April 2022: Effects of Foundational Skills and Multicomponent Reading Interventions on Reading Comprehension for Primary-Grade Students

Denton, C. A., Hall, C., Cho, E., Cannon, G., Scammacca, N., & Wanzek, J. (2022, January). A meta-analysis of the effects of foundation skills and multicomponent reading interventions on reading comprehension for primary-grade students. Learning and Individual Differences93, Article 102062. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2021.102062

Summary by Na Young Yoon

Overview and Research Purpose

The simple view of reading is that reading comprehension is a product of word recognition and linguistic comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990). According to this theory, intervention focused on word recognition, comprehension, or both, could positively affect reading comprehension. Prior meta-analyses have demonstrated moderate effects on reading comprehension for students with RDs (i.e., students with or at risk for reading difficulties or disabilities) in kindergarten through Grade 3 (Suggate, 2010; Wanzek et al., 2016).

Denton and colleagues (2022) aimed to extend those meta-analyses and examine the effects of foundational reading skills interventions on reading comprehension for students with RDs in Grades K–3. There is little research evidence of the relative effects of foundational reading skills and multicomponent interventions on reading comprehension for students in primary grades. Preliminary evidence suggests no significant difference in the effects between providing phonics or word recognition instruction and word-level instruction combined with comprehension instruction for students in Grades 1–2 (Berninger et al., 2003; Vadasy et al., 2002). Denton et al. also aimed to investigate whether the effects of reading interventions on reading comprehension vary depending on the intervention focus.

Research Questions

  1. What is the main effect of small-group and individual reading interventions that provide instruction in foundational reading skills (e.g., phonological awareness, decoding, spelling, and word recognition), with or without instruction in text comprehension, on reading comprehension of students with RDs in Grades K-3?
  2. Do effects differ for foundational-skills-only interventions relative to multicomponent interventions that provide foundational skills instruction combined with instruction in text comprehension?
  3. Are effects on reading comprehension moderated by the dosage of intervention (i.e., number of instructional hours) or methodological factors (i.e., study quality, type of reading comprehension measure, and measurement timepoint)?


Denton et al. (2022) conducted an electronic database search to identify updated studies. The key inclusion criteria were (a) participants with or at risk of learning disabilities or reading difficulties, (b) participants in Grade K-3, (c) interventions provided foundational reading skills instruction, with or without instruction targeting text comprehension, and (d) dependent variables including standardized or norm-referenced reading comprehension measure. Studies analyzed by Wanzek et al. (2016) and Wanzek et al. (2018) that met inclusion criteria were utilized. The total number of studies examined included 23 studies from updated electronic search, 13 studies from Wanzek et al. (2016), and 11 studies from Wanzek et al. (2018).

Key Findings

1. What is the main effect of reading interventions that provide instruction in foundational reading skills on reading comprehension for students with RDs in Grades K-3?

  • Reading interventions that provide instruction in foundational reading skills had moderate effect size (g = 0.37, 95% CI [0.27, 0.47], p < .01).

2. Are the effects on reading comprehension moderated by the focus of instruction?

  • Researchers examined moderation with foundational-skills-only instruction and multicomponent instruction. The mean effects of the two instruction categories did not differ significantly (F = 0.94, df = 14.60, p < .35).

3. Are the effects on reading comprehension moderated by the dosage of intervention or methodological factors?

  • The intervention with an average dose (57.19 hours) showed a positive effect (g = 0.38). However, the dosage was not a significant moderator or intervention effects.
  • Higher quality studies tended to have smaller effects, and study quality was not a significant moderator.
  • Although comprehension measure type was not a significant moderator, 
  • Measurement timepoint was a significant moderator. Mean effect sizes tended to be smaller at follow-up than at immediate posttest. However, it is noteworthy that the effects of early interventions on students’ reading comprehension appeared to be lasting.


The moderate effect (g = 0.37) on reading comprehension indicates that foundational reading skills interventions have a meaningful impact on reading comprehension for students with RDs in primary grades. Through the moderator analysis, Denton et al. (2022) demonstrated that foundational-reading-skills-only instruction and multicomponent instruction positively affect reading comprehension. This finding supports the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990) that expects improvement in word recognition to improve reading comprehension as reading comprehension is a product of word recognition and linguistic comprehension skill.

The long-term effects of reading comprehension should be considered when interpreting this result. While word reading tends to have a larger contribution to reading comprehension for primary grades, the importance of linguistic comprehension (e.g., vocabulary knowledge, background knowledge) increases beyond the primary grades (Tighe & Schatschneider, 2014). Thus, emphasizing language comprehension in primary grade may yield benefits in later grades.


Implications for practice

  • Small-group or individual interventions focused on foundation reading skills are likely to positively impact the reading comprehension of students with RDs in Grades K-3.
  • Interventions targeting reading comprehension in the primary grades might affect reading comprehension skills in later grades. Thus, the proportion of instruction on foundation reading skills and on comprehension could be determined, in part, on students’ word reading skills.

Implications for research

  • When studying the effects of early intervention on reading comprehension, it is important to acknowledge that the intervention effect may vary depending on the comprehension measurement.
  • Researchers reporting study findings need to provide details related to instructional content and methods of comparison and treatment conditions (e.g., dosage).
  • Publishing posttest data that are adjusted for pretest and other covariates will allow meta-analyses to better account for pretest differences on the variables of interest.


Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986, January 1). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial & Special Education, 7(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/074193258600700104

Hoover, W. A., & Gough, P. B. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 2(2), 127–160. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00401799

Suggate, S. P. (2010). Why what we teach depends on when: Grade and reading intervention modality moderate effect size. Developmental Psychology, 46(6), 1556–1579. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020612

Tighe, E. L., & Schatschneider, C. (2014). A dominance analysis approach to determining predictor importance in third, seventh, and tenth grade reading comprehension skills. Reading and Writing, 27(1), 101–127. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-013-9435-6

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders, E. A., Peyton, J. A., & Jenkins, J. R. (2002). Timing and intensity of tutoring: A closer look at the conditions for effective early literacy tutoring. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 17(4), 227–241. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5826.00048

Wanzek, J., Stevens, E. A., Williams, K. J., Scammacca, N., Vaughn, S., & Sargent, K. (2018). Current evidence on the effects of intensive early reading interventions. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(6), 612–624. https://doi.org/10.1177/00222194187751

Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Scammacca, N., Gatlin, B., Walker, M. A., & Capin, P. (2016). Meta-analyses of the effects of Tier 2 type reading interventions in grades K–3. Educational Psychology Review, 28, 551–576. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9321-7