The Reading League is a nonprofit organization on a mission to further the knowledge and use of evidence-aligned reading instruction. They've created something you might find handy – a paper titled Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines. It’s aimed at school personnel who make curriculum decisions, helping them evaluate how well a curriculum aligns with findings from the science of reading.


As noted on the Reading League website, their Curriculum Guidelines tool is “considered a ‘living document‘ meaning that it will be periodically updated based on user feedback, suggestions for optimizing use, etc.” Our assessment below is based on the most recent version dated March 2023.

About the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program

The core of the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program is the Advanced Code Phonics Workbook. The workbook is not a Basic Code program, but rather assumes the student is already familiar with the one-to-one correspondence between individual letters and their sounds, such as t for the /t/ sound, m for the /m/ sound, and so on. Some familiarity with basic code vowel sounds like those in cat or nut is also assumed, but perfection in blending and segmenting isn’t required.

From this foundation, the program guides the student through the advanced phonics code, enabling the decoding of complex, four- and five-syllable words. Phonemic skills, including manipulation, are practiced and refined until they are in place, with success confirmed through testing.

What the Program Does Not Specifically Teach or Assess

The Reading League's Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines focus on five areas:

  1. Word Recognition
  2. Language Comprehension
  3. Reading Comprehension
  4. Writing
  5. Assessment

The OnTrack Reading Phonics Program, tailored for intensive one-on-one instruction, is intended to remediate phonics skills that students failed to acquire, for whatever reason, in the K-2 years of school. It has also been used by parents teaching advanced phonics and by teachers in small-group situations.

However, it doesn't encompass the complete reading program covered by the Reading League’s guidelines, particularly in writing and comprehension strategies. The program’s alignment with the Curriculum Guidelines is chiefly in the Word Recognition category, covering:

  • Non-Negotiables
  • Phonological and Phoneme Awareness
  • Phonics and Phonic Decoding
  • Fluency

These areas will be the focus of the discussion in the remainder of this article.

Alignment of the Phonics Program with the Guidelines

Instead of reiterating the Guidelines’ wording, I will assume you have a copy handy, with numbered practices indicated. In the report, Red Flags identify unaligned practices, followed by those aligning with current reading research.

For instance, Practice 1.1 is a red flag related to the three-cueing method. In the assessment below, each practice includes a Red Flag marker (if applicable), the practice number, an explanation starting with “No” or “Yes” to indicate alignment, and a pass/fail indicator. We encourage you to do your own research and hope this information helps you assess our program. As always, we welcome any feedback that you have.


🚩1.1No. Three cueing is not part of the program.🟢
🚩1.2No. Instruction is focused on letter-sound correspondences.🟢
🚩1.3No. Includes Scope and Sequence that has been extensively tested. Review and practice of both phonemic skills and code knowledge occur regularly.🟢
1.4Yes. Instruction is one-on-one and all errors are corrected as they occur so that mistakes are not practiced. Includes guide to making proper error corrections.🟢
1.5Yes. See the Scope and Sequence.🟢
1.6Yes. The workbook has basic stories, consistent practice with the code already taught, and encourages use of children's literature.🟢

Phonological and Phoneme Awareness


No. Instruction is at the phoneme level until multisyllable instruction begins.

🚩1.8No. Instruction is focused on letter-sound correspondences.🟢
🚩1.9No. Blending, Segmenting, and Phoneme Manipulation are all taught.🟢
🚩1.10No. Phonemic skills are assessed, and practiced learned.🟢
1.11Not Applicable. The Advanced Code Phonics Program is not a basic code program.


Yes. And with immediate feedback to correct errors. Includes guide to making proper error corrections.🟢
1.13Not Applicable. Program is not a basic code program and was not designed for ESL students’ specific language needs.

1.14Yes. Attention to phonemes and their possible spellings is the focal point of the program.🟢

Phonics and Phonic Decoding

🚩1.15No. Letter-sound correspondences are emphasized.🟢
🚩1.16No. Review of code learned continues even into multisyllable instruction.🟢
🚩1.17 Not Applicable. The Advanced Code Phonics Program is not a basic code program. Keywords are not used.
🚩1.18No. Teaching the phonics code is the focus of each day’s lesson.🟢
🚩1.19No. Although short vowels are reviewed quickly together at the beginning of the program, alternative sounds for various spellings are introduced systematically in a series of related lessons.🟢
🚩1.20No. Blending ability is assessed and practiced until in place.🟢
🚩1.21No. Decoding is the program emphasis. And the workbook does not contain pictures, making it suitable for older students as well.🟢
🚩1.22No. Sight word lists are not part of program. The program teaches the phonics elements even of those words often categorized as sight words.🟢
🚩1.23No.  Every lesson provides practice for word-level decoding.🟢
🚩1.24No. Workbook contains several decodable short stories at both a basic and more advanced level geared to the phonics code taught thus far. Children's literature is introduced when enough code has been taught to enable the student to read it with reasonable accuracy.🟢
🚩1.25No. Program begins with consonant digraphs and finishes with decoding of 4- and 5-syllable words.🟢
🚩1.26No. Program includes a unique and highly effective Multisyllable Decoding Method that was successfully field-tested by the author.🟢
1.27Yes. Short decodable stories at two levels provide immediate practice followed by review of code learned. Feedback is immediate so errors are not practiced but corrected.🟢
1.28Yes, partially. The program has a spelling component but not an explicit writing component. It remediates/teaches phonics and is not a writing program. Spelling strategies are taught and spelling is practiced, but not assessed.🟡
1.29Yes. Starting with consonant digraphs and review of short vowels. Basic code knowledge is assumed but does not need to be fully in place to begin the program.🟢
1.30Yes. Segmenting and blending are practiced until both skills are in place per assessment.🟢
1.31Yes. The instruction is one-on-one throughout the program so errors can be corrected when made.🟢
1.32Yes. Regular spellings are taught and irregular spellings are noted for spelling purposes.🟢
1.33Yes. Besides the regular mapping of words sound by sound, irregular words are noted during reading and spelled in isolation following the reading, along with regular words that proved difficult to read.🟢
1.34Yes. A variety of supporting lessons and stories reinforce the code learned during the primary lesson.🟢
1.35Yes. The stories in the workbook are decodable and appropriate literature is then used to develop automaticity.🟢
1.36Yes. The multisyllable method taught does not require practice with syllable types and morphemes, but advances students into 3-, 4-, and 5-syllable words by the completion of the workbook using a unique chunking method that teaches the student to go left-to-right through an unfamiliar word.🟢
1.37Yes. Eventual knowledge of all common sounds for a letter or digraph is a goal of the program and is assessed regularly with a Code Knowledge Test.🟢
1.38Not Applicable. The program was not designed for the specific language needs of ESL students.
1.39Not Applicable. The program was not designed for the specific language needs of ESL students.

A Note on Fluency

Practices 1.40 to 1.50: Supervised reading is always done aloud so that errors are corrected immediately. Fluency is not assessed in the program, nor is it emphasized. Fluency develops as a student learns, and then automates, both the phonics code itself and the words he is repeatedly decoding. This becomes evident during the regular readings scheduled in the Scope and Sequence and is supported by the research findings discussed next.

The Research on Phonics and Fluency

Teachers are aware that the phonics process of decoding and blending letters and digraphs in unfamiliar words does not remotely resemble what one would consider fluent reading. However, research into brain processes during the act of reading strongly supports the decoding process as an important step for developing fluency.

During what we call the sounding out phase of learning an unfamiliar word, more is going in the brain than just the decoding and blending process. Researchers have demonstrated that the admittedly slow, step-by-step sounding-out process takes place down a dorsal path in the brain. Eventually, a known word is retrieved from the store of words in a child’s oral vocabulary. Simultaneously, however, that decoding process is developing synaptic connections that run down a much faster ventral pathway to that same word bank.

After sufficient attempts have been made to recognize a word the slow way, by sounding it out, a synapse finally connects for that word along the ventral pathway, the fast pathway. From that point on, that word can be described as being automatically retrieved because the slower dorsal pathway is bypassed in favor of the faster ventral pathway each time it is encountered in print.

Meanwhile, new unfamiliar words continue to be processed down the slower dorsal pathway. However, in time, their synaptic connections in the ventral pathway will also be completed and those words too will appear to be automatically recognized by the reader. Thus, decoding is a process by which the reader eventually achieves automaticity. And from automaticity comes fluency, interrupted occasionally by an unfamiliar word still being retrieved down the slower dorsal pathway in the brain.

A Note on Language and Reading Comprehension

Practices 2.1 to 2.38, and 3.1 to 3.9: Although a student reads progressively more complex texts over the fifty to sixty hours in the program, moving from the decodable workbook stories into children's literature, comprehension strategies are not explicitly taught. However, given the one-on-one nature of the program and the regular readings in children's literature, the instructor inevitably has exchanges with the student bearing on comprehension. Essentially, though, the program is an intensive advanced code phonics program, leaving little to chance in that regard.

A Note on Handwriting

Practices 4.1 to 4.6: Letter formation is not a feature of the program. It's assumed to have been taught during basic code instruction, a prerequisite for using the workbook, although some guidance can be provided by the instructor if necessary, given the one-on-one presentation.

A Note on Spelling

Practices 4.7 to 4.16: Decoding and reading accurately is the primary focus of the program. Although spelling accuracy is not a focus of the program, all spelling errors are corrected as they occur. Moreover, perfect pronunciation for spelling purposes is emphasized throughout, and all common spellings of all consonant and vowel sounds are covered systematically. In addition, students are taught all of the common alternative spellings for each sound.

A Note on Assessment

Practices 5.1 to 5.19: Because the program is primarily a phonics program, the assessments that are done are of phonemic skills and code knowledge. Typically, phonemic skills test at 100% by midway through the workbook. Code knowledge typically approaches 90%, including knowledge of the alternative sounds for letters like c and g, for consonant digraphs like th and ch, and for all common vowel spellings.


The OnTrack Reading Phonics Program is designed to teach a comprehensive set of sound-spelling correspondences quickly and effectively, It was developed in use with nearly two hundred students, most of them struggling with reading, and was refined along the way. The program’s emphasis is on building phonemic skills to perfection, instilling a comprehensive knowledge of the phonics code, and moving into reading good children’s literature when enough of the phonics code has been learned to make that move.

The multisyllable method thoroughly integrated into the program teaches a unique chunking system that students find easy to learn and apply. Many students discarded long-held guessing strategies in favor of decoding long unfamiliar words from left to right, methodically chunking them and assessing the code in each chunk.

This program is not a comprehensive reading program, but it opens the learning door to teachers who will later provide those programs in their classrooms. That door might remain closed without the essential phonics knowledge taught in this program. Some students will infer the phonics code as they learn to read, but the majority will not without explicit phonics instruction. This program is aimed at those who did not.