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Program Profile: Experience Corps

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on August 31, 2015

Program Summary

A tutoring and mentoring program to improve the literacy outcomes of elementary school-aged children at risk of academic failure. This program is rated Promising. Program participants made significantly greater gains in reading comprehension scores and teacher-assessed reading skills over an academic year, as compared with the control group. However, there were no significant differences in vocabulary and word attack scores from pre- to postintervention.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
Through the Experience Corps (EC) program, community volunteers aged 55 and above tutor and mentor public elementary school children who are at risk of academic failure.
Program Components
The program has two essential components: tutoring and mentoring.
Older adults recruited from the community are trained to provide tutoring to enhance literacy in low-performing elementary school children in grades K–3, while also focusing on building relationships with the children. EC volunteers are trained in using a structured curriculum for the tutoring component, although the curriculum varies from site to site (for more information about the implementation of the program and training of the volunteers, see Implementation Information).
Each EC volunteer is part of a volunteer team assigned to a local elementary school participating in the program. Children at risk of academic failure are referred by their teachers at the beginning of the school year. EC volunteers then meet regularly with the children over the academic year, providing one-to-one tutoring and mentoring.
Program Theory
Most EC programs across the country follow the key elements of a successful reading program outlined by Wasik (1998) that include 1) a designated coordinator who knows about reading instruction, 2) structured tutoring/mentoring sessions, 3) volunteer training, and 4) coordination between the volunteer program and classroom instruction.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Woodcock-Johnson Word Attack (WJ-WA)
Morrow-Howell and colleagues (2009) found no significant difference between the Experience Corps (EC) program group and the control group on WJ-WA scores at posttest.
Woodcock-Johnson Passage Comprehension (WJ-PC)
A significant difference was found between the EC program group and the control group on WJ-PC scores at posttest. The program group showed a net gain of 4.41points in their passage comprehension scores from pre- to postintervention, whereas the control group showed a net gain of 2.46 points. The associated effect size was 0.13, which showed that there was a small impact on the comprehension scores of the EC program group.
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT)
There was no significant difference between the EC program group and the control group on PPVT scores at posttest. 
Grade-Specific Reading Skills
The EC program and control groups differed significantly in teacher-assessed, grade-specific reading skills at posttest. Students in the EC program group were rated by their teachers as having greater grade-specific reading skills postintervention, as compared with those in the control group. The effect size was 0.16, which showed that there was a small impact on the reading skills of the EC program group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Morrow-Howell and colleagues (2009) evaluated the impact of the Experience Corps (EC) program on the reading outcomes of children who participated in the program in three cities: Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.; and Port Arthur, Texas. All eight schools offering the EC program in Port Arthur participated in the evaluation. In New York, there were 16 EC schools, of which 6 participated in the evaluation. In Boston, eight of the nine schools offering the EC program participated in the evaluation.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers in the participating schools referred students in grades 1–3 who needed assistance with reading. After parental consent, each student was randomly assigned by a lottery system to either the program (n=434) or a control group (n=454). The participating students were 51 percent male and 49 percent female. Most students were African American (58 percent), followed by students of Hispanic origin (36 percent), followed by students of other race/ethnicity (6 percent). Close to one quarter of the students had limited English proficiency, and 14 percent had special education needs. The proportion of students across the grades who participated in the program was fairly comparable: 41 percent were in 1st grade, 36 percent were in 2nd grade, and 23 percent were in 3rd grade. All study participants were pretested in the first 2 months of the school year. Posttest data was collected beginning at 1 month before the end of the school year.
The students in the program group were assigned tutors who engaged them in one-to-one tutoring sessions and provided mentoring relationships over the course of a school year. The control group did not participate in the Experience Corps program but were not limited in receiving other available support services.
Standardized reading tests were used to assess various reading skills of the participating children. The tests included the Woodcock-Johnson Word Attack Subscale (WJ-WA), Woodcock-Johnson Passage Comprehension Subscale (WJ-PC), and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III). The standardized reading tests were administered individually during a 30-minute, face-to-face interview session with the children by research staff. In addition, 10 grade-specific reading skills were assessed by the students’ teachers using a task-specific measure developed for the evaluation. 

Independent sample t-tests were conducted to test for baseline equivalency of the program and the control groups on the outcomes. The reading abilities of the two groups at baseline were equivalent. The two groups also did not differ significantly on demographics and other variables such as school absences and classroom behavior. The impact of the EC program on each outcome was estimated by comparing the posttest scores for the EC and the control groups, after controlling for pretest scores on the outcome and other covariates such as gender, ethnicity, grade, program site, and classroom behavior. Further, to account for clustering within classrooms and schools, the Generalized Estimating Equation method was used.
Thirty students from the program group and 29 from the control group dropped out of the study after pretests. This attrition was equally distributed between the groups, and those who completed the posttests did not differ from those who dropped out, in terms of major demographic characteristics. Missing data due to student attrition and incomplete surveys was imputed using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo multiple imputation method. Students whose dates of birth were incorrect or missing at pretest were excluded from the analyses after imputations. Data was analyzed for 430 students in the program group and 451 from the control group. Effect sizes were calculated using Hedges’ g.
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Volunteers received a stipend ranging from $185 (for part time) to $278 (for full time) per month at the three program sites (Boston, New York City, and Port Arthur, Texas) that were evaluated by Morrow-Howell and colleagues (2009).
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Implementation Information

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The Experience Corps (EC) program began in 1995 as a pilot and has grown to engage more than 2,000 volunteer members serving over 22,000 students in 19 cities across the country (
The 2009 evaluation by Morrow-Howell and colleagues focused on the EC program in Boston, New York City, and Port Arthur, Texas. All three sites were similar with regard to implementation of the core elements of the EC program: 1) teachers referred students in need of reading assistance; 2) EC program coordinators took applications, conducted interviews, checked references, and required a criminal background check for all volunteers; 3) volunteers received training ranging from 15 to 32 hours; 4) a one-to-one pullout format was used for sessions in which volunteers worked individually with children in the school both outside and occasionally inside the classroom; 5)  EC participation was tracked via records of attendance and lesson or student progress logs; and 6) EC staff members provided coordination between the volunteers and the classroom teachers.
However, there were some differences in the EC program as implemented in the three cities. For example, New York volunteers provided 45-minute tutoring/mentoring sessions to children 4 times a week, whereas Boston volunteers provided 40-minute sessions 2 times per week on average, and Port Arthur volunteers provided 25- to 45-minute sessions 3 days a week. Also, all volunteers in New York and Port Arthur received a part- or full-time stipend, whereas some volunteers in Boston did not receive a stipend. In addition, the three sites used different curricula for student tutoring. Finally, the EC staff at the three sites differed in their involvement with the volunteers. In New York, one staff member was present and observed volunteers daily. Staff for the other two sites monitored the volunteers 2 or 3 times a month.
In terms of dosage, the average number of tutoring/mentoring sessions received by each student across the three sites was 45. Over 75 percent of students received at least 35 sessions.
Over 97 percent of the teachers (n=127) of participating students saw EC as beneficial to the students, and a majority did not see the program as a burden on teachers. A large majority of the volunteers (82 percent, n=174) reported that their overall relationships with students were good (a rating of 4 or 5 on 5-point scale ranging from poor to excellent).
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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Morrow-Howell and colleagues (2009) also examined subgroup differences in program effects by gender, grade, ethnicity, program site, classroom behavior, being in special education, or limited English proficiency. In general, findings indicated a lack of differences in program effects in association with these factors. However, for children at the New York site, there was a greater positive program effect on word attack scores in comparison with children at the Boston and Port Arthur sites. In addition, benefits of the program for passage comprehension varied based on whether the student was in special education. Specifically, findings indicated that special education students received fewer benefits from the program on this measure in comparison with students not in special education. The evaluation also explored whether there was evidence of differential program effects for EC students who received more adequate dosages of the intervention. Results showed that EC students who had at least 35 sessions scored significantly higher than control group students on three of the four outcome measures. Effect sizes for these outcomes were larger than those found for the full sample. The researchers cautioned, however, that the students who received more sessions may not have been comparable to the control students due to selection bias. Finally, the evaluation explored whether the quality of the volunteer–student relationship, as reported by the volunteers, was associated with reading outcomes. Results showed that a greater reported volunteer–student relationship quality predicted greater gains by EC students on passage comprehension and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test scores. However, the researchers cautioned that students who formed strong relationships with their volunteers may be inclined toward positive relationships with all adults and therefore be better situated to improve their reading abilities for this reason.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Morrow-Howell, Nancy, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Stacey McCrary, YungSoo Lee, and Ed Spitznagel. 2009. Evaluation of Experience Corps: Student Reading Outcomes. Report. Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Gattis, Maurice, Nancy Morrow-Howell, Stacey McCrary, Madeline Lee, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Henrika McCoy, Kemba Tamar, Alina Molina, and Marcia Invernizzi. 2010. “Examining the Effects of New York Experience Corps Program on Young Readers.” Literacy Research and Instruction 49(4): 299–314.

Lee, YungSoo, Nancy Morrow-Howell, Melissa Jonson-Reid, Stacey McCrary, and Ed Spitznagel. 2010. “The effect of the Experience Corps program on student reading outcomes.” Education and Urban Society 44(1): 1-22.

“Our History: AARP Foundation – Experience Corps,” AARP, accessed June 11, 2015.

Wasik, Barbara. 1998. “Volunteer Tutoring Programs in Reading: A Review.” Reading Research Quarterly 33(3): 266–92.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

This practice provides at-risk youth with positive and consistent adult or older peer contact to promote healthy development and functioning by reducing risk factors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing delinquency outcomes; and Promising in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs; improving school attendance, grades, academic achievement test scores, social skills and peer relationships.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Multiple education outcomes
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Psychological functioning
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, Other

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Mentoring

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Nancy Morrow-Howell
Distinguished Professor of Social Work
Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1196, One Brookings Drive
St. Louis MO 63130-4899
Phone: 314.935.6762