Reading Development Software for the Secondary Struggling Reader

Currently in the Upper Grand District School Board, the installation and maintenance of all software is done at the board facility through a common image for secondary students. An additional need at my school is digital resources for the secondary struggling reader.  I define struggling reader as any student who is two levels below grade level in reading.  We are currently working on a system where we can develop diagnostic testing to find these students, offer remediation and track their progress. Within our school now, there are three populations of students that could benefit from this research:

  1. our at-risk grade 9 and 10 students who are struggling to stay engaged in school and reading is a barrier to learning
  2. our transitions students who come to ODSS with intellectual disabilities and an assortment of reading capabilities
  3. students who are attempting the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course, which means they have attempted and failed the mandatory Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test twice already

Our need for resources to help the struggling reader has become urgent.  A component that has yet to be found is any software that would support reading improvement in teens.  I would like to use the model of Raz-Kids (2012), a levelled software program for elementary students, that is online.  To improve on the Raz-Kids model, the software should be adaptive to the user and increase in difficulty as the student shows readiness.  Teachers subscribe and create a class account and then give each student an account which is accessible from any internet connection.  I would then advocate that the software become part of our image through our catalogue and online subscriptions database.  Software in general is best catalogued in our school using the title as an access point.

Overview of the investigation process

Educational print resources seem much easier to locate, and general software is easier to find.  Combining both the ideas of educationally designed and digital resources was complicated.  Adding in the specificity of the age group of our struggling readers, was a further challenge.  I relied heavily on Chapter 6 of  the Bishop (2013) textbook for guidance in how to maintain focus.  Most review sources focused heavily on elementary students and often they simply lead me to the companies that made the software to see if a secondary school program had been created.  The databases at the University of Alberta library lead me to three review sources.  Then I focused on two strategies of web searching using government bodies of licensed software and iPad apps.

I was first turned on to the idea of scaffolded reading software when my son, Max, came home with his Raz-Kids (2012) software login in September 2012.  Then I discussed the program with my colleague, Rita Baran, who is piloting a reading recovery for grade 9 students.  Rita’s success has seen students improve by up to 4 reading levels in one semester which gives the students tremendous confidence about their other classes.  Next I visited my colleague Maddie Davis, who works with a Transitions Skills class.  Maddie visits the library weekly with her class to investigate new reading materials.  They read in the library and both Maddie and I are interested in other ways that the library can be used to support this group of students.  Finally, I visited my colleague Deb Schaner, the Head of Student Success, who deals with our most at-risk students.  Deb’s greatest challenge is identifying and supporting students as they enter our school.  Research into types of resources for each of the aforementioned populations of students, and to help these colleagues, is a necessary but challenging prospect.  

Selection tools

  1. Journal of Research on Technology in Education

International Society for Technology in Education (Ed.). (2013). Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Retrieved from
The ISTE Journal of Research on Technology in Education “publishes articles that report on original research, project descriptions/evaluations, syntheses of the literature, assessments of the state of the art, and theoretical or conceptual positions that relate to the field of educational technology in teaching and learning” (2013).  Very often, the articles chosen review pieces of software in relation to a teaching or learning challenge.  

  1. Tech & Learning magazine

NewBay Media (Ed.). (2012). Tech & Learning. Retrieved from

“For over 30 years, Tech & Learning has served the K-12 education community with practical resources and expert strategies for transforming education through integration of digital technologies” (2012).  Tech & Learning focuses on successful implementation of information technology in educational settings. It not only talks about software for learning, it recommends strategies for teaching.

  1. Teaching Exceptional Children

Council for Exceptional Children (Ed.). (2012). Teaching Exceptional Children.

Published six times per year, Teaching Exceptional Children focuses on practical methods for teaching children with the full range of exceptionalities.  Reviews of software happen in the context of articles exploring successful implementation of teaching strategies for this specific group of learners.  

  1. Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee

Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee (Ed.). (2008). Bulletin Board. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from OSAPAC/CCPALO website:

OSAPAC is “the committee that advises the Ministry on software titles to negotiate for provincial licensing” (2013).  Besides their role as advisors, the committee maintains a website with an excellent searchable spreadsheet of licensed software.

  1. I Educational Applications Review

Meech, S. (Ed.). Learning A – Z levelled readers by Kathy Burdick. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from I Educational Applications Review website:

Licensed under the Creative Commons, is dedicated to collaborative contributions from educators and students on the effectiveness of mobile applications for education.  Although the responses aren’t based on formal research, the variety of contributions in the form of blogs, wiki discussions and community discussions is like a consumers report from multiple perspectives.

Recommended Resources

  1. Read 180

Scholastic. (2013). Read 180 Instructional Software [online]. Scholastic.

Read 180 meets many requirements of the ideal software for teenage struggling readers.  It is online, adaptive, and comes with print materials and professional support.  It is working on multiple platforms including ebooks and audiobooks.  

  1. Scientific Learning Reading Assistant software

Scientific Learning Corporation. (2013). Reading Assistant [Online]. Oakland,
CA: Scientific Learning Corporation.

Reading Assistant is for students who are building fluency, comprehension skills and vocabulary.  The software listens to the student read aloud and helps with prompts when difficulty arises.  The program maintains records to monitor progress for the student and teacher.

  1. Reading & Writing Achievement 4.1

Nectar Learn. (2013). Reading and Writing Achievement (Version 4.1) [Computer
software on CD-ROM]. Markham, Canada: SVT Education Services Inc.

Reading & Writing Achievement is designed to improve reading and writing skills of grade 10 students in Ontario who are about to take their mandatory literacy test, or to help improve the skills of students who have been unsuccessful in previous attempts.  It is licensed for all public schools in the province of Ontario through OSAPAC.

  1. Merit Software

Merit Software. (2013). Reading Skill Builder [Online]. New York, NY: Merit Software.

Reading Skill Builder is one choice of many from Merit.  It is designed to target reading in the late elementary levels but with high interest material suitable for teens to adults.  

  1. RAPS 360 – Reading Diagnostic

MindPlay Educational Software for Reading Instruction. (2013). RAPS 360 [Online].

RAPS 360 – Reading Diagnostic software uses a variety of tests to quickly determine a baseline reading level of students.  It can then recommend groupings of students based on commonalities including comprehension and vocabulary.  It can easily print reports, track progress and make recommendations for interventions.  Previous MindPlay products have won numerous awards including those from the Council of Exceptional Children and the International Society for Technology in Education.


Bishop, K. (2013). Selection. In Library and Information Science Text Series: The collection program in schools: Concepts and practices (5th ed., pp. 45-70). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Learning A – Z. (2012). Raz-Kids [Online software]. Tucson, AZ: Learning A – Z.


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