Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Michael J. Curtis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda M. Raffaele Mendez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffrey D. Kromrey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Deirdre Cobb-Roberts, Ph.D.


special education, significant disabilities, systems change, logic model, qualitative, nonverbal


Recently the National Reading Panel concluded that systematic and direct instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension that is informed by ongoing assessments of student progress results in positive student achievement (NICHHD, 2002). For students with moderate to severe disabilities and students with autism, reading instruction has historically focused on functional sight words. Unfortunately, very little research exists that has examined how the literacy achievement of students with moderate to severe disabilities can be impacted by a more comprehensive, data-driven instructional model.

A special education program that serves students with moderate to severe disabilities and students with autism sought to improve reading instruction and literacy outcomes for these students and began the Educational and Life Skills (ELS) Literacy Initiative during the 2005-2006 school year. The purpose of the literacy initiative was to improve teacher skill and confidence in teaching reading, increase the alignment of literacy instruction with the identified best practices, improve the quality of the instructional planning process, and improve student outcomes in the area of literacy. The literacy initiative provided teachers with extensive curricular resources and professional development opportunities in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

This study is an evaluation of the ELS Literacy Initiative. More specifically, the goals of this study were to (a) examine how the literacy initiative was being implemented, (b) determine to what extent the anticipated short-term and intermediate outcomes of the initiative were being realized, and (c) determine the next steps in implementation of the literacy initiative. To answer the evaluation questions, a mix of qualitative and quantitative data were collected, including teacher and parent surveys, teacher focus group interviews, and student outcome data.

Overall, the outcomes of the ELS Literacy Initiative have been positive, with teachers feeling more confident and supported, instruction being more aligned with best practices, and students having made gains in their literacy skills. However, particular areas of improvement, such as the instructional planning process and curricular resources, should be addressed to meet the needs of students who are nonverbal. A set of recommendations regarding the next steps in the implementation of the ELS Literacy Initiative is included.