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A2i After School Increases Vocabulary Growth by Nearly 30%

Following A2i’s first year of action in community organizations the results are in and we’re closer than ever to closing the achievement gap! For this conversation, we will be looking at students in Read Charlotte’s YMCA after school program. Across the board, we saw exciting results in many different categories. The area we’d really like to hone in on this year is students’ end of year vocabulary levels.

At the beginning of the year, only about 11% of students enrolled in the YMCA’s after school learning program were at or above their expected level using age-equivalent vocabulary scores. As the year progressed, the extra support and instruction they received made a huge difference, bringing these scores up to just under 30% at or above their expected skill-level based on age. In addition to this, the overall improvement in vocabulary level in these programs is far exceeding the expected baseline for growth. On average, these students are receiving around a full school year of extra growth in this category. This is massive! We’re making major headway towards achieving grade-level literacy for a population of students who could otherwise be categorized as struggling readers needing additional support and instruction.

In order to understand the importance of this progress, let’s look at the significance of vocabulary in learning to read. Gough and Tunmer’s formula for the Simple View of reading states that Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension. Within this formula “Language Comprehension” can also be defined as vocabulary, meaning that phonics (decoding) and vocabulary are the two essential components for literate reading. This is the most basic overview of how learning to read works, but if we take a deeper look at vocabulary’s importance, the trend continues.

In his book Language at the Speed of Sight Mark Seidenberg highlights how a “a first grader can sit in the advanced group if [they] can read only a few hundred words”. He explains how this is significant because a child's word knowledge expands exponentially with each new word learned,due to similarities between them. For instance, if a child learns the word “cat” this gives them access to understanding a number of different words that are contextually connected. For example, if this child were to read the sentence “a cheetah is a fast cat”, even if they didn’t know the meaning of “cheetah”, through their knowledge of the word “cat” they can now connect the two. This not only allows them to understand that a cheetah is a cat, but also then further expands their network to include cheetah into the same category, allowing future connections to be drawn back to both words.

This phenomena brings us to the next point, which is that vocabulary and decoding aren’t just to separate forces but rather work together. In a recent study, Tunmer and Chapman propose “that linguistic comprehension, primarily vocabulary, contributed directly to reading comprehension but also influenced word decoding directly.” Meaning Vocabulary is not only a primary component of our meaning-focused instruction, but also directly contributes to growth in the code-focused department.

With all this in context, it’s clear why we’re so excited about the progress our community partners are making. These massive gains in vocabulary level growth not only show significant progress in student’s comprehension, but also indicate these students are well on their way to grade-level reading. In connection with our previous posts on A2i in Action, we’re witnessing the real world impact Learning Ovations and our partners are making for students across the nation. Seeing the hundreds of extra hours students are getting of not only instruction but actual growth, too, in our community and after-school programs is further proof of this. Closing the gap in learning, equity, and achievement for all students–regardless of background or status–that’s the A2i difference.


  1. Seidenberg, Mark S.. Language At the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why so Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It. New York: Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, a division of PBG Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc, 2017. Print.

  2. Tunmer, W. E., & Chapman, J. W. (2012). The simple view of reading redux: Vocabulary knowledge and the independent components hypothesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 453–466.

  3. Lonigan, C. J., Burgess, S. R., & Schatschneider, C. (2018). Examining the Simple View of Reading With Elementary School Children: Still Simple After All These Years. Remedial and Special Education, 39(5), 260–273.

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