The results are in.

Data from 5.5 million public school students in grades 3-8 across the U.S. shows that gains in reading and overall achievement were lower in 2021 when compared to a typical year. This data, recently released by NWEA, highlights the impact of COVID-19 in the classroom. So, how can schools use a Structured Literacy program based on the best of Orton-Gillingham and the Science of Reading to regain lost ground? 

Why Structured Literacy?

During the pandemic, the overnight transition from in-person learning to virtual or hybrid instruction created unprecedented challenges for schools and teachers. Additionally, families with limited access to technology and the internet were further disadvantaged. While schools must evaluate these impacts on a case-by-case basis, the argument stands for a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that transcends geographic, socioeconomic, and demographic differences to advance literacy across the board.. 

A proven Structured Literacy program can be a critical component of regaining literacy progress. Structured Literacy is a term that was created by the International Dyslexia Association in 2016 to consolidate the researched approaches to reading, including Orton-Gillingham, phonics-based reading instruction, systematic reading instruction, and synthetic phonics. Originally, the Orton-Gillingham method was developed specifically to teach students with dyslexia to read. Structured Literacy programs that take advantage of the best of Orton-Gillingham have the advantage of providing students with a multisensory and build block approach to reading, which they can easily understand and learn. 

More Reading: What Is Structured Literacy?


Structured Literacy is often contrasted with balanced literacy and whole language, the latter of which was the accepted approach to instruction through much of the 1980s and 1990s. The whole-language approach to literacy assumes that students will expand their understanding of text and reading concepts through repeated exposure to literature. In this approach, phonics, decoding, and spelling are not explicitly or systematically taught. Balanced literacy, by comparison, uses the whole-language approach with elements of phonics instruction built in. 

Decades of reading research has shown that reading is not an innate ability and requires explicit instruction. While balanced literacy has been upgraded to meet evolving standards for teaching reading, Structured Literacy combines all of the approaches currently accepted with the added support of scientific research.

IMSE’s approach to Structured Literacy includes the best of Orton-Gillingham and the Science of Reading (SOR) . SOR is a comprehensive body of research that encompasses years of scientific knowledge, spans across many languages, and shares the contributions of experts from relevant disciplines such as education, special education, literacy, psychology, neurology, and more. The result is a proven approach to professional development that allows districts, schools and teachers to rapidly implement a Structured Literacy program that has immediate impact.

Structured Literacy and Orton-Gillingham Professional Development

With a focus on recovery in schools as society moves forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are opportunities for positive change. When we think about assessing and improving literacy and best practices in the classroom, developing a school-wide or district-wide plan for professional development can drive consistency and boost student outcomes consistently and comprehensively. 

For schools that are trying to regain lost ground in reading or that simply wish to safeguard against future disruptions, Structured Literacy can be the best answer. 

In the expert-led professional development program offered by IMSE, teachers are empowered with a deeper knowledge of Orton-Gillingham and other proven literacy approaches as part of IMSE’s overall Structured Literacy training and classroom programs. IMSE’s approach to Structured Literacy includes the five essential components of an effective reading program: 

Upon completion of IMSE’s training, teachers are able to apply explicit, sequential, and multi-sensory techniques that rapidly improve reading outcomes for students at all levels. Some schools and districts even elect to have faculty members certified as IMSE trainers to ensure continuous, consistent implementation of IMSE’s program. 

Learn More: IMSE for Schools and School Districts


The 2020-2021 school year was an extreme test of our education infrastructure. It exposed vulnerabilities both in school and at home for many teachers and students. As we continue to recover from interrupted instruction and reconcile declines in reading achievement, we have an opportunity to innovate within our schools and upgrade the way we deliver literacy instruction.

Please connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest to get tips and tricks from your peers and IMSE. Read the IMSE Journal to hear success stories from other schools and districts, and be sure to read the OG Weekly email series for refreshers and tips.