A Synthesis of Research on Effective Interventions for Building Reading Fluency with Elementary Students with Learning Disabilities

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 30 describes the following:

Title | A Synthesis of Research on Effective Interventions for Building Reading Fluency with Elementary Students with Learning Disabilities

Author | Chard, D.J., Vaughn, S., & Tyler, B-J.

Source Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35(5), 386-406.

Year Published | 2002

A synthesis of research on interventions designed to build reading fluency in students with learning disabilities identified 24 studies on various interventions. Results suggested that effective interventions include explicit models of reading fluency, multiple opportunities to read familiar text repeatedly, independently, and with corrective feedback, and use of established performance criteria for increasing text difficulty.

At the request of Congress, a national panel of experts in the field of reading was created in 1997, known as the National Reading Panel (NRP). The NRP held public hearings to help decide what topics would be addressed in its report to Congress on the state of reading research and instruction. Each of these topics was addressed by a subgroup of the NRP and became a chapter in the final NRP report. One chapter focused on reading fluency. Reading fluency requires well-developed word recognition skills, but such skills alone do not equal fluency. Fluency includes the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.

The NRP examined research on fluency programs which used guided repeated oral reading practice. Repeated oral reading practice techniques include repeated reading, neurological impress, radio reading, paired reading, assisted reading, and a variety of similar programs aimed at developing fluent reading habits. Recent approaches to guided repeated oral reading require students to read and reread a text until they reach some level of proficiency and often include carefully designed feedback on performance. Instruction of this sort can be achieved by enlisting the use of tutors, working one-to-one with students, using audiotapes, or assigning students to peer groups.

The NRP concluded that guided repeated oral reading procedures are effective in improving reading fluency and overall reading achievement, and that this method of instruction also has a consistent and positive impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension as measured by various tests at a range of grade levels. However, the NRP examined fluency research in general, not research focused specifically on children with reading disabilities. This meta-analysis builds on the NRP fluency report by synthesizing the research on the effectiveness of fluency interventions specifically designed for students with learning disabilities.

Research Questions

  1. How effective are fluency interventions for improving the reading abilities of students with LD?
  2. Is repeated reading more effective with or without a model?
  3. What are the effects of repeated reading and word practice techiniques on reading speed and accuracy? Is one method more effective than the other?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 24
  • Number of Subjects | 351
  • Years Spanned | 1979-2000

Research Subjects
Elementary school students with learning disabilities taking part in reading fluency interventions.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Elementary school students.

Specified Disability
Learning Disabilities (LD)

Reading fluency interventions including repeated reading, repeated reading with an adult or peer model reading first, word practice interventions, or repeated reading combined with several other instructional methods.

Duration of Intervention
Interventions lasted anywhere from a single session to multiple sessions over a number of weeks. The longest multiple session intervention in this meta-analysis lasted a combined total of 1,350 minutes.


  1. Students with LD who repeatedly read text between two and seven times scored significantly higher on measures of fluency.
  2. Repeated reading with an adult model was a more effective method of improving fluency for students with LD than repeated reading after listening to a proficient peer, audiotape, or computer.
  3. Repeated reading with a model also appears to have a positive impact on comprehension.
  4. Another fluency intervention studied was chunking words or phrases to control how much text was presented to a student at a time. Students who practiced repeated reading of words presented 3-5 words at a time performed as well as students who practiced repeated reading without chunking words on measures of fluency and significantly higher on measures of accuracy.

Combined Effects Size

  1. Repeated reading as a method of improving reading fluency in children with LD had an average effect size of d = 0.68.
  2. When repeated reading was used as one of several instructional features the mean effect size for measures of fluency was d = 0.71.
  3. Students with LD who listened to a proficent adult model read a passage before they read it showed average effect sizes of 0.46 for reading accuracy and 0.34 for comprehension. However, modeling by a more proficent peer had negliable effect size of 0.17.

Fluency is an important component of good reading. Without fluency it is difficult to comprehend what one reads. Many students with LD score low on measures of fluency because they struggle to read sight words and decode new words. They get stuck at the point of trying to figure out each word, and their difficulty with reading fluency impacts their reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension. Of the interventions developed to help students with LD improve their reading fluency, the most thoroughly researched is repeated reading.

This meta-analysis found that repeated reading practice is an effective way to help students with LD improve their reading fluency. Students show significant improvements in reading fluency after repeated reading whether they practiced reading the passage themselves or listened to an adult model’s fluent reading of the passage first. However, students who listened to a proficient adult reader first scored slightly higher on comprehension measures. Since it may be unrealistic for many classroom teachers to provide an adult model for every student with LD who might benefit from repeated reading, the authors suggest that teachers use audio recordings of adult readers or computer-based models as a substitute. The authors also suggest because of the strong interplay between fluency and comprehension with a student’s ability in one boosting their scores in the other, that teachers structure reading lessons to incorporate both fluency and comprehension exercises.

Despite being the most researched fluency intervention there are still many questions which be helpful to address in future research, including the following provided by the authors:

  1. What aspects of guided oral reading are associated with positive fluency outcomes, and do they differ based on a students reading level or decoding ability?
  2. When students are reading, at what level is repeated reading associated with the greatest gains in fluency or comprehension?
  3. We have seen that reading fluency instruction improves students’ comprehension; does comprehension instruction also improve students’ fluency?
  4. How much text should be included in repeated reading to influence fluency most effectively?
  5. What is the best way to increase comprehension for students who are unlikely to ever gain automaticity due to severe disabilities?
  6. Are the effects of fluency-building activities sustainable?


*Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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