Creating Instructionally Beneficial Gains in Reading With Headsprout

Research Applies to: Headsprout

About This Research

This randomized controlled trial examined the effects of Headsprout on beginning readers. In addition to measuring changes from pretest to posttest on standardized tests, the study analyzed those changes in terms of their instructional significance or ability to produce at least two months’ worth of growth above that observed in students receiving other reading instruction.

ESSA Evidence Level: Strong

This study meets strong evidence standards because it used a well-controlled experimental design and produced statistically significant positive effects. This study meets the sample size and multi-site requirements for strong evidence when considered cumulatively with other similar studies.*

Main Findings

For kindergarten students, the odds of showing instructionally significant gains (that is, more than two months’ worth of growth over the control group) ranged from 2:1 to 30:1 when using Headsprout. For first-grade students, the odds of making instructionally significant gains were 1,735:1 when using Headsprout.


Participants were 125 kindergarten and first-grade students in an urban school in the Northeastern United States, where more than 90% of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.

Study Design and Procedures

This study used a randomized controlled trial design in which classrooms were randomly assigned to either the experimental (Headsprout) group or the control group. Students in the experimental group completed an average of 67 Headsprout episodes. Students in the control group received other intensive phonics and reading instruction during the study. The measures used as pre- and posttest were the Woodcock-Johnson III® Letter-Word Identification subtest and the Word Analysis, Reading Words, and Reading Comprehension subtests of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).


Twyman, J. S., Layng, T. V. J., & Layng, Z. R. (2011). The likelihood of instructionally beneficial, trivial, or negative results for kindergarten and first-grade learners who complete at least half of Headsprout Early Reading. Behavioral Technology Today, 6, 1-19.

*Source: U.S. Department of Education (2016). Non-regulatory guidance: Using evidence to strengthen education investments. Washington, DC: Author.

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