistics and effect sizes, analysis of variance (ANOVA) and multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA).
Results: Macro-evaluation yielded significant pre-post gains in reading attainment for cross-age tutoring over both years. No other differences were significant. Micro-evaluation yielded pre-post changes in Year 1 (selected) and Year 2 (random) greater than controls, with no difference between same-age and cross-age tutoring. Light and intensive tutoring were equally effective. Tutoring reading and mathematics together was more effective than only tutoring reading. Lower socio-economic and lower reading ability students did better. Girls did better than boys. Regarding observed implementation quality, some factors were high and others low. Few implementation variables correlated with attainment gain.
Conclusions: Paired Reading tutoring does lead to better reading attainment compared with students not participating. This is true in the long term (macro-evaluation) for cross-age tutoring, and in the short term (micro-evaluation) for both cross-age and same-age tutoring. Tutors and tutees benefited. Intensity had no effect but dual tutoring did have an effect. Low-socio-economic status, low-ability and female students did better. The results of the different forms of evaluation were indeed different. There are implications for practice and for future research.