Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) Program

Updated: Feb 09, 2018
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    A volunteer tutoring program for at-risk readers in early elementary school.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 127 first-graders at risk of reading failure from six elementary schools in a diverse range of communities in Oregon.

  • Key Findings:

    Sizable positive impacts on students’ reading ability over a two-year follow-up period.

  • Other:

    Limitations in the evidence include the fact that this was a small RCT conducted in a single state, and the effect on the most important reading measure – comprehension – approached but did not reach statistical significance. A replication RCT in another jurisdiction would be valuable to hopefully confirm these positive findings and establish whether they generalize to other sites.

Developed in 1992 in Oregon, SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) recruits community volunteers to tutor low-performing K-2 students in reading. The program operates statewide, serving approximately 11,000 students in 260 elementary schools each year. The Oregon business community provides significant financial assistance to the program, and many of the volunteer tutors are recruited from the business community.

Volunteers receive minimal training (1-2 hour orientation and introduction to reading strategies), and are encouraged to use their own judgment when tutoring. The program also provides volunteers with a handbook describing four reading strategies a volunteer can use with the student: (i) reading to the student; (ii) reading along with the student; (iii) reading a passage and having the student re-read it; and (iv) asking the child questions during reading.

Teachers identify students at-risk of reading failure to participate in the program. These students attend 30-minute sessions twice a week during school hours, and can take home two books per month to build a home library.

Each school has a part-time SMART coordinator with no formal training in elementary reading instruction who manages the logistics of the program. In the version of SMART that was rigorously evaluated, each student participated in tutoring for six months in both first and second (but not third) grade.

The program, which has primarily been paid for by donations, costs $400 per child per year (2017 dollars), making it a very low-cost program. Click here for the SMART website.

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Baker, Scott, Russell Gersten and Thomas Keating. When less may be more: A 2-year longitudinal evaluation of a volunteer tutoring program requiring minimal training. Reading Research Quarterly, Volume 35, Number 4; Oct-Dec. 2000.