Reading and Writing

, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 2223–2246 | Cite as

The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading achievement: a review of the evidence

  • Jennifer P. CheathamEmail author
  • Jill H. Allor


The purpose of this review is to synthesize the existing research on decodability as a text characteristic examining how reading decodable text impacts students’ reading performance and growth. The results are organized into two sections based on the research designs of the studies: (1) studies that described student performance when reading texts of varying decodability levels, and (2) studies that compared the reading performance of students after participation in a treatment that manipulated decodable text as an independent variable. Collectively the results indicate that decodability is a critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy and results in immediate benefits, particularly with regard to accuracy. The studies point to the need for multiple-criteria text with decodability being one key characteristic in ensuring that students develop the alphabetic principle that is necessary for successful reading, rather than text developed based on the single criterion of decodability.


Beginning reading Text factors Beginning texts 


  1. Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, M. J. (2009). Decodable text: Why, when, and how? In E. H. Hiebert & M. Sailors (Eds.), Finding the right texts: What works for beginning and struggling readers (pp. 23–46). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  3. Afflerbach, P., Blachowicz, C. L., Boyd, C. D., Cheyney, W., Juel, C., Kame’enui, E. J., et al. (2008). Scott Foresman reading street. Glenview, IL: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  4. Allington, R. L., & Woodside-Jiron, H. (1998). Decodable text in beginning reading: Are mandates and policy based on research? ERS Spectrum, 16(2), 3–11.Google Scholar
  5. Bereiter, C., Campione, J., Carruther, I., Hirshberg, J., McKeough, A., Pressley, M., et al. (2005). Open court. Columbus, OH: SRA/McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  6. Beverly, B. L., Giles, R. M., & Buck, K. L. (2009). First-grade reading gains following enrichment: Phonics plus decodable texts compared to authentic literature read aloud. Reading Improvement, 46, 191–205.Google Scholar
  7. California English/Language Arts Committee. (2007). English-language arts framework for California public schools: Kindergarten through grade twelve. Sacramento: California Department of Education.Google Scholar
  8. Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  9. Compton, D. L., Appleton, A. C., & Hosp, M. K. (2004). Exploring the relationship between text-leveling systems and reading accuracy and fluency in second-grade students who are average and poor readers. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 19, 176–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ehri, L. C. (1994). Development of the ability to read words. In R. Barr, M. Kanuil, P. Mosenthal, & D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 383–417). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  11. Ehri, L. C. (2005). Learning to read words: Theory, findings, and issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9, 167–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ehri, L. C., & McCormick, S. (1998). Phases of word learning: Implications for instruction with delayed and disabled readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 14, 135–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foorman, B. R., Francis, D. J., Fletcher, J. M., Schatschneider, C., & Mehta, P. (1998). The role of instruction in learning to read: Preventing reading failure in at-risk children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 37–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goodman, Y., Goodman, K., & Martens, P. (2002). Text matters: Readers who learn with decodable texts. In D. L. Schalbert, C. M. Fairbanks, J. Worthy, B. Maloch, & J. V. Hoffman (Eds.), 51st yearbook of the national reading conference (pp. 186–203). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.Google Scholar
  15. Hiebert, E. H. (1999). Text matters in learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 52, 552–566.Google Scholar
  16. Hiebert, E. H. (2005). The effects of text difficulty on second graders’ fluency development. Reading Psychology, 26, 183–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hiebert, E. H., & Fisher, C. W. (2007). Critical word factor in texts for beginning readers. The Journal of Educational Research, 101, 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hoffman, J. V., McCarthey, S. J., Abbott, J., Christian, C., Corman, L., Dressman, M., et al. (1994). So what’s new in the “new” basals? Journal of Reading Behavior, 26, 47–73.Google Scholar
  19. Hoffman, J. V., Roser, N. L., Patterson, E. U., Salas, R., & Pennington, J. (2001). Text leveling and “little books” in first grade reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 33, 507–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 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, 53–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Juel, C., & Roper/Schneider, D. (1985). The influence of basal readers on first grade reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 134–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Leslie, L., & Caldwell, J. (1990). Qualitative reading inventory. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  23. Mathes, P. G., Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., Francis, D. J., & Schatschneider, C. (2005). The effects of theoretically different instruction and student characteristics on the skills of struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 148–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mathes, P. G., & Torgesen, J. K. (2000). A call for equity in reading instruction for all students: A response to Allington and Woodside-Jiron. Educational Researcher, 29(6), 4–14.Google Scholar
  25. Menon, S., & Hiebert, E. H. (1999). Literature anthologies: The task for first grade readers (Report No. CIERA-R-1–009). Ann Arbor, MI: Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement. (ERIC Documentation Service No. ED436754.).Google Scholar
  26. Mesmer, H. A. E. (2001). Decodable text: A review of what we know. Reading Research and Instruction, 40, 121–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mesmer, H. A. E. (2005). Text decodability and the first-grade reader. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 21, 61–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mesmer, H. A. E. (2010). Textual scaffolds for developing fluency in beginning readers: Accuracy and reading rate in qualitatively leveled and decodable text. Literacy Research and Instruction, 49, 20–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the national reading panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00–4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  30. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (2002). Pub. L. No. 107–110, 115 Stat. 1425.Google Scholar
  31. Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  32. Texas Education Agency. (2008). Texas essential knowledge and skills. Retrieved on July 8 2009 from
  33. Zeno, S. M., Ivens, S. H., Millard, R. T., & Duvvuri, R. (1995). The educator’s word frequency guide. New York: Touchstone Applied Science.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching and Learning, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human DevelopmentSouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA

Personalised recommendations