Blended Learning and Reading Gains

Students entering kindergarten come with huge skill ranges. Some kids know most their letters while other have never even heard of the alphabet.  Some have been holding a pencil and drawing since they were two years old, while others weren’t allowed to touch one. These variations in skills leave some students behind from the onset of school. It is particularly prevalent in the area of reading and language. One of the biggest challenges we have in education in trying to help students overcome these differences in exposure. In our school we use LEXIA core 5 to individualize learning for all students and as an intervention to try and bridge some of these gaps.  As I rambled through different topics this week I decided to see what I could find on a topic that was more specific to my work and I found this article, Three-Year Longitudinal Study: Impact of a Blended Learning Program—Lexia® Core5® Reading—on Reading Gains in Low-SES Kindergarteners by Paul Macarusoa, Shani Wilkes, Sarah Franzén, and Rachel Schechte


Macarusoa et al. (2019) point out remind us that when students struggle to read in the third grade, they will face continuous academic struggles throughout the rest of their academic career and these students have high attrition rates come high school. This is particularly true for students of Low Socio-Economic status (SES).  Approximately 44% of students from low SES scored below a basic level in fourth grade (Macarusoa et al., 2019. p. 2). Studies have indicated that SES is a greater determining factor in reading success than even race or ethnicity.  Macarusoa et al. (2019) determined to investigate if the use of a blended approach would help increase student reading performance. This was based on the evidence that a blended approach to instruction would allow for both individualized instruction through the use of core5, and for interaction with the teacher.

Previous studies:

Macarusoa et al. (2019) explain that previous studies have already demonstrated that when a gap is present in early education it continues into later learning. Others studies have shown that using interventions the trajectory of reading learning can be altered for those students who struggle with reading. One study mentioned indicated that when phonics-based instruction was provided in small groups to kindergarteners it was effective in increasing their literacy skills by the end of the school year. Another study that Macarusoa et al. looked at demonstrated that by having students   receive interventions for three years showed better outcomes than those who received them for less time. Finally, the last aspect of their investigation into previous studies looked at the when of interventions. They found that when students received intervention in the early years of their academic careers the impacts were more profound than those of students who received them later.

Current Study

Research questions:

Macarusoa et al. (2019) had five questions to guide their research. They included:

  1. Does participating in Core5 lead to yearly gains on a standardized reading test for elementary school students from a low-SES background?
  1. Is there evidence of summer slide for students from a low-SES back-ground who participated in Core5?
  1. Is there evidence of long-term reading gains for students from a low-SES background who participated in Core5 despite the possibility of a summer slide?
  1. Is there evidence of long-term reading gains for students who initially showed low performance on a standardized reading test and then participated in Core5?
  1. Is performance in Core5 consistent with the pattern of reading scores across three years of the study?


This study was conducted over a period of three years. It commenced in the fall of the 2014-15 school year and concluded in the spring of 2017. The schooled used Core 5 in a blended learning approach for English Language Arts (ELA) instruction.  Students were assessed a t total of six times over the course of the study: in the fall, winter and spring of each year (kindergarten., first and second grade).


The study began with 83 kindergarteners, and concluded with 68 second graders. Some students moved away, or were unable to complete all six assessments. The school in the study was a title I school with 74% of its population receiving free or reduced lunch. The demographic breakdown was as follows:

  • Males – 53%
  • Females – 47%
  • Black – 43%
  • White – 37%
  • Hispanic – 16%
  • other – 4%
  • English Language Learner (ELL) -16%
  • Non ELL -84%


Student began the study in first grade and it continued through first and second grade. They were taught in a school that had over 95% of classes taught by a teacher that was considered highly qualified. The teachers were encouraged to use the Daily 5 framework with in the classroom. Daily 5 involves workshop style rotations involving read to self, read to someone, and listening to reading word work and working on writing. This allows the teacher to work with small groups.

Core5 program

The core5 program includes both an online component and paper/pencil activities.  Online it is made up of six strands. These strands include: phonological aware-ness, phonics, structural analysis, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It is level into 18 level which are then divided among grade levels. levels 2-5 for kindergarten, levels 6-9 for first grade, level 10-12 for second grade.


Core5 uses auto-placement to place students in an appropriate starting point. Students begin the program by taking a placement test to establish this. A low performing student might be placed in a level that is typically below their grade level. For example, a kindergarten could be placed in a preschool level (level 1). This allows for individualized instruction and practice of skills. Students are re-assessed each school year to ensure appropriate instruction in the fall.

As students encounter tasks that are difficult for them Core5 provides scaffolding on that specific skill. The first stage in the scaffolding is to use a scaffolded task that has less stimuli and is more structures. If the student continues to struggle after this they are provided with direct instruction. In order to continue to the next level the student must be able to complete all the activities without scaffolding.

On the teacher dashboard the teacher can monitor how much time students are spending on Lexia as well as if they are struggling on any activities. It may provide suggestions on what the teacher can do to support the students with those skills. Once a level is completed, paper/pencil activities are available to reinforce the concept.


Teachers were to implement core5 according to their recommended minutes which ranged from 20 to 60 minutes per week. To be considered to have met the required minutes students need to meet the online component requirement if they used the online program for 20 weeks and met their minute goal 50% of the time. Macarusoa et al. (2019) reported that all students met the required minutes.


Macarusoa et al. (2019) found that students from low SES made significant gains through the school year. In the graph provided in the article it is demonstrated that the students also experienced significant decreases over the summer, often referred to as the summer slide. It is important to note that the amount of decrease each year is less than the year prior. Even with the summer slide taken into consideration, students involved in the blended learning environment did increase their overall reading performance. In the end only 9% of the low performing students continued to fall below grade level on the assessment while 91% were performing at or above grade level.

Personal Reflections

This continues to confirm the idea that blended learning has significant impacts on student learning.  I believe the information that I have read and looked at fully supports this premise at this point.

However, some questions came up for me when reading this article. The first one was the time component to meet the required time. It stated that students needed to complete 50% of their minute goal for 20 weeks to have met the requirement. That is nowhere near a academic year. Their minutes ranged from 20-60 minutes. In my thinking 50% of the minutes for some kids would be 10 minutes then for a minimum of 20 weeks. That really isn’t much time and could that indicate why there was a significant summer slide? Maybe they retained the information only as long as they were using it.

This brings me to my next pondering. It wasn’t talked about in the article, but every year in the fall assessment 0% of students were above grade level.   You can argue, well it is above grade level. I get that, but in the spring, there was a significant percentage that were above grade level. At the end of Kindergarten 93%, at the end of first grade 82%. I wonder why of those 93% and 82% none of them remained above grade level. I am considering that the standard may increase, but I would think that with that high of a percentage at least some would maintain above grade level status. They also didn’t point out by second grade the number of students in the spring who were below grade level was higher than in the two previous years. In K and 1st it was 0% by 2nd it was 6%.

My next thought is how much assistance were students given on their Core5 and were they also working on it at home? This is a program I use so I am familiar with its functions. We are actively discouraged from providing too much help. I do allow my students to work on it at home once they have been working on it at school for a while. I want them to get used to doing it on their own first so parents don’t try to help too much.

I also wonder what activities are being done by the teachers in addition to Core5. It stated daily 5, but the workshop activities could vary from classroom to classroom as could the teacher’s instructional activities.  I am curious if there was a difference in performance and in the retention of skills between the classrooms involved in the studies.

Finally, my last thought is, Are they working for a little each day or in a long session once or twice a week? I would think that one or two long sessions would overload the student, especially the young ones and they would start going through the motions. Ultimately not really storing the information for long term application.

I believe the research questions were all addressed in the study, but now I wonder what could be done to help prevent the slide back. My instinct says to allow students to continue to use the online component over summer. Even if it was only in limited time, it is better than students not having any type of engagement with literacy activities. I do wonder if the gains that students made in these early years will be sustained into middle and high school.


Daily 5. (2020).

Lexia. (2020)

Macaruso, P., Wilkes, S., Franzén, S., & Schechter, R. (2019). Three-Year Longitudinal Study: Impact of a Blended Learning Program–Lexia® Core5® Reading–On Reading Gains in Low-SES Kindergarteners. Computers in the Schools, 36(1), 2–18.

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