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Future Forward shows sustained impact and decreased referral for special education services

MADISON, Wis., May 11, 2021 — Two new studies expand upon previous research showing the Future Forward literacy program yields enduring scholastic improvement for kindergarten through third-grade students. Future Forward successfully pairs one-on-one tutoring with family engagement to support literacy development of struggling readers.

STUDY #1: “What is the Sustained Impact of Future Forward on Reading Achievement, Attendance, and Special Education Placement Five Years after Participation?” (Where Are They Now?)

Future Forward was awarded a federal grant to develop and test its impact in seven Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) primarily serving low-income Black and Latinx students. Results of a randomized control trial evaluation found positive and statistically significant impacts on foundational literacyreading achievement, and school attendance.

Researchers followed study participants five years past the end of the study, finding participants continued to demonstrate greater reading achievement. Additionally, students were less likely to be placed into special education. Considering added cost with providing specialized services to ten additional students, Future Forward could save MPS over one million dollars.

“Although the results of this study are positive, it is important to frame Future Forward in the context of a national school system that is failing students of color,” said evaluator Curtis Jones, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education and Co-Director of the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness Research Partnership at the University of Wisconsin. “So while the impact of Future Forward is real, it must be a part of larger efforts in educational resource redistribution to earnestly provide what is owed to students and families.” 

Click here for complete (#1) study.

STUDY #2: “Testing Impact & Scalability of the Future Forward Literacy Program” (Impact prior to Covid)

An Education Innovation and Research Mid-Phase grant from the U.S. Department of Education expanded Future Forward to 14 schools in seven school districts across three states. A randomized control trial study of the program was designed to examine effectiveness of scale-up and impact on reading achievement, social-emotional learning (SEL), and school attendance. Schools were shut down because of Covid, which limited the study to testing impact on school attendance.

Attendance was 1.3 percentage points higher than students who received “business-as-usual” (BAU) literacy instruction. Further, impact was greater with Black students, male students, and students with a history of low school attendance. Students at the intersection of these groups (Black male students with low school attendance) were particularly affected, improving their school attendance by greater than 4 times as much as their peers.

Click here for complete (#2) study.


“Together, these two studies add to an increasingly strong empirical foundation that validates Future Forward and supports its systems approach to helping students learn to read,” said Dr. Jones. “Future Forward has a sustained impact on reading achievement and prevents students from being referred to special education. Future Forward also improves school attendance of students at greatest risk of being absent from school. Based on these findings, and previous research, Future Forward is well-positioned to support efforts of schools and families getting students back on-track after Covid.”


Future Forward is funded by the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program, designed to generate and validate solutions to persistent educational challenges and to support the expansion of effective solutions to serve substantially larger numbers of students. The EIR Program provides funding to create, develop, implement, or replicate, entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students and rigorously evaluate such innovations. 

Visit FutureForwardLiteracy.orgor contact Kate Bauer-Jones.

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