6 Most Successful Research-Based Reading Programs for Struggling Readers

Last Updated on October 16, 2023 by Editorial Team

Reading is a fundamental skill. Every person must be a proficient reader to understand the vast expanse of information available in the world. The beginning of reading skills starts during the early school years to support future educational endeavors. But reading is not something that comes naturally to many children. Several students and adults worldwide struggle with reading efficiently due to poor foundation or learning difficulties. 

For these individuals, reading programs come as a hope for building reading proficiency. These strategically designed programs help students build on these skills through a systematic approach and cover concepts like phonology, sound-symbol relation, morphology, etc., that together build reading fluency and comprehension. 

Although several reading programs are available for emergent and struggling readers, not all are backed by scientific evidence. Without research, one cannot be sure about the effectiveness of a particular reading program. Hence, in this article, we have enlisted some research-based reading programs that are known to help struggling readers develop fluency and proficiency in the English language. 

Powerful research-based reading programs for struggling readers 

1. Reading Horizons

Reading Horizons

Beginner and struggling readers face many challenges as they work their way to build reading proficiency. To help readers overcome these difficulties, Reading Horizons has developed a research- and science-based reading program that meets individual student needs so they can become fluent readers. Its interactive content includes lessons and activities that target areas like fluency, spelling, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. 

Reading Horizons has two separate programs addressing problems students of different grade levels face. The Reading Horizons Discovery program is meant for kindergarten to grade 3 students and concentrates on developing foundational reading skills in these students. It promotes sight recognition, phonological awareness, decoding, and encoding of words so early readers build a strong foundation in reading. 

On the other hand, the Reading Horizons Elevate program helps struggling readers of grade 4 and above. It is designed to fill the gaps in basic decoding skills that older students have trouble with, leading to reading difficulties. Overall, it is a well-designed program aligned with the Structured Literacy approach that helps special needs students and those with reading difficulties become successful and independent readers. 

What research says about Reading Horizons:

A study[1] was conducted to determine the impact of the Reading Horizons program on the reading achievement of third-grade students. It included regular education students and those receiving intervention for reading fluency through special education services.

The data obtained after a year-long study showed significant growth in students’ reading fluency, and researchers inferred that Reading Horizon’s program could indeed help improve the reading proficiency of students in all grade levels. 

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2. Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI)

STARI, or Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention, is a Tier II intervention program designed for readers in grades 6-9 who struggle to read at their grade level and whose reading efficiency is two or more years below what it should be. Adolescents who have a tough time reading struggle to decode complex texts, which slows down their overall educational performance. 

Through STARI, struggling readers can work on their reading skills along with skills necessary for deep comprehension. As reading materials are aligned with student interests, it is easier to engage and motivate them to work on their reading stamina. The program also encourages discussions, partner reading, guided reading, and debates so that students get multiple outlooks on a given text, which helps develop complex reasoning. The recommended time to engage in the STARI program is 45-60 minutes 5 days a week. 

What research says about STARI:

An extensive research study[2] examined if supplemental reading intervention can help struggling readers in middle school. 483 students studying in sixth to eighth grades were included in the study. These students were randomly assigned to a control group and the one receiving STARI as an intervention program.

Data about behavioral engagement and reading engagement was collected through teacher ratings. The study revealed that students receiving STARI outperformed the control group in word recognition, basic reading comprehension, and morphological awareness. And it also reinforced that the behavioral engagement of struggling adolescent readers to reading material helps grow their reading ability. 

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3. Read Naturally

Read Naturally is a reading program that teachers and parents can use in addition to the core curriculum to improve a student’s reading fluency and comprehension. The program has several sub programs which can be used depending on a reader’s current level. Each sub-program focuses on aspects like fluency, phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension. 

These are based on a common strategy to build reading proficiency in young and adult readers. It includes teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring. This strategy has several benefits for developing readers, like enhanced accuracy, better fluency, the ability to decode words, improved vocabulary, and more. As learners go through the material independently at their own pace, they don’t feel the pressure of learning and become better readers with regular engagement. 

What research says about Read Naturally:

Many studies[3] examined the effectiveness of the Read Naturally intervention program. When a researcher reviewed these studies, he found enough evidence to support the use of Read Naturally for struggling readers. One study showcasing strong proof of the effectiveness of Read Naturally was conducted across six schools. 109 third-grade students with low reading performance participated in the study.

The experiential group received a 10-week intervention, 30 minutes daily for five days a week. Several results indicated that students who received the intervention outperformed in areas of accuracy and fluency. In fact, these students showed 39% greater performance in fluency than those in the control group. In addition, other evidence-based studies also indicate that Read Naturally is effective in helping struggling readers get better. 

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4. Wilson Reading System

Wilson Reading System

The Wilson Reading System (WRS) is an established reading program based on the science of reading. This Tier III structured literacy program is meant for struggling readers in grades 2-12. It is also a solid resource for students with learning disabilities, which makes reading a difficult task. 

The program is one of the several Orton-Gillingham-based reading programs and is formulated based on phonological-coding research. It is apt for one-on-one intervention or small student groups with a maximum of four students. Each lesson is divided into three blocks of 30 minutes each, and they recommend that in one week, students complete two full lessons. 

All in all, the Wilson Reading System is an intensive and systematic approach to help students with reading difficulties develop skills necessary for decoding and encoding. Its systematic approach to teaching other elements of the language, like morphology, word elements, vocabulary, and comprehension, directs the student to improved reading fluency. 

What research says about the Wilson Reading System:

A host of studies have confirmed the effectiveness of the Wilson Reading Program for improving reading skills in struggling readers and those with learning disabilities like dyslexia. In one study[4], 51 students from six different schools were involved. All of them were receiving special education, and 62% of them had language impairment or a learning disability. Researchers inferred that WRS helped students achieve significant growth in reading over the course of the study period. 

Another study[5] included 20 fourth and fifth-grade students with reading difficulties. The study went on for two years. Pre and post-intervention reading scores indicated better reading and comprehension skills in the study group. 

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5. Lindamood-Bell Seeing Stars and LiPS program 

Lindamood Bell programs are a bit different from other reading programs. They focus more on developing sensory and cognitive processes that underlie the reading and comprehension process. As reading is a cognitive action, Lindamood Bell programs strengthen sensory-cognitive functions such as phoneme awareness, symbol imagery, and concept imagery that aim at improving a child’s reading abilities. 

Two programs that are of particular interest to struggling readers are the Seeing Stars program and the LiPS program. Seeing Stars focuses on helping readers develop symbol imagery necessary for phonological and orthographic processing while reading. It allows readers to process information quickly and correct themselves immediately, enhancing their fluency. 

The LiPS or Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing program targets the areas of poor reading, spelling, and speech due to weak phonemic awareness in individuals. Such individuals have trouble spelling, word attacks, blending sounds, and understanding the differences between phonemes. Through this program, students work on their phonemic awareness. Readers are taught to identify oral-motor movements associated with different phonemes, which helps them verify various aspects of word sounds and assists in increasing their reading fluency.

What research says about Lindamood programs:

The Seeing Stars program was used for a research study[6] to establish if intensive summer intervention can help struggling readers grow their reading skills. 31 children between 6-12 years of age and having reading difficulties were given 160 hours of intervention during their 8-week summer vacation. Students showed significant growth in their reading skills after the intervention period. 

Another report[7] studied the effectiveness of LiPS in improving the reading proficiency of elementary students. It was found to be effective in building reading comprehension and had mixed results in the alphabetic domain. 

Program Link

6. Barton Reading and Spelling System

Barton Reading and Spelling System

This reading program is suitable for people of all age groups who have a hard time reading and writing. It is also one of the structured literacy approach programs based on the Orton Gillingham methodology. It takes the tutor-student approach to build a student’s reading skills. Tutors are trained at different levels before they can help a student. They receive DVDs, manuals, letter tiles, and manipulatives to conduct the program successfully. 

Students with learning disabilities having difficulties in spelling and sounding out unknown words can particularly benefit from this program. However, there are a few prerequisites, like the student must be able to speak and understand spoken English as a second-grade student, their IQ must be 71 or higher, and they should pass the Barton Student Screening. 

What research says about Barton Reading and Spelling System:

A host of studies[8] have proved the usefulness of the Barton Spelling and Reading System for struggling readers. One such study[9] named “Significant Gains in Reading Made by Students with Dyslexia” was conducted in a Christian School in Pennsylvania. Participating students were first to sixth-grade students.

Each received one-on-one tutoring for three 40-minute sessions every week. Most of them received intervention from 2010 to 2013. Reading tests revealed that students participating in the program showed outstanding growth in reading abilities. Another study[10] also revealed similar results. 

Program Link

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, research-based reading programs have proven invaluable in addressing struggling readers’ needs through targeted, individualized instruction and support. Their approach ensures that instructional methods are backed by rigorous scientific evidence, increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes for struggling readers.

These programs are designed in a way that helps students strengthen their fundamentals of reading and meet their IEP reading goals of reading fluency if they have one in place. By implementing evidence-based strategies, these programs demonstrate positive outcomes in improving reading proficiency and overall academic performance. 


  1. Allee, J. L. (2015). Does Reading Horizons Improve the Reading Fluency of Struggling Readers? Northwest Missouri State University.
  2. Kim, J. S., Hemphill, L., Troyer, M. T., Thomson, J. M., Jones, S. J., LaRusso, M. & Donovan, S. (2016). “Engaging Struggling Adolescent Readers to Improve Reading Skills.” Reading Research Quarterly, DOI: 10.1002/rrq.171
  3. Christ, T. J., & Davie, J. (2009, May 7). Empirical Evaluation of Read Naturally Effects: A Randomized Control Trial (RCT). University of Minnesota.
  4. Duff, David & Stebbins, Molly & Stormont, Melissa & Lembke, Erica & Wilson, David. (2015). Using curriculum-based measurement data to monitor the effectiveness of the Wilson Reading System for students with disabilities: An exploratory study. International Journal on Disability and Human Development. 15. 10.1515/ijdhd-2015-0007.
  5. Stebbins, Molly & Stormont, Melissa & Lembke, Erica & Wilson, David & Clippard, Dana. (2012). Monitoring the Effectiveness of the Wilson Reading System for Students with Disabilities: One District’s Example. Exceptionality. 20. 58-70. 10.1080/09362835.2012.640908. 
  6. Donnelly, P. M., Huber, E., & Yeatman, J. D. (2019). Intensive Summer Intervention Drives Linear Growth of Reading Skill in Struggling Readers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01900
  7. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2015, November). Beginning Reading intervention report: Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® (LiPS®). Retrieved from http://whatworks.ed.gov
  8. Barton. (2022, May 11). The Barton system is . . . | Barton. Barton | Reading & Spelling System Since 1998. https://bartonreading.com/the-barton-system-is/#eve
  9. Dodds, C., & McCarrier, R. Significant Gains in Reading made by students with dyslexia using the Barton Reading & Spelling System at Penn Christian Academy in Butler, Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2013
  10. Campbell, D. R., M.A., CCC-SLP, & Nosbisch, T., M.S., CCC-SLP. (2009, June). Significant Gains Demonstrated in Reading After Utilizing the Barton Reading and Spelling Program

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