Publication: Exceptional Children
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 17896
ISSN: 00144029
Journal code: GEXC

Skilled reading is "the ability to derive meaning from text accurately and efficiently" (McCardle, Scarborough, & Catts, 2001, p. 230). Becoming a skilled reader requires both the ability to recognize words (i.e., focusing on such skills as phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, decoding, and fluency) and the ability to comprehend text (McCardle et al., 2001). Although instruction in word recognition is critical for students with reading difficulties, some students continue to struggle with comprehending or acquiring knowledge from text despite having adequate word-recognition skills (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996). These students experience greater difficulty in the upper elementary grades, when the focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Specifically, they have problems finding the main ideas and important supporting details, making predictions, drawing inferences, and summarizing information (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001).

Textbooks and instructional materials in later grades often consist primarily of expository text that is more difficult to comprehend than narrative text for all students, especially for those with learning disabilities (Williams, 2005). Expository and narrative texts are two distinct genres of text structure that differ with regard to the "underlying principles of organization - schema-based in narratives and category-based in exposition" (Berman, 2007, p. 79). Anothei basic distinction between expository and narrative texts has to do with the purpose (Fox, 2009): "the main focus of narrative texts is to tell a story, so that the reader will be entertained," whereas "the main focus of expository texts is to communicate information so that the reader might learn something" (Weaver & Kintsch, 1991/1996, p. 230).

Because of the difficulty that students have in comprehending expository texts, effective instructional practices must support students, including students with learning disabilities (LD), in learning from such texts. Effective instructional practices for students with LD include using content enhancements (e.g., advance and graphic organizers, visual displays, study guides, computer-assisted instruction) and instruction in cognitive strategies (e.g., text structure, main idea identification, summarization, self-questioning, cognitive mapping, reciprocal teaching; Gajiia, Jitendia, Sood, & Sacks, 2007). Content enhancements are important because they enable teacheis to select important information and present key ideas and their interrelationships, thereby facilitating student learning. In contrast, the focus of cognitive strategy instruction is teaching students how to learn rather than helping them master specific content information. Educators may attribute comprehension failure in students with LD to a lack of appropriate cognitive strategies or ineffective use of such strategies (Gersten et al., 2001).

A cognitive strategy is "a heuristic or guide that serves to support or facilitate the learner as she or he develops the internal procedures that enable them to perform the higher level operations [such as reading comprehension]" (Rosenshine, 1995, p. 266). Research in cognitive strategy instruction has focused on single strategies - such as identifying main ideas, paraphrasing, self-questioning, cognitive mapping, and summarizing - and has also addressed such multiple-component packages as collaborative strategic reading; predict, organize, search, summarize, evaluate (POSSE); and survey, question, read, recite, review (SQ3R). Despite this divetsity in cognitive strategies within the framework of reading comprehension, all cognitive strategies share a common goal - to teach students how to interact with the content so that learning becomes more deliberate, self-directed, and self-regulated. Further, these strategies involve the same processes: reading rhe text, asking questions, drawing connections, finding main ideas, clarifying meaning, rereading, and paraphrasing or summarizing key information. Another common element is the instructional method used in strategy training. The basic model reflects principles of direct instruction: desctiption of the strategy, teacher modeling, guided practice, monitoring with corrective feedback, and independent practice. Swanson's (1999) findings from a meta-analysis of an extant array of interventions indicated that derivatives of both cognitive strategy and direct instiuction were most effective for improving rhe reading performance of students with LD. Educators also deem cognitive strategy instruction effective in such other domains as writing (Graham & Harris, 2003) and mathematics (see Xin & Jitendra, 1999).

Recent research syntheses (e.g., Gajria et al., 2007; Gersten et al., 2001; Sencibaugh, 2007) have examined the effectiveness of cognitive strategy instruction foi students who experience reading difficulties and students with LD. Two of the syntheses (Gersten et al., 2001; Sencibaugh, 2007) focused on reading comprehension strategies that involved both nairative and expository texts. Gersten et al. conducted a descriptive review of an array of reading comprehension strategies for a broad sample of students with learning and reading disabilities. Results of both group design and single-subject design studies not only highlighted the importance of strategy instruction but also informed the field about issues (e.g., teaching multiple strategies, increasing the use of socially mediated instruction) to consider for improving the comprehension performance of students with LD.

Gersten et al. (2001) separated and discussed the effects of interventions involving expository and narrative texts. Sencibaugh (2007) conducted a meta-analysis to investigate the impact of auditory/language-dependent strategies (e.g., summarization, self-questioning, paragraph restatements, collaborative strategic reading, textstructure) and visually dependent strategies (e.g., semantic feature analysis, visual attention therapy, text illustrations) for both types of texts combined. He concluded that auditory/languagebased strategies have greater impact than visually dependent strategies for increasing the reading comprehension skills of students with LD and for poor readers.

Gajria et al. (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of reading interventions that specifically targeted expository text comprehension for students with LD. That study investigated the effects of two instructional approaches - content enhancements and cognitive strategy instruction. The results suggest that cognitive strategies (single or multiple) are most effective in improving the comprehension of expository text for students with LD. However, the two meta-analyses (Gajria et al.; Sencibaugh, 2007) included only group design studies. In sum, the results of previous syntheses have established the efficacy of cognitive strategy instruction for improving reading comprehension outcomes for students with LD. No studies have evaluated the research base in special education by using qualify standards that are rigorous enough to justify the approach as an evidence-based practice.

Although the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC, 2006) and Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE, n.d.) have evaluated the quality of research in education, they have focused exclusively on group design studies. Randomized controlled trials are the gold standard for evaluating the quality of research on the basis of criteria established by the WWC and BEE. Considerable debate exists regarding the type of scientific information that is acceptable as evidence in education (Odom et al., 2005). Educational researchers have employed multiple research methodologies (e.g., experimental, quasi-experimental, survey, correlational, qualitative) to examine the effectiveness of various instructional practices. In special education, however, the use of single-subject design studies may be relevant and appropriate when considering the diversity of the population and contexts (Odom et al., 2005). In addition, evaluating the merits of research studies in special education using explicit procedures for determining whether a practice is evidence-based is of great importance in the era of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001) movement, which calls for increased use of evidencebased practices.

Evaluating the research base for evidencebased practices in special education using quality indicators (QIs) for group design and single-subject studies proposed by Gersten et al. (2005) and Horner et al. (2005) is still in its infancy. In a recent special issue of Exceptional Children (Graham, 2009), teams of reviewers evaluated bodies of group experimental and single-subject research by applying the QIs in the domains of reading (e.g., repeated reading for reading fluency; Chard, Ketterlin-Geller, Baker, Doabler, & Apichatabutra, 2009), mathematics (cognitive strategy instruction for mathematical problem solving; Montague & Dietz, 2009), writing (self-regulated strategy development; Baker, Chard, KetterlinGeller, Apichatabutra, & Doabler, 2009), behavior (function-based interventions; Lane, Lalberg, & Shepcaro, 2009, and functional academics (time delay; Browder, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Spooner, Mims, & Baker, 2009).

Lessons learned from the process of applying the QIs not only informed the field about the challenges (e.g., interpreting the criteria, developing rating procedures and field testing, interrater reliability) in applying the QIs, but also furnished suggestions for refining the QIs (e.g., operationalizing the QIs, adding weight to certain components on the basis of their importance; Cook, Tankersley, & Landrum, 2009). More important, reviewers stressed the continued need to conduct quality research and evaluate instructional practices that educators can use with different subpopulations.

In summary, given the relevance of teaching students with LD to comprehend expository text and the extant research on cognitive strategy instruction in reading, the current study analyzed the research evidence for cognitive strategy instruction to teach expository text comprehension by evaluating the methodological quality of both group design (randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental studies) and single-subject design studies using the QIs (Gersten et al., 2005; Horner et al., 2005). Specifically, we designed this study to answer the following question: Does the research base meet the criteria for methodological rigor to justify cognitive strategy instruction as an evidence-based practice for improving comprehension of expository text for students with LD? In addition, we calculated average weighted effect sizes for the set of group design studies and average percentage of nonoverlapping data (PND) for the set of single-subject design studies.



First, we conducted a computerized search of the literature on reading comprehension instruction for students with LD by using PsycINFO, ERIC, and Social Sciences Citation Index databases from 1978 to January 2009. Descriptors for the database searches included the following combinations: reading comprehension, content area, expository text, text structure, and learning disabilities. Second, we examined the Social Sciences Citation Index to identify articles that referenced any of the three recent review studies on reading comprehension instruction (Gajria et al., 2007; Gersten et al., 2001; Sencibaugh, 2007) on the assumption that these articles may have included more recent work in text comprehension. Third, we conducted an ancestral search of studies using the reference lists of articles that focused on cognitive strategy instruction included in other reviews of reading comprehension or content area instruction (e.g., Gajria et al., 2007; Gersten et al., 2001; Sencibaugh, 2007; Swanson, 1999; Swanson & De La Paz, 1998). Finally, to locate the most recent literature, we hand-searched the following special education journals: Exceptional Children, Journal of Learning Disabilities, The Journal of Special Education, Learning Disability Quarterly, Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, and Remedial and Special Education. This search yielded a total of 98 articles.


We evaluated studies by using several criteria to judge the appropriateness of each article included in the study. First, participants in the studies had to be school-age students identified as having LD. We included a study that also involved students without LD when data for students with LD were disaggregated (e.g., Klingner, Vaughn, Arguelles, Hughes, & Leftwich, 2004) or more than 50% of the sample comprised students with LD (e.g., Miranda, Villaescusa, & Vidal-Abarca, 1997; Wong & Jones, 1982). This screening resulted in the exclusion of one study (Lederer, 2000), because the sample (N = 128) was primarily students without LD and because the study did not provide separate outcome data for students with LD (n = 25). We excluded studies involving students who were typically achieving only or involving students with reading or mild disabilities but not diagnosed with a learning disability; and we excluded those at risk for reading failure and struggling readers (e.g., Swanson, Kozleski, & Stegink, 1987). We omitted one single-subject design study (Wong, Wong, Perry, & Sawatsky, 1986), because only one participant in each of the two studies reported in the article had an identified LD.

Second, studies had to focus on evaluating cognitive strategies to comprehend expository text. We therefore did not include comprehension interventions that addressed content enhancements (e.g., advance or graphic organizers, visual display) or studies that focused on comprehending narrative text. We omitted studies that focused on narrative text comprehension instruction only but included a measure of expository text comprehension (e.g., Jitendra, Cole, Hoppes, & Wilson, 1998). In addition, we excluded studies that were only descriptions or assessments of students' reading skills.

Third, studies had to include at least one measure of expository text comprehension. Fourth, each study had to be an experimental study, a quasi-expeiimental study, of a singlesubject study. Group design studies had to include at least one treatment group and one comparison group and had to furnish sufficient data to calculate effect sizes. Fifth, we included only studies published in English in peer-reviewed journals We did not review othei sources of the literature (e.g., Dissertation Abstracts International) in this area for unpublished studies. This review may represent a potential bias toward published studies (Lipsey &C Wilson, 1993); readers should therefore view conclusions based on the review as tentative.

The second author used the search criteria for inclusion and exclusion of articles to assess the studies (n = 98) yielded, and a second ratei scored a randomly selected subset of studies (39%). We determined inteirater reliability by dividing the numbei of exact agreements by the total number of agreements and disagreements and multiplying by 100. The mean interrater agreement was 100%. A total of 18 group design studies and five single-subject research reports met the criteria for inclusion in this analysis. One single-subject research report (McCormick & Cooper, 1991) included three studies, to yield a total of seven single-subject studies.


Oui initial attempts to rate each study for the presence or absence of each quality indicator proposed by Gersten et al. (2005) and Horner et al. (2005) revealed that we were not consistent in interpreting the QIs. Consequently, we developed separate rubiics for both group and single-subject research design studies to reflect the proposed indicators. Our team deliberated about operationalizing the QIs to obtain greater levels of reliability; and two researchers with more than 20 years of teaching and research experience in instructional design, assessment, and single-subject design research developed rubrics to evaluate the methodological rigor of the studies. Designing the rubrics required an iterative process; we reviewed the proposed indicators, discussed elements of each indicator, and articulated qualitative descriptors by reviewing the set of studies. The second author reviewed the rubrics and refined them to ensure clarity, accuracy, and completeness. We used a 3point rating scale, with a score of 3 = indicator met, 2 = indicator partially met, and 1 = indicator not met for the resultant iubiics to delineate the elements of each quality indicato! proposed by Gersten et al. and Horner et al. (see Tables 1 and 2). We deemed this level of detail in the rubrics essential for reliably evaluating the studies.

The rubric or coding procedure for group design studies addressed the 10 components that Gersten et al. (2005) suggested; we then grouped the components into four essential quality indicators or methodological categories: (a) description of participants, (b) description and implementation of intervention and comparison conditions, (c) outcome measures, and (d) data analysis (see Table 1). For single-subject design studies, we organized the 21 components that Horner et al. (2005) proposed into seven quality indicators or methodological categories: (a) participants and setting, (b) dependent variable, (c) independent variable, (d) baseline, (e) experimental control/internal validity, (f) external validity, and (g) social validity (see Table 2).

According to Gersten et al. (2005), to consider an experimental or quasi-experimental research study to be of high quality, it must meet all but one of the components of essential QIs and four desirable QIs; to qualify as acceptable, it must meet all but one of the components of essential QIs and at least one desirable quality indicator. The eight desirable indicators provide guidelines for examining attrition rates, reliability in data collection, delayed outcome measures, validity of outcome measures, tieatment fidelity, documentation of comparison conditions, nature of intervention, and clarity in presentation of results. When a study met the criteria (a minimum score of 2 on each indicator) for high quality or acceptable on the basis of essential QIs, we reviewed it for the presence of desirable QIs. In contrast to essential QIs, we judged each desirable indicator as a dichotomous feature, with the indicator present or absent. For a single-subject design study to qualify as high quality, it had to meet all the mediodological indicators outlined in Table 2 (a minimum score of 2 on each indicator), even though Horner et al. (2005) does not explicitly state this point.






The two experienced authors used the coding procedure to evaluate the 25 studies against die QIs. They resolved disagreements by using a consensus model. To establish interrater agreement, the second author (a doctoral student in special education) independently coded the group design (33%) and single-subject design (100%) studies. We used die same process to evaluate group design studies deemed high quality or acceptable for die presence of desirable indicators, with the second author independendy coding all studies diat met the criteria for high quality or acceptable quality.


For gtoup design studies, we used the criteria that Gersten et al. (2005) proposed to determine whether cognitive strategy instruction could qualify as an evidence-based practice or as a promising practice for increasing the text-comprehension skills of students with LD. Those criteria indicate that a practice is evidence-based if at least two high-quality studies or four acceptable studies support the practice and the weighted effect size (ES) is significantly greater than zero. They also indicate that a practice is promising if there are the same number of high-quality or acceptable studies and if a 20% confidence interval (CI) for die weighted ES is greater than zero.

To calculate the weighted ES, we included posttests that measured reading comprehension skills and were administered within 2 weeks of the end of the intervention. Second, we calculated a single ES for each study on the basis of the mean ES across the different measures used to assess students' reading comprehension. We used Cohens d (1988), which is the difference between the mean scores of the treatment group and the control group divided by die pooled standard deviation (Cooper & Hedges, 1994). For quasi-experimental studies with the classroom as the unit of analysis, we used the Wortman and Bryant (1995) correction to calculate posttest effect sizes by adjusting for pretest performance because effect sizes at the classroom level can be somewhat inflated. Third, we weighted die individual effects from each study by the sample size and then calculated die overall mean ES across studies.

To determine whether cognitive strategy instruction was an evidence-based practice for single-subject research design studies, we used the following criteria proposed by Horner et al. (2005): (a) a minimum of five single-subject studies published in peer-reviewed journals that meet minimally acceptable mediodological criteria and document experimental control, (b) at least three different researchers conducted the studies across at least diree different geographical locations, and (c) die five or more studies included a total of at least 20 participants. To make this determination, we reviewed the studies by using the rubric (see Table 2) to ascertain whether at least five studies met the stated criteria.



For the experimental and quasi-experimental studies, the mean interrater reliability for the essential QIs proposed by Gersten et al. (2005) was 92% and ranged from 83% to 100% across all four indicators. For essential QI 1 (i.e., description of participants), agreement was 83% overall; agreement for each of die diree components (i.e., description of participants' disabilities, equivalence of groups, and intervention agents) was also 83%. For QI 2 (i.e., description of intervention and comparison conditions), agreement was 89% overall; agreement for each of two components (i.e., description of intervention and comparison conditions) was 83%. Agreement for the third component (i.e., procedural fidelity) was 100%. Interrater reliability was 100% for QIs 3 and 4 (i.e., outcome measures and data analysis).

The mean interrater reliability for desirable QIs for the fout group design studies that met the criteria of Geisten et al. (2005) for high-quality or acceptable research was 97%. Across the eight desirable QIs, interrater reliability ranged from 75% to 100%. Agreement was 75% for provision of reliability data; agreement was 100% for the remaining seven desirable QIs.

For the seven single-subject design studies, the mean interrater reliability for the QIs proposed by Horner et al. (2005) was 96% (range = 90% to 100%) across the seven indicators. For Indicator 1 (i.e., participants and setting), interrater reliability was 95% overall; agreement for two of the components (i.e., participant description and participant selection) was 100%, whereas agreement for the description of the setting was 86%. Interrater reliability for Indicator 2 (i.e., dependent variable) was 100%. For Indicator 3 (i.e., independent variable), interrater reliability was 90% overall; agreement foi two components (i.e., description of independent variable and fidelity of implementation) was 100%, whereas agreement for the component about manipulation of the independent variable was 71%. The low intercoder agreement is an artifact of the small sample of studies; the number of agreements out of the total number of agreements and disagreements was 5 out of 7. Inteirater reliability for Indicator 4 (i.e., baseline) was 93% overall; with an agreement of 86% and 100% for the measurement and description of baseline components, respectively. For Indicators 5 and 6 (i.e., experimental control and external validity), agreement was 100%. Finally, interrater reliability was 96% oveiall foi Indicatoi 7 (i.e., social validity); agreement foi three of the components (i.e., importance of dependent variable, magnitude of change in dependent variable, and practicality of implementing the intervention) was 100%, whereas agreement was 86% for the component about the nature of the intervention.


Table 3 presents and summarizes the results for the ratings of essential QIs. The studies were reviewed in tetms of these QIs and whether each of the 1 8 studies met the criteria for "high quality" or "acceptable." The overall weighted effect size was examined to determine whether cognitive strategy instruction for teaching expository text comprehension meets the criteria for "evidencebased" or "promising" practice.

Description of Participants. For this category, seven studies (39%) met or exceeded the minimum criterion of an average score of 2 across all components with no 1 -point scores. Regarding the indicator of diagnosis procedures for documenting participants' disabilities, some studies (n = 3; 17%) did not report this information or did not provide complete information (n = 6; 33%). For the indicator of equivalence of groups across conditions, two studies (11%) did not provide information and seven studies (39%) provided limited information to receive a score of 2. Nine studies (50%) fully met the criteria for both these indicators.

Most studies (n = 10; 56%) did not provide information about the intervention agents and equivalence of intervention agents across groups. Two of these studies (11%) indicated that the researcher was assigned to the experimental group (Labercane & Battle, 1987; Miranda et al., 1997). However, these studies did not document the person providing instruction in the control group. Four studies (22%) fully met this indicator and four studies (22%) received a score of 2. Only one study (6%; Simmonds, 1992) reported randomly assigning intervention agents to conditions, whereas one study (6%) counterbalanced intervention agents by first matching them on years of teaching experience and level of education before assigning them to conditions (Klingner et al., 2004). In two studies (11%; Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000), the researcher implemented the intervention, and the general education classroom teachers provided instruction for the conttol groups.

Implementation and Description of Intervention and Comparison Condition. Most studies (n = 10; 56%) met oi exceeded the minimum criteria across all components. With the exception of one study that received a rating of 2 (Smith & Friend, 1986), all studies (94%) specified and provided a comprehensive description of the intervention condition. Interventions included the following strategies for comprehending expository text:



* Identifying different text structures (Bakken, Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 1997; Smith & Friend, 1986).

* Identifying main ideas and/or self-monitoring or self-regulating (Ellis & Graves, 1990; Graves, 1986; Graves & Levin, 1989; Jitendra et al., 2000; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992; Miranda et al., 1997).

* Summarizing main ideas (Gajria & Salvia, 1992).

* Using a cognitive map (Boyle, 1996, 2000).

* Engaging in self-questioning (Wong & Jones, 1982).

* Examining question- answer relationships (QAR; Simmonds, 1992).

* Thinking and reading critically (Darch & Kame'enui, 1987).

* Recalling new content-area information through elaborative interrogation (Mastropieri et al. 1996).

* Reciprocal teaching in combination with the QAR strategy (Labercane & Battle, 1987) or reciprocal teaching adapted as in the POSSE strategy (Englert & Mariage, 1991) or in collaborative strategic reading (CSR; Klingner et al., 2004).

Further, instructional materials typically involved researchers selecting, modifying, or using specifically designed passages (n = 16; 89%). However, two studies (11%; Klingner et al., 2004; Simmonds, 1992) employed social studies curricula for strategy instruction.

Considerable variability existed in meeting the procedural fidelity indicator. Only four studies (22%; Boyle, 1996, 2000; Jitendra et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 2004) fully met the criterion. Several studies (n = 8; 44%) used scripted lessons to ensure fidelity of intervention, but many studies (n = 6; 33%) failed to provide any procedural fidelity information. Regarding the indicator related to describing instruction in the comparison conditions, most studies (n = 7; 39%) eidier fully described instruction in die comparison condition, such as teacher actions and expected student behaviors, or provided sufficient information (n = 7; 39%) by documenting instruction on at least two relevant dimensions to receive a score of 2. Only four studies (22%) failed to describe the nature of instruction in the comparison condition.

Outcome Measures. Overall, seven studies (39%) met or exceeded the minimum criteria for this category. With regard to using multiple measures, most studies (n = 11; 61%) did not meet this indicator because they only used measures aligned with the intervention. Five studies (28%) employed measures aligned with the intervention as well as generalized performance measures; whereas two studies (11%; Klingnet et al., 2004; Labercane & Battle, 1987) used only generalized measures and received a rating of 2. Genetalized measures included bodi standardized assessments (e.g., Gates-MacGinitie [MacGinitie & MacGinitie, 1989]; Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test [Karlsen, Madden, & Gardner, 1984]) and assessment of transfer of skills to novel texts (e.g., social studies or science text). With regard to collecting data at appropriate times, most studies (n = 17; 94%) met this indicator. Only one study (6%; Englert & Mariage, 1991) did not meet this indicator, because the duration of the intervention was 2 months but the time between pretesting and posttesting was 4 months.

Data Analysis. This category resulted in the lowest number of studies (n = 4; 22%) that met or exceeded the minimum criteria. However, most studies (n = 15; 83%) fully met the indicator regarding die use of techniques linked to research questions and the appropriateness of the unit of analysis. In contrast, two studies (11%; Klingner et al., 2004; Simmonds, 1992) aligned the data analysis techniques with the research questions/hypotheses but did not use die appropriate unit of analysis (student instead of classroom/teacher). One study (6%; Labercane & Battle, 1987) did not meet this indicator, because it did not describe die data analysis procedures. In reporting and interpreting effect sizes, most studies (n = 14; 78%) did not meet this indicator. Although three studies (17%; Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 2004) fully met this indicator, one study (6%; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) partially met this indicator in that the study reported but did not interpret effect sizes.

On the basis of applying the essential QIs, four (22%) of the 18 studies (Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 2004; Malone & Mastiopieri, 1992) met the criterion for rigorous research (i.e., a minimum score of 2 on at least nine out of the 10 components of essential QIs).

Desirable Indicators. We then evaluated the four studies that met the criteria for rigorous research to determine the presence of eight desirable QIs. These four studies (100%) met two of the eight desirable indicatots. That is, the studies documented attrition when it occurred and demonstrated that attrition was comparable across samples and less than 30%. Furthei, the foui studies presented results in a clear, coherent fashion. These studies showed considerable variability with regard to the other desirable indicators. Jitendra et al. (2000) met two additional desirable QIs by providing reliability data foi at least one outcome measure and documenting that data collectois were unfamiliar with conditions and participants. This study also measured outcomes beyond an immediate posttest. Klingner et al. (2004) met three additional desirable QIs; that study examined quality of implementation, documented the nature of instiuction in compaiison conditions by using direct observations, and examined audiotape excerpts to capture the nature of intervention. However, none of the four studies provided validity data for outcome measures.

Determining Acceptable or High-Quality Studies. A high-quality study had to meet all but one of the 10 components that comprise the four essential QIs and at least four of the desirable QIs. An acceptable study had to meet all but one of the 10 components of essential indicators and at least one of the desirable QIs. Evaluation of the set of 18 studies indicated that Jitendra et al. (2000) and Klingner et al. (2004) met the criteria for high quality (met standards for essential QIs and a minimum of four desirable indicators), whereas Boyle (1996) and Malone and Mastropieri (1992) met the criteria for acceptable quality (met standards for essential QIs and at least one desirable indicator).


To consider an instructional practice evidence based, Gersten et al. (2005) recommend two criteria: (a) at least four acceptable quality studies or two high-quality studies that support the practice and (b) a weighted ES that is significantly greater than zero. The criteria for judging a practice to be promising are (a) at least four acceptable-quality studies or two high-quality studies that support the practice and (b) a 20% confidence interval that the weighted ES is grearer than zero. Because the sample included two high-quality studies, the results suggest rhat the sample meets the first criterion for an evidence-based practice. The mean weighted ES for the two high-quality studies was 1.12, and the 95% confidence interval around rhis ES ranged from +0.35 to +1.89. The confidence interval for this ES does not include 0; so, the studies meet Gersten et al. 's (2005) second criterion for an evidence-based practice. In contrast, the average weighted ES foi the acceptablequality studies was 1.26 (95% CI = 0.50 to 2.03), and the average weighted ES for all 1 8 studies was 1.46 (95% CI = 1.26 to 1.65) In short, we can consider cognitive strategy instruction for teaching expository text comprehension to students with LD to be an evidence-based practice.


Table 4 summarizes the findings foi the ratings of QIs and provides the PND calculated for each study. These studies were reviewed with regard to ratings of QIs and whether each study met the minimally acceptable methodological criteria. A discussion of the studies follows to determine whether cognitive strategy instruction for teaching expository text comprehension meets the criteria for "evidence-based" practice.

Participants and Setting. For this indicator, five (71%) of the seven studies met or exceeded the minimum criterion of an average score of 2 across the three components with no 1-point scores. Of the two studies (29%) that failed to meet this indicator, one study (Alexander, 1985) did not provide a complete description of participants or the process used in participant selection; and one study (Clark, Deshler, Schumaker, Alley, & Warner, 1984) did not describe critical features of the setting. None of the studies fully met the criteria on all three components. However, most of the studies provided a detailed description of participants (n = 5; 71%) and selection criteria (n = 4; 57%) to allow replication. In contrast, only one study (14%; Nelson, Smith, & Dodd, 1992) presented specific details of the setting.


Dependent Variable. All the studies (100%) met or exceeded the minimum criteria for this indicator. Four studies (57%) fully met the five components of the dependent variable (description, quantifiable measuiement, valid and precisely desciibed measuiement, repeated measurement, and minimum standaids of interrater reliability); and two studies (29%) fully met all but one component. One study (14%; Clark et al., 1984) received a partial rating across four components because it provided information on only the self-questioning measure but not on visual imagery, the second dependent variable addressed in the study.

Independent Variable. Six studies (86%) met or exceeded the minimum criteria foi this indicator, yet only one (14%) of the studies (Nelson et al., 1992) fully met all components (i.e., description, manipulation, and intervention fidelity). All the studies (100%) provided a detailed description of the independent variable to allow accurate replication. Interventions included Multipass, a multistep instructional procedure to teach a learning strategy (Schumaker, Deshler, Alley, Warner, & Denton, 1982) as well as visual imagery and self-quesrioning (Clark et al., 1984). The studies also involved instruction in summary skills (Nelson et al., 1992); study skills (Alexander, 1985); and survey, question, read, recite, review (SQ3R; McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Studies 1-3). Three studies (43%) documented systematic and controlled manipulation of the independent variable, with partial control exercised in four studies (57%). Although four studies (57%) used procedural checklists to directly assess and report fidelity of inteivention (McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Studies 1-3; Nelson et al., 1992), two studies (29%) provided scripted instruction (Alexander, 1985; Schumaker et al., 1982) and one study (14%; Clark et al., 1984) did not address treatment fidelity.

Baseline. Six studies (86%) met or exceeded the minimum criteria for this indicator; and two of the studies (29%; Alexander, 1985; Nelson et al., 1992) fully met both components (i.e., description and repeated measurement). Description of baseline was precise enough to allow replication in five studies (71%) and adequate in the remaining two studies (29%). Foui studies (57%; McCoimick & Coopei, 1991, Studies 1-3; Schumakei et al., 1982) received a partial rating because we did not judge baseline performance to be stable for all participants. One study (14%; Clark et al., 1984) did not meet the baseline indicator because it measured baseline performance infrequently (one or two times for each of the two strategies).

Experimental Controll Internal Validity. Five studies (71%) met or exceeded the minimum criteria for the indicator; and two of the studies (29%; Nelson et al., 1992; Schumaker et al., 1982) fully met the three components (i.e., three demonstrations of experimental effect, internal validity, and a pattern of results that demonstrated experimental control). In two (29%) of the studies that McCormick and Cooper (1991) conducted, the pattern of results did not demonstrate experimental control.

External Validity. Six studies (86%) fully met the minimum criteria for this indicator by replicating the effects of the intervention across at least three participants. Clark et al. (1984) received a partial rating for this indicator because although the study implemented the intervention with six students, the results provided were average scores across the entire group of students. A graph visually presented the data for only one student; evaluating whether the same pattern of results was replicated across the other students was therefore difficult.

Social Validity. Only one study (14%; Schumaker et al., 1982) met the quality indicator, as evidenced by a minimum average score of 2 and no 1 -point scores across the four components (i.e., dependent variable is socially important, change in dependent variable is socially important, intervention is cost-effective, and intervention is used in typical contexts). All the studies (100%) established the dependent variable as socially important. Yet only two studies (29%; Nelson et al., 1992; Schumaker et al., 1982) documented a socially significant change. Three studies (43%; Alexander, 1985; Clark et al., 1984; McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Study 2) documented partially relevant outcomes; and two studies (29%; McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Studies 1 and 3) showed no change in outcomes. Most studies did not address the social validity component (n = 5; 71%). Only Nelson et al. systematically assessed social validity and obtained feedback from teachers about the effectiveness, usefulness, ease of implementation, and continued use of the summary strategy. Schumaker et al. reported teacher and student acceptability and continued use of the Multipass strategy. Widi regard to die nature of implementation of the independent variable, most studies (n = 5; 71%) did hot employ the intervention in typical contexts.

Percentage of Nonoverlapping Data. Across the seven single-subject design studies, average PND was 65.63%. The PND scores ranged from 19.33% ( McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Study 2) to 100% (Nelson et al.,1992; Schumaker et al., 1982).


We analyzed the set of single-subject design studies against the criteria for rigorous research grouped into seven mediodological categories or quality indicators that Horner et al. (2005) proposed. Everi though Nelson et al. (1992) provided strong evidence for six of die seven quality indicators, only the Schumaker et al. (1982) study met the minimum criterion (average score of 2 with no 1-point scores) for all seven QIs. The remaining studies (Alexander, 1985; McCormick & Cooper, 1991, Studies 1-3) met four QIs. Documentation of an evidence-based practice requires at least five single-subject design studies that meet minimally acceptable methodological criteria. Only one study met these criteria; therefore, cognitive strategy instruction does not qualify as ari evidence-based practice for increasing text comprehension for students with learning disabilities.



This study evaluated the quality of published research on cognitive strategy instruction to determine whether the practice can qualify as an evidence-based approach to improve text comprehension for students with learning disabilities, using the criteria that Gersten et al. (2005) and Horner et al. (2005) proposed. In addition, we calculated the average weighted ES for the set of group design studies and the average PND for the set of single-subject design studies.

Group Design Studies. Overall, an evaluation of the quality of 18 experimental and quasi-experimental research studies indicated that four studies (i.e., Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 2004; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) documented sufficient evidence of rigorous research across the four essential QIs that Gersten et al. (2005) described. The studies by Jitendra et al. and Klingner et al. (2004) met all 10 components of the essential QIs; the other two studies (Boyle, 1996; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) met all but one of the 10 components. Follow-up analysis documenting the presence of desirable indicators revealed that the studies by Jitendra et al. (2000) and Klingner et al. (2004) constituted high-quality research by providing evidence for at least four desirable indicators. In contrast, studies by Boyle (1996) and Malone and Mastropieri (1992) met the criteria for acceptable-quality research by providing evidence for at least one of the desirable indicators. Further, the weighted mean ES for the set of group design studies was 1.46, with a 95% confidence interval that did not include 0. Therefore, the group design studies on cognitive strategy instruction met the standards that Gersten et al. (2005) proposed for an evidence-based practice for students with learning disabilities.

Single-Subject Research Studies. Application of the quality indicators to evaluate the seven published single-subject design studies resulted in only one study (Schumaker et al., 1982) meeting all 21 components that comprise the seven quality indicators for single-subject research (Horner et al., 2005). On the basis of standards that Horner et al. proposed, the number of quality studies necessary (i.e., five) to identify the practice as evidence-based is insufficient, because only one study met the rigorous mediodological criteria. In sum, we cannot determine this practice to be evidence-based for students with LD on the basis of the single-subject literature.


The results from this review add to the emerging body of literature on the application of QIs for group design and single-subject research to evaluate the quality of research and determine whether an instructional practice is evidence-based (see Graham, 2009). Previous reviews using the QIs to evaluate the quality of group design (Baker et al., 2009; Chard et al., 2009; Montague & Dietz, 2009) and single-subject research studies (Browder et al., 2009; Lane, et al., 2009) led to findings of evidence-based practices (i.e., self-regulated strategy development to teach writing and time delay to teach literacy) in two of the five investigations. We reasoned that because peer-reviewed journals published the set of studies selected, the quality of research would be rigorous on the basis of the standards for publishing in these journals. Howevei, the results of our review suggest that cognitive strategy instruction for teaching comprehension of expositoty text is an evidence-based practice for group design studies only. The lessons learned in applying the QIs to evaluate the quality of research provide direction for designing and conducting research using specific methodologies (group design and single-subject).

Because of the large number of group design studies that focus on cognitive strategy instruction and because of more than two decades of research, the finding that cognitive strategy instiuction for teaching expository text comprehension is an evidence-based practice may not be surprising. However, we found application of the QIs revealing in the variability within and across studies in meeting the minimum criteria. Most group design studies that did not meet the criteria for high-quality research were more than 10 years old. Of the 18 experimental and quasi-experimental studies, four studies were published between 1982 and 1987, eleven studies were published between 1988 and 1997, and three studies were published between 1998 and 2004. Similar to group research studies, the year of publication of the single-subject research studies may have contributed to the lack of high-quality research. The seven single-subject studies were more than 15 years old (published between 1982 and 1992); thus, it is likely that most did not meet minimally acceptable methodological crireria.

With increasing attention on evaluating the quality of educational research and because many of the QIs are practices common in recent research, we can assume that the quality of research will continue to improve over the years. We made judgments about the quality of research on the basis of infoimation provided in published articles. For example, one of our own research studies published in the 1990s did not provide information on fidelity of implementation even though we collected that data. This example illustrates the shift in emphasis with regard to the standards for publishing in journals (Chard et al., 2009; Lane et al., 2009). Ultimately, improvements in the ratings of research quality may result from having journal editors monitor the standards that Gersten et al. (2005) proposed in publishing research reports or using "Web-based links in manuscripts that include important information" (Baker et al., 2009, p. 314) that cannot be included in a journal because of space limitations.

At the same time, we encourage future researchers to carefully attend to QIs to which most of the studies did not adhere. Our analysis of group design studies revealed that more than 50% of the experimental and quasi-experimental research studies either did not meet or only partially met the criteria fot several components that constitute essential quality indicators. Most studies (77%) provided insufficient information about the interventionists implementing the treatment and the equivalence of interventionists across conditions. In the absence of that information, it is difficult to determine interventionists to whom the results can be generalized or be assured that outcomes relate to the intervention. The quality indicators that Gersten et al. (2005) described do not address the importance of typical agents implementing the intervention that Horner et al. (2005) emphasizes in single-subject research. It may be ciitical to cpnsidei having typical agents (e.g., geneial education oi special education teachers), rather than researchers, implement the intervention by using authentic content area materials if we are to address the research-to-practice gap (Greenwood & Abbott, 2001). Several studies (77%) presented either incomplete or no information describing and measuring procedural fidelity, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the intervention. A related problem, noted in 61% of the studies, was an inadequate description of the nature of instruction in comparison groups. Another salient concern relates to the quality of outcome measures used to document the effectiveness of the intervention. In 61% of the studies, outcome measures closely aligned with the intervention, thereby raising questions about transfer of the learned skills. At the same time, if we excluded Outcomes that simply indexed how students performed on the actual text that they worked on during instruction, the ES estimates would be lower. Finally, most studies (J7%) did not report effect sizes.

An analysis of single-subject design studies using the quality indicators highlighted several problem areas, most notably components related to social validity. Horner et al. 's (2005) framework of QIs requires that the intervention be practical and cost-effective and that teachers in the classroom or in other typical contexts implement it. These criteria may be too stringent because none of die studies fully met the criterion related to delivery of intervention in typical contexts. Even though Nelson et al. (1992) explicitly reported on the acceptability, effectiveness, and condnued use of the intervention, this study took place in a clinical setting. In addition, most studies (86%) provided an incomplete description of the setting in which the intervention was implemented. Furdier, several studies (71%) either did not meet or partially met the component of repeated measurement of the dependent variable in the baseline and provided insufficient information on the results of the intervention. In sum, the results of this review indicate that group and singlesubject design studies are not in agreement with regard to cognitive strategy instruction as an evidence-based practice. That is, only on the basis of the group design research base is cognitive strategy instruction evidence-based.

We have four comments, which relate to the use of the QIs to review published articles, that deserve attention for future research. First, researchers must determine whether partial fulfillment of an indicator can mean that the indicator was met. Many of the indicators, if applied exactly as written, are stringent; and it is unlikely that articles can consistently meet them. Such scoring criteria as using a dichotomous score or a modified approach that goes beyond the "present" or "absent" score are likely to influence the outcome of reviews. At the same time, the use of a 4-point rubric that "actually relaxed the criteria" (Chard et al., 2009, p. 277) resulted in relatively low interrater reliability (IRR); and only one practice (i.e., self-regulated strategy development, SRSD) was considered to be evidence-based. The other practice (i.e., repeated readings) did not meet the requirements for an evidence-based practice. In our review, we found that accurately interpreting the criteria for QIs and designing the instrument to evaluate the studies was a challenging task. After considerable deliberation, we decided on separate 3-point rubrics for coding the group design and single-subject design studies. We considered elements of high-quality research and used them to articulate clear descriptors to operationalize each component of the QIs, thereby addressing one of the concerns raised in the previous research about the low IRR (Cook et al., 2009). Using the 3-point rubrics with clear descriptors for each component of die QIs led to adequate IRR and was critical in determining whether cognitive strategy instruction was evidence-based, but die question about relaxing the criteria warrants further investigation.

Second, with regard to group experimental and quasi-experimental studies, many of the desirable QIs appear to be as important as essential QIs, and we therefore encourage researchers to attend to them when judging the quality of research studies. We believe that reporting reliability and validity of measures is critical and suggest including the documentation of technical adequacy of measures as essential QIs. In addition, measuring outcomes beyond an immediate posttest is crucial, especially considering that students with disabilities have difficulty retaining learned skills. Researchers need to consider investigating the extent to which educators can maintain interventions with fidelity in natural settings, as well as factors that affect implementation (e.g., teacher buy-in, amount of training required). In short, we suggest that researchers closely attend to these desirable indicators that Gersten et al. (2005) proposed. We concede that although including these additional indicators could further enhance judgment regarding the quality of published studies, it is likely that we would rate fewer studies as high quality because of additional stringency in applying the QIs. Howevei, the goal of improving the quality of research should be rhe determining factor in including these criteria. We also suggest that researchers consider some of the criteria that Gersten et al. (2005) proposed for evaluating the quality of research proposals in planning research studies. These criteria include providing a clear conceptualization underlying the intervention, conducting a power analysis, and using appropriate techniques to account for variability within each sample.

Third, researchers must consider whether using the quality indicarais to deteimine highquality iesearch in studies that use different methodologies results in studies that are equivalent in methodological rigor. We found that the criteria for single-subject research were considerably more stringent than those for group research. Specifically, the criteria for high-quality group research allow a study to meet all but one component of the essential QIs, whereas the criteria for single-subject research, although not explicitly stated, suggest that a study should meet all components of the QIs. We found it interesting in our analysis of single-subject design studies, for example, that the Nelson et al. (1992) study performed equally well or better than Schumaker et al. (1982) on all the QIs; however, we did not deem it to be a high-quality study because it did not meet the minimum criteria on one component. Application of the QIs therefore led us to question whether the two approaches * are equivalent in their stringency. On the basis of group design studies, cognitive strategy instruction qualified as an evidence-based practice, a finding not supported in the analysis of singlesubject design studies. What judgment should researchers make when a review of the research base of both single-subject and group experimental studies results in different conclusions? Previous reviews using the QIs for the different methodologies have not encountered this issue. The three reviews by Baker et al. (2009), Chard et al. (2009), and Montague and Dietz (2009) concurred in their judgments of an evidencebased practice of particular interventions investigated in both single-subject and group research studies. The issue of integrating discrepant findings from reviews of studies using different research methodologies deserves attention.

Finally, we must consider whether future reviews using the proposed QIs are propitious. It is important to note that the application of the QIs in the special issue of Exceptional Children (Graham, 2009) resulted in only two evidence-based practices (SRSD and time delay), even though the other practices (repeated reading, cognitive strategy instruction to teach mathematics problem solving, function-based interventions) have had strong theoretical and empirical support in the literature for positively affecting student outcomes. Consequently, the issue of applying QIs to judge research deserves deliberation. On the one hand, if research is truly not of high quality, then fundamental changes in the methods and reporting conducted in the field of special education are necessary. On the other hand, if the concern is related to the QIs, then they require modification to avoid ruling out potentially promising interventions that could lead to improved academic and behavioral performance.


The research base for cognitive strategy instruction in expository text comprehension has implications for practice. Cognitive strategy instruction in the studies reviewed included a clear set of procedures to assist teachers in translating the research into practice to improve student learning. The four high-quality and acceptable studies provided adequate information about salient features of the intervention (e.g., detailed instructional procedures, instructional materials employed, duration of intervention) to teach students with LD to comprehend information in such content areas as science and social studies. Lessons learned from these studies indicate that cognitive strategy instruction for comprehension of expository text can include different strategies and that educarais can implement them in a variety of ways. These four studies document the effectiveness of three different interventions: main idea and self-monitoring strategy (Jitendra et al., 2000; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992), CSR (Klingner et al., 2004), and cognitive mapping strategy (Boyle, 1996). Central to all these interventions was teaching students to find the main idea in each passage of expository text. Researchers developed interventions that included a set of explicit procedures to guide students through the strategic process of reading for understanding. Interventions focused on (a) developing vocabulary (Klingner et al., 2004), (b) priming background knowledge (Klingner et al., 2004), (e) fluent reading (Klingner et al., 2004), and (d) building metacognitive awareness in students by teaching them to monitor their comprehension (Jitendra et al., 2000; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992; Klingner et al., 2004). Further, all four studies scaffolded instruction for students with LD by using procedural facilitators (e.g., cognitive map, prompt or cue cards). Additional features incorporated into instruction included interactive dialogue (Jitendra et al., 2000; Klingner et al., 2004), and collaborative group work (Klingner et al., 2004). Instructional materials ranged from typical social studies textbooks to commercial supplemental materials (e.g., Liddle, 1977; Spargo, Williston, & Browning, 1980) to researcher-designed passages.

The four studies implemented cognitive strategy instruction with upper elementary (Grade 4) and middle school students (Grades 6-8) in a number of different ways, including individual instruction (Malone & Mastropieri, 1992), small-group instruction (Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000), and whole-class instruction (Klingner et al., 2004). These interventions occurred in separate classrooms for students with LD (Boyle, 1996; Jitendra et al., 2000; Malone & Mastropieri, 1992) or in the general education classroom for all students during social studies (Klingner et al., 2004). In all cases, cognitive strategy instruction appeared to be effective for students with LD who experienced difficulty with reading comprehension, and it therefore is perhaps most useful for upper elementary and middle school students who need to learn the skills necessary for reading to learn. Further, we found positive effects for text comprehension on both proximal and distal measures (e.g., Gates-MacGinitie [MacGinitie & MacGinitie, 1989]; Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test [Karlsen et al., 1984]) of comprehension. Practitioners are therefore likely to find similar outcomes with students with LD when they implement the approach with fidelity.

In summary, cognitive strategy instruction for teaching expository text comprehension to students with LD is an evidence-based practice. Classroom teachers can readily implement this type of instruction, and it holds great promise. However, future research should resolve some of the issues related to the QIs and address the types of strategies that are effective and the types of students for whom they are effective.


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Author affiliation:


University of Minnesota


Lehigh University


St. Thomas Aquinas College

Author affiliation:


ASHA K. JITENDRA (Minnesota CEC), Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, clare burgess (Pennsylvania CEC), Doctoral Candidate, Department of Education and Human Services, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. MEENAKSHI GAJRIA (New York CEC), Professor and Chair of Education and Chair, Division of Teacher Education, St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, New York.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Asha K. Jitendra, University of Minnesota, Department of Educational Psychology, 56 East River Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55455 (e-mail:

Manuscript received May 2009; accepted February 2010.

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