Randomized Controlled Trial Compares Headsprout to Supplementary Literacy Instruction

Research Applies to: Headsprout

About This Research

The goal of this randomized controlled trial was to compare Headsprout to specialized literacy instruction provided by the school to students who demonstrated a need for supplementary instruction in reading. In contrast with other studies, participants in the control group received intensive literacy instruction and were not limited to the core curriculum.

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

Students who used Headsprout had significantly better word recognition and sentence reading skills than students who received the school’s supplementary literacy instruction. The differences were statistically significant with large effect sizes.


Participants were 34 six- to nine-year-old students in a primary school in Northern Ireland. All participants received free school meals, had lower phonological awareness scores than expected for their age, and qualified for supplementary literacy instruction.

Study Design and Procedures

This study used a randomized controlled trial design in which students were randomly assigned to the treatment (Headsprout) group or to a control group. Students in the control group received supplementary literacy instruction from a special education needs coordinator. Students in the Headsprout group used the program five times per week for seven months instead of receiving instruction from the special education needs coordinator. The Phonics and Early Reading Assessment (PERA) and the Dolch words assessment were used as pre- and posttests.


Storey, C., McDowell, C., & Leslie, J. C. (2019). Headsprout Early Reading for specific literacy difficulty: A comparison study. Journal of Behavioral Education. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10864-019-09336-7

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

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