In 2020, 49 states across the U.S. have approved laws for addressing dyslexia, a learning disability that affects students’ ability to read and spell words, in K-12 education.
These new laws – often enacted after parent advocacy groups asked legislators to codify dyslexia support – require educators to provide reading intervention to students with word-level reading disabilities. Many states mandate the teacher training and implementation of the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach to reading intervention.
The OG approach was first used in the early 1900s and is designed to help students with dyslexia. OG provides direct, explicit, structured and sequential instruction in word reading. OG is also known for being multi-sensory, meaning that teachers use a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile activities simultaneously.
However, researchers in the early 2000s conducted a review of this intervention method and found little evidence to support its use.
Because OG is increasingly mandated in legislation and widely implemented across the U.S., Assistant Professor Elizabeth Stevens and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Utah recently extended the prior review of OG interventions to learn whether current research supports the use of this method for students with dyslexia.
The research team conducted a thorough search of published and unpublished (e.g., dissertations) studies examining the effects of OG interventions on the reading outcomes of students with word-level reading disabilities (WLRD) in kindergarten through 12th grade. After narrowing the field to 16 studies that met the criteria, they systematically analyzed each study for quality indicators and reading outcomes.
Their findings, published in Exceptional Children, echoed the recommendation from the early-2000s: “Despite the continued widespread acceptance, use and support for OG instruction, there is little evidence to date that these interventions significantly improve reading outcomes for students with or at risk for WLRD,” the researchers wrote.
Stevens and her colleagues recommend further high-quality research comparing the OG approach to other word reading intervention programs, including how well these interventions work for different grade levels.
“Because Orton-Gillingham interventions are firmly entrenched in policy and practice with limited evidence supporting their use, we hope that this meta-analysis propels researchers to conduct additional high-quality research to provide the evidence necessary to inform policies and practices for students with word-level reading difficulties,” they wrote.
About the Researcher
Department of Learning Sciences
Elizabeth Stevens is an assistant professor in the Department of Learning Sciences and affiliate faculty with Georgia State University’s Center for Research on the Challenges of Acquiring Language and Literacy. Her research focuses on improving academic outcomes for students with learning disabilities and learning difficulties. She is particularly interested in developing and testing reading interventions, including examining the effects of aligning Tier 1 instruction and Tier 2 intervention. Before joining the faculty at Georgia State, Stevens was a research assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directed several randomized control trials examining effective interventions to improve the literacy outcomes of students with reading difficulties and disabilities. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked as a special education teacher for nine years. Stevens has published in high impact, peer-reviewed journals, such as Exceptional Children, Scientific Studies of Reading, Journal of Learning Disabilities and Remedial and Special Education. She also provides professional development to teachers across the U.S. She was the 2020 recipient of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading’s Rebecca L. Sandak Young Investigator Award.
Stevens, E. A., Austin, C., Moore, C., Scammacca, N., Boucher, A. N., and Vaughn, S. “Current State of the Evidence: Examining the Effects of Orton-Gillingham Reading Interventions for Students With or at Risk for Word-Level Reading Disabilities.” Exceptional Children, 87(4): 397-417. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402921993406.