No Silver Bullet for Dyslexia (Including Orton-Gillingham)

One element of the “science of reading” movement that has received a great deal of media coverage and policy updates across the U.S. is the perennial concern for dyslexia.

While dyslexia debates have often been included in reading crises and reading wars over the past century (see the overview in this policy brief), the current advocacy around dyslexia often exaggerates the impact of dyslexia and oversimplifies how students identified with dyslexia can best be served in classrooms.

As Jill Barshay reports,

In 2019, a grassroots campaign led by parents succeeded in passing a wave of dyslexia legislation. Many states mandated hallmarks of the Orton-Gillingham method, specifically calling for “multisensory” instruction, to help students with dyslexia read and write better.*  In New York, where I live, the city spends upwards of $300 million a year in taxpayer funds on private school tuition for children with disabilities. Much of it goes to pay for private schools that specialize in Orton-Gillingham instruction and similar approaches, which families insist are necessary to teach their children with dyslexia to read.

PROOF POINTS: Leading dyslexia treatment isn’t a magic bullet, studies find, while other options show promise

While O-G is extremely popular with parents and is now a dominant approach in practice and policy, “[t]he researchers in both the 2021 and 2022 studies all cautioned that the jury is still out on Orton-Gillingham,” Barshay explains because research (the “science”) simply does not show multi-sensory approaches such as O-G are more effective, including:

The larger 2022 analysis of 53 reading interventions had a higher bar for study quality and only one Orton-Gillingham study made the cut. Several of the reading interventions that marketed themselves as “multisensory” also made the cut, but the researchers didn’t detect any extra benefits from them. 

“They weren’t more effective than the ones that didn’t market themselves as multisensory,” said Hall. 

PROOF POINTS: Leading dyslexia treatment isn’t a magic bullet, studies find, while other options show promise

As with all reading science and research on how students learn to read and how best to teach reading, the science on dyslexia is not simple and certainly is not settled.


Recommended on Dyslexia

Allington, R.L. (2019, Fall). The hidden push for phonics legislation. Tennessee Literacy Journal, 1(1), 7-20.

Johnston, P., & Scanlon, D. (2021). An examination of dyslexia research and instruction with policy implications. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice70(1), 107. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1177/23813377211024625

International Literacy Association. (2016). Research advisory: Dyslexia. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-dyslexia-research-advisory.pdf

[UPDATE]

Hall, C., et al. (2022, September 13). Forty years of reading intervention research for elementary students with or at risk for dyslexia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.477

Stevens, E. A., Austin, C., Moore, C., Scammacca, N., Boucher, A. N., & Vaughn, S. (2021). 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 Children87(4), 397–417. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402921993406

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