The Science of Reading Efficiency: 5 Facts You Can't Ignore

Reading Plus | Aug 19, 2019 at 08:56 AM

The past 25 years have seen a wealth of innovations for reading instruction. Yet results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—known as our nation's report card—have shown little improvement. Why are the majority of students still struggling to meet grade-level reading goals? What's missing?

Most reading programs have focused on developing comprehension (the cognitive component of reading) or building motivation (the emotional component), and a few programs have tried to do both. Until now, however, no program has addressed the third, critical component of reading—the physical act of reading.

Reading science clearly shows that to improve reading for all students, we need to provide a literacy solution that addresses all three: comprehension, motivation, and the physical component of reading, or the skill of reading efficiently. Without reading efficiency, a student's comprehension suffers and motivation, understandably, plummets. 

What is Reading Efficiency?

Reading efficiency is grounded in the visual and perceptual skills required to navigate one's eyes across the page. 

Reading is both a physical and cognitive process. First, the reader's eyes navigate lines of text in a coordinated and sequential fashion to recognize words and phrases. Next, the reader's vocabulary and comprehension skills work in tandem to connect ideas and create meaning.  

Efficient eye-movement behavior is visually unnatural, and many students struggle with it. Efficient eye movement is a learned behavior—one that improves with good practice. But if it's not learned and practiced correctly, good comprehension is much more difficult to achieve. 


The research shows that inefficient reading habits are much more common than you’d think. 

Let’s explore some of the research on reading efficiency to learn more. 

5 Research Facts on Reading Efficiency

1. 70% of non-proficient readers and 30% of proficient readers read inefficiently

Reading inefficiency is the “Hidden Hurdle” of reading growth. 

When students read out loud, we can hear inefficient reading—they may stumble over words, go back and re-read certain parts of the text, skip lines, or otherwise disrupt the flow of their reading as their eyes move inefficiently across the page. 

However, when students transition to reading silently, we can no longer hear them struggling and we cannot "see" their inefficiencies. Struggling, inefficient readers need differentiation and structured practice, but all too often are left to "figure it out on their own."

2. Improved reading efficiency leads to higher rates of comprehension and motivation. 

When students struggle with the physical act of reading, reading becomes laborious, joyless, and unproductive. 

Inefficient readers find it difficult to maintain the level of attention required to comprehend the text, and as a result are less likely to develop the motivation to read on their own. 

In contrast, a fluent reader’s visual and perceptual skills are efficient, enabling the reader to focus attention on constructing meaning from the text. The fluent reader's mental energy is freed up to focus on what truly motivates reading—the meaningful experience of being inspired and engaged, as well as learning from what he or she reads. 

Let's put it another way: Reading efficiency is the gateway to comprehension and motivation.

3. ELL students who develop silent reading efficiency achieve 2X the gains in reading proficiency. 

English language learners (ELLs) often require more reading practice than students learning to read in their first language. 

When the challenges associated with learning a new language are combined with inefficient reading habits, students must work twice as hard to succeed.

Correcting inefficient reading habits with structured silent reading practice can help ELL students develop reading proficiency much more quickly.

4. Reading efficiency directly correlates to overall academic achievement. 

Good reading comprehension is the key to long-term academic success. 

If a student struggles with low comprehension, lack of motivation, and inefficient reading habits, other areas of her or his academic performance usually suffer as well. 

Research shows, however, that improving the efficiency of a reader’s eye movements can free up the reader's cognitive resources to focus on developing comprehension and motivation. In that way, efficient reading directly builds motivation and strongly supports improved academic performance

5. reading plus is the only reading intervention program that addresses silent reading efficiency, producing 2 to 2½ years growth in 40 to 60 hours of personalized instruction. 


Reading Plus is designed to rapidly accelerate reading proficiency growth in struggling readers by building and strengthening the visual skills needed for efficiency.

Student goals and milestones are customized based on the initial assessment and ongoing instruction, and continuous data monitoring and adaptive instruction serves the needs of every student. In just 40 to 60 hours of Reading Plus use, students make significant gains toward grade-level reading proficiency.

Click here to learn more about how the Reading Plus program develops efficiency, comprehension, and motivation in grades 3–12.

Overcome the Hidden Hurdle With A Research-Validated Reading Intervention Program

It's highly likely that many of your students are struggling with inefficient reading habits, but you currently have no way of identifying—or correcting—that problem. 

Reading Plus is the only literacy intervention program that targets the physical component of reading. Effective for grades three and up, the program uses adaptive instruction and scaffolded silent reading practice to develop reading efficiency in all learners, regardless of their starting level of proficiency. With their mental energy freed up from the physical act of reading, students can focus on developing comprehension, self-efficacy, and a lifelong love of learning. 

Interested in learning more about the hidden hurdle to silent reading proficiency? Click the link below to download our guide and read our in-depth introduction to the what, why, and how behind reading efficiency. 

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