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Read 180 & System 44

Program Description:

Read 180 is a balanced literacy program offered by HMH that is aimed at helping older struggling readers. System 44, is meant to be a complimentary program offered to students in need of more foundational instruction. 


According to What Works ClearingHouse Read 180 is “READ 180® is a reading program designed for struggling readers who are reading 2 or more years below grade level. It provides blended learning instruction (i.e., combining digital media with traditional classroom instruction), student assessment, and teacher-professional development. READ 180® is delivered in 45- to 90-minute sessions that include whole-group instruction, three small-group rotations, and a whole-class wrap-up. Small-group rotations include individualized instruction using an adaptive computer application, small-group instruction with a teacher, and independent reading. READ 180® is designed for students in elementary through high school.”

HMH describes System 44 as: “System 44’s instructional model is holistic, providing everything students and teachers need for simple, clear instruction and classroom engagement, including digital tools, real-time data, implementation support, and professional learning. The System 44 Model for Blended Learning combines adaptive technology and teacher-led instruction to help students become proficient readers, writers, speakers, and critical thinkers.[....] The scope and sequence guides students through five strands: The Code, Word Strategies, Sight Words, Success, and Writing, providing differentiated instruction and practice in each.”


*A note on the “balanced literacy term”: Balanced literacy is an ambiguous word, and has no commonly agreed upon definition. However, it is important to distinguish, as many language programs are based on the philosophical movement behind balanced literacy. These programs tend to be inspired by constructivist thinking. They typically emphasize the importance of passage comprehension, instead of word reading and decoding. They often use more incidental and less systematic phonics instruction, include instruction on word strategies such as three cueing, and use leveled readers, as opposed to decodable ones. 


While it is difficult for us to properly identify this program as structured literacy or balanced literacy, as the company website provides very little information regarding the curriculum and neither author has personally used the program. That said, multiple researchers identified the program as “balanced literacy” within their study. Moreover, Read 180 study authors often referenced famous balanced literacy scholars, such as Fountas and Pinnell, within their papers as literacy experts. We reached out for teacher feedback on social media on this program. While some teachers liked the program, others noted that there was not enough phonics instruction, and relied heavily on silent reading. That said, many teachers also indicated that System 44 included more foundational instruction and was better for struggling readers than Read 180. We felt that this program should be best categorized as a balanced literacy program and not a structured literacy program. However, we have received some criticism for this finding from some of the original researchers.

Previous Reviews. 

What Works ClearingHouse has identified Read 180 as a tier 1 evidence-based program and is rated as strong by Evidence for ESSA. Evidence for ESSA review 2 grade 4-6 studies on Read 180, with a total sample size of 560. These studies were reviewed for rigor as strong and a mean effect size of .13 was found. What Works Clearing House also reviewed 9 WWC studies, for grades 2-9. These studies were reviewed for rigor as strong and a mean effect size of .09 was found.  According to the HMH website, Read 180 is the most effective reading program. 


Our Review Methodology:

A systematic search was conducted for both Read 180 and System 44, independently by both authors. Searches were conducted on Google, the company website, What Works Clearinghouse, the ERIC database, and the Education Source database. Studies that were not of an experimental nature or did not have control groups, or did not have sufficient reporting to find effect sizes were excluded. In the initial search 89 papers were found. 66 papers were initially excluded, based on abstracts. 3 Additional papers were excluded, upon closer review of the studies. In total 23 studies were included in the analysis. All experimental studies with control groups and sufficient reporting to find effect sizes were included. Both authors independently coded studies and calculated effect sizes to ensure reliability. In the event of a disagreement, both authors came together to discuss to reach consensus. Cohen’s d effect sizes were used for studies with a  sample size above 50. Hedge’s g was used for studies with a sample size below 50. Studies without sufficient sample size reporting were measured using Cohen’s average. Effect sizes were also weighted, according to sample size, by their proportionality to the mean. For the sake of transparency a downloadable excel file with studies, coding, and basic results has been included in the reference section.  



A mean effect size of .08 was found for the program, with 95% confidence intervals of [0, .18]. According to Cohen’s Guide effect sizes below .20 are negligible. Therefore the average result of Read 180 appears to be almost statistically non-existent. Indeed, Lombardi 2016 provided 110 hours more of instructional reading time to the treatment group than the control group and still showed a negative effect size of .39. Similarly as did 3 other studies show negative effect sizes, including the only experimental study on System 44. That said, not all of these studies had equivalent sample sizes or levels of quality. So the analysis was re-conducted to be weighted according to sample size and a regression analysis was conducted to control for quality. The weighted analysis showed slightly more favorable results with a mean effect size of .15, with 95% confidence intervals of [.03, .26]. However, these results were still negligible. Across both analyses, only 2 effect sizes were non-negligible, the unweighted mean for comprehension, and the weighted mean for longitudinal studies. Comparatively, negative effect sizes were found for 5 outcomes. Within the regression analysis, the 12 highest-quality studies showed no meaningful benefit. Of the 23 examined studies, only 4 studies showed a non-negligible positive mean effect size.


What Works Clearing House and Evidence for ESSA both rated Read 180, as having strong evidence of efficacy. However, these organizations primarily evaluate efficacy based on the quality of the studies. And with 22 high quality studies, Read 180 might be the most well-studied language program in the world. However, almost all of those 22 studies showed poor results. Which actually makes us more confident in saying that Read 180 shows little evidence of benefit. This meta-analysis might also be one of the largest syntheses of high-quality balanced literacy studies, as to the best of our knowledge there currently exist no peer-reviewed meta-analyses on the topic of balanced literacy. Despite all of this research, this analysis suggests there is little to no meaningful benefit for Read 180, or System 44. These results further call into question the potential benefits of a balanced literacy approach to reading instruction, especially within an intervention setting. 

Read 180 Regression Analysis.png


This analysis was not peer-reviewed. The authors have not personally used the program in question. Many studies were not available within the searched academic databases, instead the authors relied on the calculations and coding of What Works Clearinghouse, for these studies. Of the 23 studies, only one study was identified for System 44, which makes the effect size for System 44 less reliable. 


Final Grade: C- This program has a very large number of well conducted studies. However, the majority of those studies show a statistically negligible or negative study result.


Written by Nathaniel Hansford and Sky McGlynn

Last Updated by Elizabeth Reenstra and Pamela Aitchison, 2024/05/15



Study Database Downloadable:

David E. Houchins, Joseph C. Gagnon, Holly B. Lane, Richard G. Lambert & Erica D. McCray (2018) The efficacy of a literacy intervention for incarcerated adolescents, Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 35:1, 60-91, DOI: 10.1080/0886571X.2018.1448739


Fitzgerald, R., & Hartry, A. (2008). What works in afterschool programs: The impact of a reading intervention on student achievement in the Brockton Public Schools (phase II). Berkeley, CA: MPR Associates, Inc. and the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL.


Fitzgerald, R., & Hartry, A. (2008). What works in afterschool programs: The impact of a reading intervention on student achievement in the Brockton Public Schools (phase II). Berkeley, CA: MPR Associates, Inc. and the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL.


Holland, G., Jones, D., & Parker, C. A. (2013). The effectiveness of two reading intervention program in a south Texas urban school district. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 26, 1-8.


Interactive, Inc. (2002). An efficacy study of READ 180: A print and electronic adaptive intervention program, grades 4 and above. Ashland, VA: Author


J,  Niemand. 2016. The Effects of Read 180 on Reading Outcomes for Secondary Students. Retrieved from <>. 


Kim, J.S., Samson, J.F., Fitzgerald, R. et al. A randomized experiment of a mixed-methods literacy intervention for struggling readers in grades 4–6: effects on word reading efficiency, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and oral reading fluency. Read Writ 23, 1109–1129 (2010).


Kim, J. S., Capotosto, L., Hartry, A., & Fitzgerald, R. (2011). Can a Mixed-Method Literacy Intervention Improve the Reading Achievement of Low-Performing Elementary School Students in an After-School Program?: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial of READ 180 Enterprise. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(2), 183–201.


Lombardi, D., & Behrman, E. H. (2016). Balanced literacy and the underperforming English learner in high school. Reading Improvement, 53(4), 165+.


Lewis, Nathaniel, Vivian Williams, and Aarek Farmer. 2021. "Raising Middle School Reading Scores: Is Read 180 Next Generation the Answer?." The International Journal of Literacies 28 (2): 35-51. doi:10.18848/2327-0136/CGP/v28i02/35-51.


Meisch, A., Hamilton, J., Chen, E., Quintanilla, P., Fong, P., Gray-Adams, K.,…Thornton, N. (2011). Striving Readers study: Targeted and whole-school interventions–year 5. Rockville, MD: Westat.


O’Hare, J. M. (2012). Instructional leadership: Using a research approach to evaluate the impact of a reading intervention program (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Houston). Retrieved from a+research+approach+to+evaluation+the++impact+of+a+reading+intervention+program &id=ED548492.


Sprague, K., Zaller, C., Kite, A., & Hussar, K. (2012). Springfield-Chicopee School Districts Striving Readers program final report Years 1-5: Evaluation of implementation and impact. Providence, RI: The Education Alliance at Brown University.


Sprague, K., Zaller, C., Kite, A., & Hussar, K. (2012). Springfield-Chicopee School Districts Striving Readers program final report Years 1-5: Evaluation of implementation and impact. Providence, RI: The Education Alliance at Brown University.

Scholastic Research and Results. (2008). READ 180: Longitudinal evaluation of a ninth-grade reading intervention (2003–2006). New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.


Swanlund, A., Dahlke, K., Tucker, N., Kleidon, B., Kregor, J., Davidson-Gibbs, D., & Halberg, K. (2012). Striving Readers: Impact study and project evaluation report: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (with Milwaukee Public Schools). Naperville, IL: American Institutes for Research.


Teja, D. L. (2014). The effects of the Read 180 program on oral reading fluency, linguistic comprehension, and reading comprehension with secondary special education students (Doctoral Dissertation, Walden University). Retrieved from:

RMC Research. (2011). Evaluation of System 44. Scholastic. Retrieved from <>. 


Yurchak, S. M. (2013). The effect of READ 180 on the reading achievement of struggling readers in a large, public, urban high school in northern New Jersey (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3613825)


White, R., Haslam, B. M., & Hewes, G. (2006). Improving student literacy in the Phoenix Union High School District 2003-04 and 2004-05. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates.


White, R., Williams, I., & Haslam, M. B. (2005). Performance of District 23 students participating in Scholastic READ 180. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates.

WWC. (2016). Read 180. Intervention Report. Retrieved from <>.

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