Are Decodeable Texts Evidence-Based?
I recently stumbled across a debate on whether or not decodable texts are an evidence based practice. I went to research the topic and located two literature reviews on the topic, one by Cheatham and Allor in 2012, one in 2000 by Mesmer et al. Both studies concluded that there was little to no evidence that decodable texts increase learning. I was dissatisfied with these studies because they included studies that did not include the word “decodable” in them and because they did not include the statistical data from all current studies on the topic. So I decided to do my own meta-analysis on the topic. I was able to locate 6 relevant studies, which can be found in the below chart.
Most of these studies showed statistically insignificant results. However, the Price et al study showed extremely negative results for decodable texts. This is particularly concerning because the study was an RCT study and had a substantial sample size. On the other hand the Jenkins Et al study was clearly the best study (being an RCT design with a sample size over 900) and had completely statistically irrelevant results. The best results were found in the Felton et al study, however, this study was 2 years long (which is absurdly long) and still only had an effect size of .36.
With a mean ES of -.01, and a mean ES corrected for outliers of .09, I think it is more than fair to say that there is little to no evidence at this point that decodable reading materials increase learning.
Felton, R. H. (1993). Effects of instruction on the decoding skills of children with phonological-processing problems. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26(9), 583-589.
Hiebert, E. (2017). The texts of literacy instruction: Obstacles to or opportunities for educational equity? Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, 66, 117-134.
Hiebert, E., & Fisher, C. (2016). A comparison of the effects of two phonetically regular text types on young English learners’ literacy. TextProject Reading Research Report, 16-01.
Hoffman, J. V., Roser, N. L., Salas, R., Patterson, E., & Pennington, J. (2001). Text leveling and “little books” in first-grade reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 33(3), 507-528.
Jenkins, J. R., Peyton, J. A., Sanders, E. A., & Vadasy, P. F. (2004). Effects of reading decodable texts in supplemental first-grade tutoring. Scientific Studies of Reading, 8(1), 53-85.
Juel, C., & Roper, D. (1985). The influence of basal readers on first grade reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 134-152.
Mesmer, H. A. E. (2000). Decodable text: A review of what we know. Literacy Research and Instruction, 40(2), 121-141.
Price-Mohr, R., & Price, C. (2019). A Comparison of Children Aged 4–5 Years Learning to Read Through Instructional Texts Containing Either a High or a Low Proportion of Phonically-Decodable Words. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-9.
J, Hattie. (2021). Visible Learning Metax. Retrieved from <www.visiblelearningmetax.com>.