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University of Iowa News Release

July 2, 2004

UI Team Receives Major Grant To Assess Reading Program

The Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has awarded a five-year, $5.7 million grant to University of Iowa researchers to assess the large-scale implementation of a reading curriculum. The grant was effective June 1.

The UI team will introduce and compare the use of the Breakthrough to Literacy program in 35 public schools in Chicago to reading development in 35 control schools, where the program will not be used. Breakthrough to Literacy puts reading skills within the larger context of language and cognitive development, beginning with pre-schoolers.

The U.S. Department of Education has been very interested in reading initiatives and now wants a large-scale study, said the study's principal investigator Richard Hurtig, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

" In a large urban setting, we can put the curriculum to the acid test," Hurtig said. "If the program works there, it is likely it should work elsewhere."

The team will follow reading instruction and skills development beginning with two pre-school groups at each one of the 70 schools involved (35 using Breakthrough to Literacy and 35 controls). Then, in fall 2005, two new classes of pre-schoolers will be added at each school. All the children who remain at these schools will be followed until they are in the third grade.

By following these two cohorts of pre-schoolers, the study will allow an assessment of the effect of teachers learning how to teach Breakthrough to Literacy and compare children's outcomes as a function of teachers' experience teaching the program, Hurtig explained.

Breakthrough to Literacy uses books and computer software, but also involves extensive teacher training and mentoring, individualized and group activities and instruction that bridges reading-related activities at home and school. Instruction relates reading skills to mathematics, social studies, science and expressive arts such as drama and music.

" Breakthrough to Literacy is designed so that reading is not seen as a separate activity," Hurtig said. "Instruction puts the children's literacy development within a broader context, and teachers receive substantial training and ongoing support to teach the program."

The UI-led study also involves Nancy Jackson, Ph.D., professor of psychological and quantitative foundations in the UI College of Education. Abt Associates of Cambridge, Mass., a nationally recognized research firm, will assist in the study design, field assessments and analysis.

Hurtig received a previous, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate the use of Breakthrough to Literacy in Muscatine, Iowa, schools. That five-year study compares outcomes in a school that uses the program to a school that does not.

Breakthrough to Literacy emerged out of the work of Carolyn J. Brown, Ph.D. and Jerry Zimmermann, Ph.D., while they were UI research scientists in speech pathology and audiology. Brown and Zimmermann subsequently formed a spin-off company at the UI's business incubator, the Technology Innovation Center. The growing enterprise moved to the Oakdale Research Park in 1999. It now is an operating unit of McGraw-Hill. To learn more about Breakthrough to Literacy, visit

NOTE TO EDITORS: "Abt Associates" purposely does not capitalize the letters in the first part of its name.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319 335-8032,