Reading Program Ineffective for Students With Learning Disabilities

By Nirvi Shah — July 26, 2012 1 min read
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A new report from the What Works Clearinghouse questions the effectiveness of a longstanding, widely used reading program, developed by McGraw-Hill, for students with learning disabilities.

In a report this month, the WWC found that there is evidence that Reading Mastery has “no discernible effects on reading comprehension and potentially negative effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and writing for students with learning disabilities.”

Looking at the 17 studies about about Reading Mastery Classic and Reading Mastery Signature, specifically for students with learning disabilities, the WWC found two of them met its research standards.

Reading Mastery is used in all 50 states and internationally, and more than 6,500 schools across the country use Reading Mastery Signature, McGraw-Hill said. The cost per student, the WWC said, during the first year of implementation ranges from $200 to $300 and pays for materials including storybooks, textbooks, workbooks and textbooks. Buying a full set of teaching materials costs between $650 and $1,000 per grade level.

The research in these studies included 113 students with learning disabilities in 2nd through 5th grades from schools in the southeast. In a typical Reading Mastery lesson, there are seven to nine short activities that address skills such as phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondence, sounding out words, word recognition, vocabulary, oral reading fluency, and comprehension. Teachers get scripted lessons to keep students on task, and students who struggle get remedial lessons.

McGraw-Hill cited other research that it says supports its confidence in Reading Mastery’s effectiveness.

“For more than 40 years, Reading Mastery has supported the development of struggling readers in grades preK-5 through Direct Instruction,” McGraw-Hill spokesman Brian Belardi said. “The vast majority of anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that Reading Mastery has a positive, meaningful impact on improving student learning.”

UPDATE: Thanks to eagle-eyed reader RG Innes who, in the comments below, points out that WWC had found Reading Mastery effective for English-language learners. So does the program work well for one group of students, but not the other?

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.