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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

Evidence-based Reading Instruction (EBRI)/STAR

Federal law (WIOA) requires that programs provide students at all levels, GLE 0–12, with the appropriate combination and level of essential components of reading instruction, based on the results of their individual diagnostic assessment and ongoing formative assessments. The four essential components of reading are:1

  • Alphabetics, including phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding, is the process readers use to identify words. Readers must rely on alphabetic knowledge and decoding skills to read unfamiliar words.
  • Fluency is the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate, and with prosody. Without fluency, readers attend more to decoding than to understanding the meaning of what they are reading. When word and sentence reading are automatic and fluent, readers can concentrate more fully on understanding and connecting sentences and paragraphs, enabling them to create meaning from the text. Reading fluency includes oral reading skills.
  • Vocabulary is the body of words whose meanings a person knows and understands. Vocabulary knowledge-specifically, the depth, breadth, and flexibility of a person's knowledge about words-is a primary predictor of reading success.
  • Reading comprehension is the process and product of understanding text and requires a high level of metacognitive engagement with text.

According to the WIOA Brief on the Essential Components of Reading, "these four reading components are the foundation of the ultimate goal of helping students learn from challenging, complex texts in postsecondary education and training and for lifelong learning, and that none of the four components alone is sufficient for instruction."2

The research shows that effective adult reading instruction is more nuanced than traditionally delivered in most adult basic education classrooms. For example, most, if not all, instructional decisions generally have been based on a single assessment, specifically a silent reading comprehension test, such as the TABE. The research, however, tells us that a single assessment provides an incomplete picture of a learner's strengths and weaknesses.

It is critical to assess a student's strengths and weaknesses in all four components for the simple reason that the strengths and weaknesses a student exhibits in one component affect his or her ability in the other components. Multiple short assessments provide more instructionally relevant information about a learner's needs.3 For example, a student who is not a fluent reader will likely have difficulty comprehending much of what he or she is reading. The poor comprehension is in part due to the lack of fluency. Helping a non-fluent reader to improve his or her fluency skills will also help raise that student's comprehension level.

Therefore, successful implementation of Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (EBRI) requires…

  • Use of diagnostic reading assessments to determine the appropriate reading levels and prioritize individual learners' areas of strengths and needs in the four components, as stated in the WIOA Brief;
  • Providing direct and explicit instruction, using the most relevant EBRI techniques suited to the specific levels of instruction for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students; also gradually releasing responsibility to learners
  • Teaching designed around engaging topics and materials that are relevant to learners' needs; and
  • Providing formative assessment that is continuously monitored by the teacher and learners to gauge its effectiveness.

Massachusetts' STAR Initiative

The STAR (Student Achievement in Reading) initiative is a national professional development (PD) program focused on using evidence-based reading instruction practices to build the reading skills of intermediate level (GLE 4–8) adults. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) of the U.S. Department of Education developed STAR in 2006 and continues to promote its use. Programs opting to use the STAR model must participate in the STAR training and complete all training components in order to maintain fidelity to the evidence base.

STAR is based on years of research in reading methodology which found that intermediate level adult learners struggle with one or more reading components: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and/or comprehension. An EBRI approach requires teachers to use diagnostic assessments to identify their students' individual strengths and weaknesses and target reading instruction accordingly.

The STAR (STudent Achievement in Reading)* vision is to establish structures and practices at the classroom, program, and state levels to support evidence-based reading instruction that result in increased learner outcomes. STAR structures and practices include:

  • Providing evidence-based reading instruction for intermediate level learners;
  • Conducting diagnostic assessments;
  • Grouping students according to instructional needs and organizing an instructional reading routine; and
  • Planning and delivering instruction in fluency, alphabetics, vocabulary, and comprehension that is:
    • Responsive to student needs identified through diagnostic assessment;
    • Delivered through explicit instruction;
    • Based on evidence-based instructional practices; and
    • Monitored and adjusted as students' needs change.

* This vision statement was developed by national STAR.

For more information on the STAR initiative, see

Questions? Please contact Dana Varzan-Parker , Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Specialist in Adult and Community Learning Services.

1 Explanations drawn from National Research Council. (2012). Improving Adult Literacy: Developing Reading and Writing. A.M. Lesgold and M. Welch-Ross, Eds. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2 WIOA Brief on the Essential Components of Reading

3 Kruidenier, J. R, MacArthur, C.A, & Wrigley, H.S. (2010). Adult education literacy instruction: A review of the research. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Last Updated: September 4, 2019

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