My son is nine years old and has been diagnosed dyslexic. We live in Michigan where the schools do not recognize dyslexia and instead lump all kids together and use the same reading program for all. The program his current school district uses is Reading Mastery. My son is pulled out of class five days a week for 40 minutes to be taught by the resource room teacher with a group of three other kids. Ten minutes per day is spent doing sight words using a method called “incremental rehearsal.” I have been reassured that this is a “research-based” program, but I am unsure of its effectiveness for dyslexia. I am finding mixed information on the internet.

I started doing the Barton program over the summer with my son, which he has had a lot of success with, but now is getting confused with what he is doing at school. I am tempted to stop the intervention at school and just use Barton at home with him, but I am looking for information on whether Reading Mastery is effective for dyslexic students. I hate to turn down help from the school. I imagine I will get a bit of guff if I deny what they are offering, so I am looking for confirmation that Reading Mastery is or is not effective for dyslexic students.

I don’t want to waste my son’s time with a program that doesn’t work and is only confusing him in the long run. Any help you could give me in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your help.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

Here is a piece that I wrote about the state of dyslexia in the MI public schools (I am in Ann Arbor). I wrote this a couple of years ago, but things have not changed much.

I can see why your son is confused. I do not see anything on the Reading Mastery website that indicates that the program utilizes the tenets of "structured literacy," the approach for teaching dyslexics according to the International Dyslexia Association.

Nor do I see -- and this is important -- that the program has been tested through valid research methods.. All of the "research" on the website is self-generated. When we talk about research-based, we mean that which has undergone a valid research study. The results are then reviewed by other experts who have knowledge of the field of inquiry for publication in credible journals, what is termed “peer-reviewed” journals.

What also got my attention was the talk of "font" -- this is not what a dyslexic needs. He needs structured literacy instruction -- helping him make the connections that words are made up of sounds and then how sounds are represented by letters and letter combinations. That's just for starters. When someone talks about 'font' as a type of intervention, it makes me think that they do not understand what dyslexia is -- it is a language-based learning disability, NOT a visual one.

Susan Barton's program is undergirded in the tenets of structured literacy (the Orton-Gillingham approach that Barton uses is a structured literacy approach).

Good for you to question what is going on with him based on your experience with his success with Barton. Let me know if I can help you think through any more of this.