Improving early literacy in Michigan


Large class sizes and a wide range of students’ reading abilities pose challenges for educators. Low levels of reading skills impede student comprehension across all subjects, including math and social sciences. EPI partnered with Grand Valley State University, the Michigan Community Service Commission, and the Hope Network to conduct two pilot, random control trials (RCTs) of promising literacy programs — Evidence Based Literacy Instruction (EBLI) and Michigan Reading Corps (MiRC). The initial pilot projects launched in the fall of 2014 in nearly 30 elementary schools in Michigan.

What is EBLI?

EBLI is a literacy instruction program that utilizes several strategies to improve reading accuracy (e.g. reading words correctly), fluency, and comprehension. EBLI’s theory of change states that mastering reading accuracy has subsequent beneficial effects on students’ reading fluency and comprehension. This characteristic differentiates it from other reading instruction systems that focus first on fluency and speed by encouraging word guessing when students are unsure about the correct pronunciation.

To achieve reading accuracy, EBLI uses awareness of the word sounds (phonetic awareness) and the different ways the same sound can be spelled. Learning is reinforced with multi-syllabus strategies, visuals, and motions, which also aim to improve students’ ability to analyze unfamiliar words visually and phonetically (word attack skills).

EBLI trains tutors and teachers on how to implement the literacy strategies when using reading in 1:1 reading intervention, small group settings, and whole class instruction. Following the training, trainees are supported with online consultation resources, as well as on-site coaching sessions to help refine their implementation of EBLI in their instructional setting.

What is MiRC?

MiRC is a reading tutoring program based upon the Minnesota Reading Corps model that uses multiple evidence-based practices within existing school frameworks and focuses on students who are reading just below grade level and have more prolonged literacy struggles. These are students who would benefit from timely, research-based reading interventions.

MiRC tutors work with K-3rd grade students one-on-one each day, using targeted interventions depending upon the specific need of the student. Interventions are brief, scripted reading exercises that help students develop fundamental skills necessary for reading. The Reading Corps interventions are based on the five components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.

The tutors help students to develop the skills necessary to become proficient readers by providing supplemental practice of some of the essential reading skills needed by students who are at risk of reading failure. Tutors reinforce skills already introduced in core instruction and gather progress data to help make informed decisions.

What are the Research Objectives?

EPI conducted two pilot RCTs to test the impact of both programs (EBLI and MiRC) and delivery models (full class instruction and one-on-one tutoring) on K-5 students' reading skills in AY 2014 - 2015. We evaluated the effect on student academic outcomes, observing differences across student or school characteristics. We assessed the effect on students’ reading test scores as measured by the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), NWEA tests (Northwest Evaluation Association), MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program), and other school-administered evaluations.

This pilot project was the first to causally evaluate the impact of EBLI on students’ reading skills using a multi-site, cluster randomized control trial.

How is the Study Funded?

The Michigan Reading Corps study was partially funded by a $50,000 grant from the State of Michigan Department of Human Services' Michigan Community Service Commission.

Who is on the Project Team?

Brian Jacob, principal investigator


When Evidence is Not Enough: Findings from a Randomized Evaluation of Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction (EBLI)


This paper reports the results of an experimental evaluation of Evidence Based Literacy Instruction (EBLI). Developed over 15 years ago, EBLI aims to provide teachers with instructional strategies to improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Sixty-three teachers in grades 2-5 in seven Michigan charter schools were randomly assigned within school-grade blocks to receive EBLI training or a business-as-usual control condition. Comparing students in treatment and control classrooms during the 2014-15 school year, we find no significant impact on reading performance. Teacher survey responses and interviews with program staff suggest that several implementation challenges may have played a role in the null findings.

[Download the working paper]

Additional Resources

Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction:

Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office:

Impact Evaluation of Minnesota Reading Corps K-3 Program:

Michigan Community Service Commission utilizes service as a strategy to address the state's most pressing issues and empowers volunteers to strengthen communities. For more:

The Hope Network: