The Foundation for

Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning


Research Report



Stanley L. Swartz, Ph.D.

Professor of Education

California State University, San Bernardino


Foundation Director



Note to Readers


This summary of research has been compiled to demonstrate the effectiveness of professional development for teachers provided by the Foundation for Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning.


The research in this report used various designs, including random assignment and quasi-experimental, and various sources of data.  These included:


  • publicly reported accountability measures,
  • self-studies conducted by participating schools and districts,
  • results of student testing required as part of the training, and
  • focus studies requested by the Foundation and conducted by participating schools.


The material provided for review includes a summary report that provides an overview of the project and an analysis of the research.  A compendium of supporting documentation is also available upon request.





The Foundation for Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning was organized by Stanley L. Swartz, Rebecca E. Shook, and Adria F. Klein in response to requests by the public schools to provide high quality professional development for teachers. Both Dr. Swartz and Dr. Klein are professors in the College of Education at California State University, San Bernardino and trainers for the Foundation. Ms. Shook was a staff developer for the public schools and is now a trainer for the Foundation. Dr. Swartz serves as the director of the project. The Foundation has trained more than 17,000 teachers in 1167 participating schools since its inception in 1994.


The Foundation for Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning provides professional development designed to help teachers improve classroom practices with a particular emphasis on the teaching of reading and writing. Research-based teaching methodologies that implement the findings of the Report of the National Reading Panel (2001) are organized into a framework for classroom instruction. Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning (CELL) (PreKindergarten-Grade 3) training emphasizes that the instructional focus in the primary grades is to teach reading and writing. Extended Literacy Learning (ExLL) (Grades 3-8) training focuses on reading and writing in the content areas while recognizing instruction in the intermediate grades still includes intensive support for reading and writing development. Second Chance at Literacy Learning (Grades 6-12) training supports secondary English, content area, reading and special education teachers with both a classroom best practices model and small group intervention.


The programs are designed to help teachers meet the needs and strengths of each individual student. The model stresses and encourages active participation from each student regardless of his or her current level of literacy acquisition. High progress students are encouraged to continue their rapid growth while low progress students are guided through the process with continuous support and an opportunity to accelerate their learning. The opportunity to try new learning in a risk-free environment and practice new strategies throughout the day is encouraged. Teachers are trained to use a gradual decline of teacher support and a gradual increase in student independence based on demonstrated student capability. This reduction of teacher support is based on observations of individual student growth and understanding the process of literacy. The students’ use of a variety of problem-solving strategies is supported through good teacher decision-making about ways to assist each student toward the goal of independence.


The elements of the instructional frameworks are designed to help each student and the whole class move together toward that goal. The frameworks have been designed to structure classrooms that use literacy activities throughout the day of every school day and emphasizes instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. Other curricular areas are delivered using literacy activities as the method of instruction. The frameworks include oral language, phonology, higher-order thinking skills, reading and writing activities, and test-taking strategies. The individual frameworks are aligned with adjustments made for higher grade levels and different student needs.


CELL, ExLL, and Second Chance have been developed with the strong belief that improved classroom instruction and increased student achievement are best achieved by providing more support and professional development for teachers. Helping teachers become more effective in their work is the primary goal. The training programs are based on a high level of confidence in the ability of teachers to become more powerful in their teaching, given appropriate training and long term support.

Program Design


Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning, Extended Literacy Learning and Second Chance share a number of components that have been found important to their success and essential to effective implementation.


Use teaching methods supported by scientific research


CELL, ExLL and Second Chance are comprehensive reading and writing training that combine skills development with literature and language rich activities. The teaching methods that are the focus of the professional development were selected because they are both recognized as best practices and have support in the research literature. These teaching methods also meet the areas of instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension recommended by the National Reading Panel.


Focus on the professional development of teachers


Teachers and their classroom practices are the focus of the professional development provided by the Foundation. No specific classroom materials are recommended or required, rather the training helps teachers use whatever instructional materials they have and organize their teaching for maximum result. High quality teaching materials from a wide variety of sources are used during the training. Professional books, including three specifically designed to support the frameworks, and an extensive list of professional readings are provided during training. Recommendations for students’ literature books and texts for shared and guided reading are available. The effective use of other materials, such as basal reading series, is also included in the training.


Support school reform and school restructuring


Schools who participate in these programs have identified the need to change how they teach children to read and write. The professional development supports the change process for individual teachers and for school faculties.


Support continued literacy learning in the content areas


Teachers are encouraged to consider literacy as how to teach, rather than what to teach. Teachers are trained to use literacy best practices as the primary teaching method regardless of the content area.


Increase the emphasis on reading and writing in the curriculum


Massive opportunities to read and write are needed throughout the curriculum. Without minimizing the importance of other content areas, literacy learning is established as the highest priority.


Align teaching methods within and across grade levels


Teaching faculties are trained to align their teaching practices and coordinate their work at all grade levels. Achievement gains are enhanced when transition from grade to grade is accompanied by teachers who use the same teaching methods. Classroom instruction, early intervention, and special education are also aligned.


Support English language learners


The programs have been designed to support English language learners. Participating schools report that the frameworks have been effective with various instructional models. Student book lists are available in both English and Spanish.


Facilitate inclusion of special needs students


Special education teachers are included in all phases of the training. Using the same teaching methods from the frameworks facilitates the inclusion of special needs students in regular classrooms. Students are supported in their learning by this cooperation between special and regular education.


Use a capacity-building model


The training model provides intensive professional development with follow-up. Training for a School-Based Planning Team of teachers and administrators and training for a school-based Literacy Coordinator are both year-long. Follow-up support for the three to five year implementation is provided through on-site training, class visits, and monthly professional meetings. A capacity-building model that ensures long-term support is used. The School-Based Planning Team and the school-based Literacy Coordinator both help establish a system of support that continues year after year. Long-term support is provided through continuing professional development opportunities during periodic training updates and at the West Coast Literacy Conference and regional literacy conferences.


Use student data to inform teaching


Diagnostic information is collected to inform instruction. Teachers are trained in various assessment procedures to improve their observation of students to better inform instruction.


Measure success by student performance


Intensive staff development and ongoing support should be a condition of teacher accountability. Standardized test measures are used to track both individual student and class achievement.


Training Model


To ensure schoolwide support, a School-Based Planning team participates in a year-long series of planning activities and framework training sessions. The School-Based Planning Team is composed of the school principal, a reading specialist, a special education teacher, and a representative group of teachers.


The teachers from each team receive initial training in the elements of the framework and begin implementation of the framework immediately after the first session. They receive feedback regarding their efforts at each subsequent session. This format allows a school to begin partial implementation and develop a resource for observation, demonstration, and support of the project.


The Literacy Coordinator is the school-based staff developer who supports the implementation of the frameworks. This individual has no supervisory responsibility, but rather serves as a coach and mentor to colleagues on the instructional team. There is a separate and distinct training for Literacy Coordinators because of the varied needs of primary, intermediate and secondary teachers.


The Literacy Coordinator-in-training participates in five full-week trainings throughout the traditional school year. This training consists of observations in classrooms, group meetings to reflect on the teaching and learning observed, and seminars that combine theory and practice. Throught the year, the Literacy Coordinator-in-training teaches a half-day in a classroom using the elements of the framework and attends biweekly guided meetings. In addition to teaching a half-day in their own classrooms, the Literacy Coordinators support the continued learning of the School-Based Planning Team by observing in classrooms half days and conducting informational sessions with the rest of the instructional team.


Literacy Coordinators also receive leadership training that focuses on peer coaching and the construction of the staff development model. One of the major strengths of the model is the effectiveness of peer coaching.






Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning, Extended Literacy Learning and Second Chance are all research-based programs. This research is reflected in both the selection of training components as well as the collection of data from participating schools. The Foundation uses accountability
measures prescribed by various states as the primary source of data to demonstrate the efficacy of professional development. Data generated by participating schools are compared in various ways to data from schools that are not part of the CELL, ExLL, and Second Chance training programs. Participants also assist in the collection of data that are used to document program success and individual student gains. It is a primary focus of the research to analyze and report data generated by individual participating schools and districts.

The primary goal of Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning, Extended Literacy Learning and Second Chance is to increase the achievement of students by providing high quality professional
development for teachers. The impact of this professional development on various research questions is measured. These include the impact of professional development on:

literacy achievement,

achievement in content areas and on content standards,

treatment effect,

implementation of instruction recommended by the National Reading Panel,

special needs students,

English language learners,  

Native American students, and

the use of different professional development models.

Literacy Achievement
To increase school accountability for student achievement, California implemented an Academic Performance Index (API) to measure school success. Academic Performance Index data for California elementary schools were analyzed for the 2000-2001 school year. Table 1 shows that schools with full CELL implementation (team training and a Literacy Coordinator) in Grades K-3 and full CELL and ExLL implementation in Grades 4-6 posted a higher rate of goal attainment than other schools. Schools were given an additional five percent achievement target gain on the Stanford Achievement Test (Ninth Edition) for the 2001 testing cycle. Table 2 is a summary of all California elementary schools and their success in meeting their goal. Fifty-two percent of California elementary schools met or exceeded their goals, 70 percent of CELL schools and 76 percent of schools implementing both CELL and ExLL met or exceeded their goal.


Utah uses a criterion-referenced test to monitor the progress of disadvantaged and low performing schools. Table 3 summarizes the CELL data (Grades 1-3) and Table 4 summarizes the ExLL data (Grades 4-6). The number of students who scored in the lowest quartile declined significantly from the baseline year of 1998 over the two year period of implementation.


Table 5 is achievement growth for a Native American school in rural Montana. The measures show percentage of students at grade level before and after training in both second and third grades on reading and word list measures. This school is completing its second year of implementation.


Table 6 shows Fall and Spring Observation Survey mean scores and grade equivalents in text reading for students in grades K-2 at a fully implemented CELL school. Kindergarten students began the year as non-readers and reached a level equivalent to mid-first grade by the Spring testing. Achievement of first-graders increased from upper Kindergarten to beginning second, and second graders began the year just below grade level and scored high fourth grade in the Spring testing. These randomly selected students received no intervention or support services other than effective classroom teaching using the CELL framework.

Table 7 measures the impact of CELL training on writing and overall achievement in a Kentucky school district. Column one of this table shows the difference between reading and writing scores in the Title I and Non-Title I schools. The lower difference in the CELL schools is notable. Columns two and three show greater writing achievement and total achievement for the CELL trained schools.

A CELL and ExLL demonstration school in Nevada measured writing proficiency using the state accountability measure. Table 8 shows percentage growth of proficiency in writing for fourth graders to be greater in both 2001 and 2002 for this school compared to other schools in the district.

Achievement in Content Areas and on Content Standards

Overall achievement including data on achievement in the content areas and on performance standards was also analyzed. Table 9 is a longitudinal study of student achievement in two Title I schools over a five year period. A steady trajectory of growth is seen from the 1994 baseline of no training to the second year of full implementation in 1998 with scores in the average range. This growth was seen in reading and language arts as well as in mathematics.


Second Chance data for a two year period are reported in Tables 10 and 11. Table 10 reports the API growth targets and growth on the SAT-9 for middle schools that trained a Literacy Coordinator. All three schools exceeded their target for both years. Table 11 shows the same comparison for six schools who had School-Based Planning Team training. Only one school failed to reach the target. This failure was attributed to partial participation by team members. Five schools exceeded their target growth by a considerable margin.


The increase in the percentage of students reaching proficient and advanced levels on the California Language Arts Standards in a district with full CELL and ExLL implementation is reported in Table 12. Significant improvement was found over two years of testing.

Treatment Effect
One of the expected standards of scientific research is that results can be attributed to the treatment, in this case professional development. Tables 13 -15 demonstrate this effect. Table 13 compares achievement in Grades 1-4 on the California Achievement Test (CAT-5) over a four year period. Schools who had full CELL implementation showed increases of 10, 10, and 11 normal curve equivalents in reading comprehension. Schools with partial implementation of CELL showed increases of 2, 6, and 5. Schools that participated in a district modification of the CELL model had normal curve equivalent schools of -2, 1, 3, and 5. These data are a strong indication that program replication is affected by altering standards, procedures, or training.

Table 14 summarizes the API growth for CELL and ExLL schools and comparison schools during 2002. These schools are all from the Los Angeles Unified School District and are matched by initial scores on the Academic Performance Index. CELL and ExLL schools posted fifteen percent higher growth on this measure.

Table 15 also matches schools by initial API scores to make a comparison for two years of growth. The two CELL and ExLL schools outperformed the comparison schools by a significant

Table 16 reports a study completed where half of the staff participated in training and the other half served as a control group who received no training.  Significant increases in text reading scores where reported in each grade level for students of teachers who participated in training compared to those who received no training.

Students were randomly assigned to treatment where teachers were trained or not in CELL.   Table 17 reports results from a test that includes subtests included in the Report of the National Reading Panel. All subtests scores were higher and the overall reading and writing subtests were significant for the treatment group.

National Reading Panel

The National Reading Panel identified five areas of instruction that research demonstrates are critical for teaching reading. These findings were operationalized in the No Child Left Behind Act and in Reading First. Literacy Coordinators were asked to rate the impact of training on teacher behaviors. The impact of training in CELL and ExLL on teacher behavior on each of the areas was measured and is reported in Table 18. Teaching in these five areas of instruction before training and after training showed a significant increase for this large sample of teachers.

Special Needs Learners
The impact of professional development for students with special needs was examined in three studies. Though not required, many schools that have selected CELL as a professional development program also participate in the Reading Recovery (Clay, 1979) program. Though Reading Recovery, by design, is an intervention and not expected to impact the cohort, many districts track these data. Table 19 shows standardized test data for first-graders over a four-year period in mathematics, reading, and total battery. The three years of data during Reading Recovery participation yielded scores in the 22-31 national percentile range. Year-end scores following the first year of CELL implementation showed a dramatic increase in all three areas to the 44-50 percentile range. The achievement increase was also seen in mathematics. These data help support the primary importance of reading and writing instruction in the elementary grades. It also suggests that even a powerful intervention like Reading Recovery improves with the support of effective classroom teaching.

Table 20 also has data that compare Reading Recovery implementation and CELL implementation. In addition, it compares CELL implementation at the School-Based Planning Team level and the Literacy Coordinator level. The benefits of full CELL implementation are demonstrated in this study as well as the benefits of a school-based staff developer


It is hoped that powerful instruction and access to good first teaching for all students will impact the need for remedial reading and special education services. Table 21 reports special education referrals over a three year period. Non-Title I schools without Reading Recovery or CELL support showed an increase in percentage of referral from 2.6 to 3.7. Title I schools supported by Reading Recovery showed a referral reduction from 3.0 to 2.8 percent. The demonstration school supported by Reading Recovery and CELL showed a significant reduction in referrals to special education from 3.2 to 1.5. These data confirm both the effective combination of a comprehensive program of reading and writing instruction with a powerful early intervention and the cost effectiveness of school-wide training in CELL.

Table 22 summarizes the increase in overall reading scores for students with learning disabilities.  These students received instruction in both regular and special education classes that used the CELL framework of instruction.

English Language Learners

Reading achievement was measured for English language learners in three immersion models. Scores for first-graders in CELL trained schools are compared to those from schools that received no training in Table 23. Students from CELL schools outperformed the other schools in all three models by 14, 9, and 10 percent.

A full CELL and ExLL implementation district measured the percentage of growth for English language learners. The increase of percent of proficiency measured by the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education is reported in Table 24. Numbers of students scoring at or above the 75th and 50st percentile both increased significantly.

Native American Students

CELL and ExLL have provided professional development for schools primarily serving Native American students in Montana and Wyoming.  Title I required data are reported for St. Labre (Montana) Elementary School in Table 25. Tables 25 and 26 show reading, language and mathematics scores for two Wyoming Native American schools.  Strong gains on national percentiles were made over three years of testing for both schools.


Table 27 shows the increase of students who met the proficient critera in reading, language arts, social studies, and science between 2001 and 2002 testing in a Montana Native American school. All scores showed significant gains.

Table 28 shows achievement scores over four years for a Wyoming Native American school.  Increases were posted for the first three years and declined in year four when the program was discontinued.

Comparison of Professional Development Models

Various models of professional development are available. Studies to compare CELL and ExLL where teacher practice is the focus to models that are scripted were conducted. Table 29 compares achievement scores for schools participating in CELL and Success for All from one district where both options were available. Overall achievement increases were greater for CELL schools in both second and third grade.

Tables 30 and 31 compare the SAT-9 scores in three Title I schools in a California district. Schools were in comparable implementation stages of CELL and ExLL, Reading Mastery (Engelman et al., 1998), Success for All (Slavin et al., 1993). CELL and ExLL posted higher scores in all categories measured (reading, language arts, spelling, and math).


Many school districts have opted to use basal reading series that are highly prescriptive as an
alternative to providing professional development to teachers. Table 32 compares achievement scores in schools that provided CELL and ExLL professional development for teachers in addition to using the Open Court basal reading series. CELL schools outperformed on all measures.

Table 33 shows average API growth scores for ten schools in California.  Five schools were involved in the Results program developed by the California Reading and Literature Project and five were involved in the CELL program. CELL schools increased and Results decreased on 2002 results.

Data available on the efficacy of CELL, ExLL, and Second Chance meet the generally accepted standard for scientific research. The elements of the frameworks are best practices and their
effectiveness reported in peer reviewed research journals. Data are independently collected. The primary sources of data are accountability measures administered by various states. Studies were also conducted that compared programs in matched groups and in one study, random assignment to treatment groups. The impact of CELL and ExLL training on the areas of instruction recommended by the No Child Left Behind Act was measured.

These studies demonstrate that CELL, ExLL and Second Chance are effective programs of professional development that directly impact student achievement. The most important data are those that show good achievement gains in literacy. Schools who have committed to training a Literacy Coordinator show greater gains than those who received only the School-Based Planning Team training. Both level of implementation and adherence to the model are seen as important variables. The impact on special education was also measured. The savings that would result in the reduced referral to special education would, by itself, cover the cost of all CELL and ExLL training. This is a powerful measure of cost effectiveness.

Professional development for teachers was found to be more important than the use of a particular instructional model. CELL was also found to be an effective way to support English language
learners and Native American students.

This research provides strong support for the relationship between professional development for teachers in the literacy frameworks and gains in student achievement. Even a highly prescriptive reading program measured higher gains with the support of professional development for teachers.

External Reviews
In addition to the studies conducted by CELL, ExLL and Second Chance schools, numerous external reviews have been conducted. Evaluations have been independent and used data provided by
participating schools.

The Nevada Legislative Bureau of Educational Accountability and Program Evaluation reviewed data from CELL and ExLL schools in the state to evaluate its continued effectiveness on increasing the academic achievement of low performing students. Based on this evaluation CELL and ExLL were included on the List of Effective Remedial Programs as a program of curricular reform recommended to schools in Nevada.

A large scale study of the impact of CELL and ExLL on reading achievement was completed by the Program Evaluation and Research Branch of the Los Angeles Unified School District (2000). The conclusion that both programs were effective was based on overall increases in achievement as well as the comparison of data from schools that received CELL and ExLL training compared to schools that received no training.

CELL and ExLL are both listed as effective programs by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform. An independent panel of judges evaluated CELL and ExLL on criteria that included evidence of effectiveness in improving student academic achievement, extent of replication, implementation provided to schools, and
comprehensiveness. CELL and ExLL participation has been funded by the Comprehensive School Reform Program and Reading First. Both of these initiatives by the U.S. Department of Education require that approved programs be research-based and proven effective. Independent panels judged CELL and ExLL to have met these criteria.


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Table 1
2001 Academic Performance Index scores from all California Schools. Scores were separated using the following criteria: Full CELL and ExLL impelementation, Full CELL Impelementation, and all other schools in California.

Table 2
2002 data stating whether schools in California met or exceeded their Academic Performance Index goal. Scores were separated using the following criteria: Full CELL and ExLL impelementation, Full CELL Impelementation, and all other schools in California.

Table 3
Utah State Criterion-Referenced Test scores for 4 fully implemented CELL schools in Utah.

Table 4
Utah State Criterion-Referenced Test scores for 4 fully implemented ExLL schools in Utah.

Table 5
Brigance Diagnostic - Oral Skills Section scores for a school in Montana.

Table 6
Fall and Spring Observation Survey scores for 4 case study children.

Table 7
Kentucky Core Content Test scores for one Kentucky school district.

Table 8
Iowa Test of Basic Skills test for one school in Nevada.

Table 9
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for two schools in Wyoming

Table 10
Academic Performance Index scores for three schools within a California school district.

Table 11
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for six California Middle Schools with Second Chance at Literacy Learning training.

Table 12
Three years of Language Arts Test scores from a California district.

Table 13
California Achievement Test scores from 10 schools in a California district.

Table 14
2002 Acadmeic Performance Index scores for one district in California with fully implemented CELL schools compared to non participatory schools.

Table 15
Two years of Acadmeic Performance Index scores for three comparison schools within a California district.

Table 16
Year end Observation Survey schools for students in a Wyoming school.

Table 17
Dominie Reading and Writing Assessment Portfolio scores for control group and experimental group students.

Table 18
Likert Implementation survey results.

Table 19
4 years of California Test of Basic Skills scores on Reading Recovery, CELL and Reading Recovery + CELL schools.

Table 20
September, January and May Observation Survey results for schools at different phases of implementation.

Table 21
Special Education referrals over three years for a California school.

Table 22
Developmental Reading Assessment scores for 3rd grade special education students.

Table 23
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for a California school district with different ELL immersion models.

Table 24
Spanish Assessment of Basic Education scores for a California school district.

Table 25
Three years of TerraNova Achievement Test results for one Wyoming school.

Table 26
Three years of TerraNova Achievement Test results for one Wyoming school.

Table 27
Iowa Test of Basic Skills results for a Montana school.

Table 28
Four years of TerraNova Achievement Test results for one Wyoming school.

Table 29
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for a California district with different implementation models.

Table 30
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for a California district with different implementation models.

Table 31
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for a California district with different implementation models.

Table 32
Stanford Achievement Test - Ninth Edition scores for CELL and non-CELL schools within a California school district.

Table 33
Academic Performance Index scores for schools within a California school district using different implementation models.



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