Can a Reading Program Guarantee Success?

The other day, I posted a picture of my Wilson certification and a few lines encouraging pawilsonreading-2rents to contact me if their child is a struggling reader or writer.  A member of the group responded with this comment:

“I am asking the question I ask of all trained/certified instructors of reading approaches such as OG, Barton and Wilson, so please don’t be offended. Can you please share with us what independently conducted research–not post hoc or surveys, or studies–but matched subject samples by demographics of test subjects and control subjects that shows the program’s efficacy in short and long term gains and in what areas those were observed and if whether the research was conducted in school settings or a controlled setting. I know I am asking a lot, but this kind of research is essential in selecting an appropriate intervention and knowing that it can be replicated in a school setting or if progress can only be accomplished in a specialized environment. Thank you for your time and reply.”

I am sharing this with you because I feel these are valid questions that many others might be asking.  Are scientifically research-based reading programs able to guarantee success for all?  Absolutely not!  But it is crucial to use evidence-based teaching strategies and practices if we are going to help children with language-based learning difficulties succeed.  Below are other factors which must be considered:

  • Expertise of the Teacher – Is the teacher properly trained to execute the program? Does the teacher “buy-in” to the program or is the program being forced on the teacher?  Does the teacher have enough knowledge about how to gauge progress and understand how to individualize without destroying the program’s effectiveness?  Does the program require training and certification to be able to use it effectively or can anyone pick up a manual and begin teaching?
  • Setting – Is the program’s research conducted in a classroom environment or is it controlled? Is the research showing success for small group or one-on-one instruction?  Can it be used with the same effectiveness in any setting?
  • Demographics – Is there a cross section of children in the research study? Are children from the inner-city, suburbs, or rural parts of the country?  Is English their first language?  Do they receive free lunch?  Are they mostly Caucasians or African Americans?  Did their parents complete high school or are they highly educated?
  • Time – How often will the child receive services? How long will the sessions be?  Is the intervention given enough time during the week to see the expected progress?  Is the program being watered down so that there is a “balance” in a school’s balanced literacy curriculum?

Vendors will claim that their programs work and present data supporting these claims; however, all factors need to be taken into consideration.  Rarely do administrators take the time to visit schools that have the same demographics to see if the program they would like to purchase is working. Rarely do schools pilot a program before adopting it for the whole school.  Usually, a consultant for the program is hired to help with the implementation and the most important factor, the teacher, is overlooked.  Even if a school district does its own research to explore the evidence-based program, and, in fact, the program has been peer-reviewed and demonstrates gains, it does not always account for how the program will be implemented and by whom. Demographics and group size are not always clearly stated.

Parents can fight for “systematic, structured, sequential, repetitive, phonologically-based” programs and sadly not see the results that they had hoped for.  Programs do not teach, teachers do.

Faith Borkowsky, Owner and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.

High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island. Read about what we can offer you and your child: http://highfiveliteracy.com.

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