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Reading Mastery

Reading Mastery is a Direct Instruction program published by McGrawhill. The program is for K-5 students. Its website claims that it uses explicit instruction and fast pacing to teach phonemic awareness, then phonics, then fluency and comprehension. The program parent company, Direct Instruction, also made the program Spelling Mastery, which in a previous review, I found to have high research outcomes. For this reason I was excited to review the program. 


In order to properly determine the efficacy of a pedagogical program or concept, we should use a peer reviewed meta-analysis. There is a meta-analysis on Reading Mastery. However, I have some concerns with the meta-analysis. The meta-analysis was published in a journal devoted to the Direct Instruction company. The meta-analysis, included older versions of the program going back to the 60’s as well as other Direct Instruction programs, but does not break the meta-analysis down according to program. They did find a mean effect size of 1, which is very impressive. However, they don’t say which studies had which effect size nor do they break down the effect sizes by program, nor do they state whether or not all studies had control groups. I therefore, really don’t know what that effect size means.

What Work’s Clearing House (WWC) identified one study that met their inclusion criteria, by Yu, Et al, written in 2000. The study was a quasi experimental study looking at 361, grade 4 students. I also identified two other studies one by Connor, Et al in 1993 and one by Jean Stockard in 2003. I conducted searches on the company website, Google, Education Source, and Scholars Portal. All studies except for the Connor study, had already calculated effect sizes. For the Connor study I calculated an effect size using Cohen's d. WWC and the DI meta-anlaysis identified dozens of studies, which was far more than I found. The program also apparently used to go by the name DISTAR Reading and many of the studies, in the meta-analysis were on the DISTAR program. However, as the DI company stated there were many changes in the Reading Mastery program from the Distar program, I excluded all Distar studies. 


Connor, Et al conducted a RCT study. It included 81 students, with special education exceptionalities. The study was 4 years long and followed the same group of students from Kindergarten to grade 3. The Jean Stockard study was a 3 years long quasi experimental study, and included 104 K-3 students. I have synthesised the results of the three studies Identified into two graphs below. 

Much to my surprise the Reading Mastery program, unlike the Direct Instruction program, results looked very poor. The program includes all essential types of instruction, is explicit, systematic, and scaffolds in a logical order. At first glance, it is hard to offer a meaningful explanation as to why the results are so low. However, when I looked at the scope and sequence, there was a ton of comprehension work right from the start. And I wonder if the program’s strong emphasis on comprehension, so early on, takes away from its more foundational instruction. 


Final Grade: B-

Most of the program principles appear evidence based; however, we found a mean effect size below .30. 

Qualitative Grade: 10/10

The program includes the following essential evidence-based types of instruction: Direct, Scaffolded, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Spelling, Vocabulary, Morphology, and Comprehension. 


Written by Nathaniel Hansford

Last Edited 2022-07-24


C, Schieffer. (2002). An Analysis of the Reading Mastery Program: Effective Components and Research Review. Journal of Direct Instruction. Volume 2: Issue 2. Retrieved from <>. 


Yu, L., & Rachor, R. (2000, April). The two-year evaluation of the three-year Direct Instruction program, in an urban public school system. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.


O'Connor, R. E., Jenkins, J. R., Cole, K. N., & Mills, P. E. (1993). Two approaches to reading instruction with children with disabilities: does program design make a difference?. Exceptional children, 59(4), 312–323.


The Development of Early Academic Success: The Impact of Direct Instruction’s Reading Mastery. (2010). Journal of Behavior Assessment & Intervention in Children, 1(1), 2–24.

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