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UDL in 15 Minutes with Kim Potter

Speech to Text: Some of the research

During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Kim Potter shares how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) influenced how she viewed the significant barriers one student was facing. Simply stated, the barriers he faced might have been seen as insurmountable and unchangeable in another setting, but Kim used her experience as a reading teacher and her newly acquired knowledge of UDL to determine how she could provide that student choice and build his autonomy when reading. This shift supercharged his confidence and outcomes. His success hinged on his adoption of a text-to-speech extension, an idea that aligns with the guidelines Options for Recruiting Interest as well as Options for Perception. But as she stated during the podcast:

We were kind of worrying a little bit about his being able to read. I know in a lot of meetings that I’m in, when we talk about kids using a text reader, people say, “But it’s reading class. You’re not teaching them to read!” which was a little bit of a concern that we had, but we felt like because his encoding was at such a low level, there was no way he could possibly access our curriculum to grow his comprehension if he had to read this stuff on his own.

I’ll let you listen to the podcast to hear the results. Here, I want to share two research studies that might help you or your colleagues become even more at ease when it comes to using text-to-speech as an option for your learners.

Wood, Moxley, Tighe, and Wagner (2018) conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies focused on students with dyslexia, reading disabilities or learning disabilities. Ultimately, they found that the use of text to speech tools had a significant (positive) impact on reading comprehension scores. For those who want to see the numbers, you will find the citation for the study in the reference list below.

Interestingly, this study included both K-12 studies and studies from the post-secondary environment, but even when they removed the post-secondary studies, the results were very similar. This meta-analysis was also different from others in the past that focused on results from large scale assessments. This analysis only looked at studies that used reading comprehension tests as their focus for analysis. In my book, this gets more to the day-to-day of teaching. But what about students who do not have disabilities?

An older study from 2006 had a nice sample size (n=100) of secondary students with average IQs but who struggled with reading. The students were placed into three groups: an assistive technology group, a Microsoft Word control group, and a full control group. The assistive technology group was trained in how to use a variety of assistive tools, the Microsoft Word control group learned how to use assistive tools within that software, and the full control group had no access to any supports.

Included in the assistive technology tools was speech to text. Those students who used this tool in the post-test showed significant improvement in their reading comprehension. While this study did not look at the “why” of this improvement, a suggested theory was that speech synthesis might facilitate decoding which permits the student to focus on comprehension (Higgins & Raskin, 1997). Though an older study, I did not find another study that argues against these findings.

There are plenty of other anecdotal pieces out there where teachers make speech to text a choice for all of their learners and they see higher levels of engagement, tenacity, and deeper comprehension. Ultimately, it’s key to support your students to assess their own use of the technology. Do they think it helps them? How can they assess that? Help them set up their own low-risk study (e.g., use speech to text for one assignment, but not for another, ensuring that the assignments are both of high interest and equal readability levels). It has to be low-risk so they aren’t penalized grade-wise. Also, a study like that only assesses those assignments on those days. Variability tells us that each day will be different. Have that conversation, too. At worst, your students won’t discover what supports work for them. At best, they discover supports. Either way, your students are taking steps toward ownership for their learning. They are taking steps toward becoming expert learners.


Higgins, E. L., & Raskind, M. H. (1997). The compensatory effectiveness of optical character recognition/speech synthesis on reading comprehension of postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 8, 75–87.

Lange, A. A., McPhillips, M., Mulhern, G., & Wylie, J. (2006). Assistive Software Tools for Secondary-Level Students with Literacy Difficulties. Journal of Special Education Technology, 21(3), 13–22.

Wood, S. G., Moxley, J. H., Tighe, E. L., & Wagner, R. K. (2018). Does use of text-to-speech and related read-aloud tools improve reading comprehension for students with reading disabilities? A meta-analysis. Journal of learning disabilities, 51(1), 73-84.