Wilson Overview: Wilson offers Structured Literacy phonics programs, based on the principles of Orton Gillingham. Wilson offers both intervention instruction and core instruction (Fundations) programs. According to the Wilson website, the programs include multi-sensory instruction in: print concepts, letter formation, phonological and phonemic awareness, sound mastery, phonics, word study, and advanced word study, high frequency words, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension strategies, handwriting, and spelling. Many view the Wilson Fundations program as the gold standard for science informed instruction.
In order to assess the efficacy of Wilson instruction, I conducted a systematic search for studies on the topic. Searches were conducted on Google, the Wilson website, and the Education Source database. Effect sizes were then calculated for the program. For studies with a sample size over 50, Cohen’s d was used. For Studies with a sample size below 50, Hedge’s g was used. Study effect sizes were also re-calculated by a second author to ensure reliability. In the event that the original study authors calculated their own effect sizes, these effect sizes were taken at face value. Once a mean effect size was calculated, a second mean effect size was calculated by weighting each study according to its sample size. This meant that studies with higher sample sizes were given greater proportionality within the mean.
To the best of my knowledge, there are 5 studies done on Wison programming that have control groups. One by Reuter, Et al, in 2006, one by Torgesen, Et al, in 2007, one by Wanzek Et al in 2012, one in Oglesbee 2014, and one by Fritts Et al, in 2016. Of these 4 studies I had access to all of them except the Reuter study, which is not in any of the journals I have subscriptions to. Of these studies, I conducted a very small meta-analysis.
The unweighted mean effect size for Wilson was .26 [-.05, .57]. The weighted mean effect size was .31 [-.51, 1.13]. These synthesized results are low and suggest the efficacy of Wilson, might be low. That said, these studies are not all of equal quality. According to ESSA guidelines, Oglesbee 2014 and Wanzek would be tier 3, Fritts 2016 would be tier 2, and Torgesen 2007 would be tier 1. The Torgersen 2007 study is by far the highest quality study and it showed a mean effect size of .36, which according to Cohen’s guide is low, but tier 1 studies normally show much lower results. For a tier 1 study the Torgesen 2007 results are moderately impressive.
While the mean results are low, it should be noted that most effect sizes were moderate to high, with the exception of distal measures, fluency, and nonsense word outcomes. If we remove distal measures, fluency and nonsense word outcomes, the mean effect size jumps to .43, which is right around the average for phonics instruction. This might suggest that Wilson lacks sufficient fluency instruction and could be substantially improved by substituting additional fluency instruction.
It should be noted that while the mean results for Wilson were low, the principles behind Wilson instruction are sound. Indeed there are multiple meta-analyses showing that comprehensive phonics instruction shows impressive results, including the 2001 NRP meta-analysis.
Final Grade: B
The program principles are well rooted in research. A mean weighted effect size of .31 was found.
Qualitative Grade: 9/10
The Wilson program includes the following evidence-based forms of instruction: Explicit, individualized, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and spelling.
Disclaimer: Please note that this review is not peer reviewed content. These reviews are independently conducted. Pedagogy Non Grata, does not take profit from conducting any program review found on this website.
Nathaniel Hansford: teacher and lead writer for Pedagogy Non Grata
Joshua King: teacher
Last Edited 2023-01-16
Elleman, A.M., Lindo, E.J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D.L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/1934574080 2539200
Ehri, Linnea C., et al. “Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's Meta-Analysis.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 71, no. 3, 2001, pp. 393–447.
Feng, L., Lindner, A., Ji, X. R., & Malatesha Joshi, R. (2019). The roles of handwriting and keyboarding in writing: a meta-analytic review. Reading & Writing, 32(1), 33–63. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lakeheadu.ca/10.1007/s11145-017-9749-x
"Heidi K. Oglesbee. (2014). DOES EMPLOYING THE WILSON’S FUNDATIONS PROGRAM IMPACT THE READING
GROWTH OF FIRST GRADE STUDENTS. Masters Thesis. College of Bowling Green
State University. Retrieved from <https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=bgsu1398712529&disposition=inline&fbclid=IwAR2-IlwYz2bYzdyjWRXYxN7bkSrgSWii6MdbHyEb0RRZMdaiEgBQt6OGJNU>. "
Fritts, J. L. (2016). Direct instruction and Orton-Gillingham reading methodologies:
Effectiveness of increasing reading achievement of elementary school students with learning
disabilities (Publication No. 10168236) [Master’s thesis, Northeastern University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Reuter, H. B. (2006). Phonological awareness instruction for middle school students with disabilities:
A scripted multisensory intervention (Publication No. 3251867) [Master’s thesis,University of Oregon]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Torgesen, J., Schirm, A., Castner, L., Vartivarian, S., Mansfield, W., Myers, D., Stancavage,
F., Durno, D., Javorsky, R., & Haan, C. (2007). National assessment of Title I: Final
report. Volume II. Closing the reading gap: Findings from a randomized trial of four reading
interventions for striving readers (NCEE 2008-4013). National Center for Education
Evaluation and Regional Assistance. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pdf/20084013.pdf
Wanzek, J., & Roberts, G. (2012). Reading interventions with varying instructional emphases
for fourth graders with reading difficulties. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(2), 90–101.