Randomized Controlled Trial: Using Headsprout With Students With Intellectual Disabilities

Research Applies to: Headsprout

About This Research

In this intensive implementation of Headsprout in special-needs schools, three different reading assessments were used to measure students’ reading skills. The randomized controlled trial evaluated the effectiveness of Headsprout in students with intellectual disabilities using Headsprout as the main reading program (rather than as a supplement).

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 showed significantly greater progress in reading than students in the control group. There were large effect sizes for reading accuracy, medium effect sizes for reading fluency, and small effect sizes for word recognition.


Participants were 26 students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. All students attended special schools in North Wales.

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 treatment group used Headsprout at school in place of other reading instruction. During the six months of the study, students in the Headsprout group completed between 21 and 73 episodes and used print materials that accompany the program to support reading fluency. The Diagnostic Reading Analysis, the Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) subtest of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), and the Word Recognition and Phonic Skills (WRaPS) assessment were used as pre- and posttests to measure reading fluency, accuracy, and word recognition skills.


Roberts-Tyler, E. J., Hughes, J. C., & Hastings, R. P. (2019). Evaluating a computer-based reading programme with children with intellectual disabilities: Feasibility and pilot research. Journal of Research on Special Educational Needs. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/1471-3802.12458

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

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