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Doing Your Homework:
Why Use Research Based Reading Programs?
by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw


Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


"I have three questions about research based reading programs according to NCLB and IDEA 2004. I want to make sure I am clear about reading programs."

Question #1

According to IDEA and NCLB, is it true that Reading Specialists are supposed to be using a research based program with all of their special education students?

Sue's Answer

Yes. Forget the terms and look at the reasoning.

What reasons can there be to use a program that is not based on research?

There needs to be a reason for the action taken. If a program is not chosen because there is evidence or proof or research that it is effective, then look to see why a program that is not research based was chosen.

Alternative reasons could be:
  • This is a one-size-fits-all program that the school team hopes will work.
  • This is the cheapest program the school could find.
  • This is the only program that school staff have been trained to use.
  • This is the program that the school has the most workbooks for.
  • This is the way tenured teachers like to teach.
  • This is the program the school board chair, an engineer, likes best.
  • This is not really a reading program at all, but they guess it will do the job.
Question #2

"Are the regular classroom teachers supposed to be using a research based reading program with the general education population according to NCLB?"

Sue's Answer


In a general education classroom that does not use Title I money, there is nothing in NCLB to stop the teacher from using a program that has no research base or evidence of effectiveness.

But why would the school or the public allow it?

Poor practice should be abandoned because it is poor practice, not only when it is illegal. For a more complete explanation, read Do Legal Definitions in NCLB Apply to General Ed Programs?

Whether a particular school or school district must meet all standards in NCLB depends on which NCLB grants the school or district receives. However, I cannot imagine that informed taxpayers would ask their school board to provide an education that does not meet national and state minimum standards.

Question #3

"Can you tell me where I can find a list of Research Based Reading Programs and a list of assessments?"

Sue's Answer

Some research based programs are appropriate for general ed classrooms and some are appropriate for both classroom and remediation. Read a little about different programs to find out which are appropriate in each setting.

Reading Programs (Reports are no longer available) and Assessments from the Florida Center for Reading Research.

Learn about the important characteristics of effective reading programs that are aligned with current research and the purpose, content, and process of FCRR Reports. Guidelines to Review Comprehensive Core Reading Programs.

Dyslexia Materials from Educator's Publishing Service.

Importance of Teacher Training

To my knowledge, no research has ever shown any program to be effective when:

  • the teacher was not trained in the program
  • the teacher did not use the program as it was intended to be used or,
  • with the group for whom it was designed to be used.

Progress Monitoring Assessments

These assessments are chosen because they can show growth over short periods of time. Other assessments may not be sensitive enough to do that for all the components of reading. Just looking at fluency or comprehension is not enough.

According to the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring, "Progress monitoring is a scientifically based practice that is used to assess students academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring can be implemented with individual students or an entire class."

Review of Progress Monitoring Tools from the National Center on Response to Intervention.

Search for all types of assessments by name from the Buros Institute of Mental Measurements

Look at test descriptions to see what they look at and the age ranges to be tested.

Good Luck,

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

Revised: 12/12/11
Created: 11/23/07


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