Struggling teen readers need word-level help in reading

Magnifying glass over the stack of booksStruggling adolescent readers in urban schools should receive instruction in word-level skills as well as fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, says a new study in Learning Disability Quarterly. Unlike previous studies of adolescents, this study, which focused on students in urban schools, found a deficit at the word level as well as in the other reading component skills.

“While the areas of greatest deficit were in Fluency and Comprehension, many poor readers also demonstrated significant deficits at the Word Level (word attack, decoding, word recognition, and rate),” the authors write. The study found that 61% of the struggling reader group scored low on all component reading skills.

“Thus, given that in many urban schools, large percentages of students fall at or below the basic level of proficiency, it would not be unusual to find as much as 65% of the total student body to demonstrate word-level difficulties,” the researchers write.

Participants were individually tested during one 2- to 2.5-hour testing session. The battery of tests of evaluated the following reading component skills:

  • Word level (decoding, word identification)
  • Fluency (pace, accuracy and rate)
  • Vocabulary (receptive and expressive)
  • Comprehension (listening and reading)

A total of 345 late 8th and early 9th grade students selected from 2 urban middle schools, 3 urban high schools and 2 suburban junior high schools in 2 midwestern cities participated in the study. The urban community had a population of 145,004 and the suburban community 81,873.

The students were selected for the study based upon their scores on the Kansas Reading Assessment (KRA). They ranged in age from 13.45 years to 17.5 years with an average age of 14.9. At least 60 students were recruited from each of the 5 categories of the KRA (i.e. unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, advanced and exemplary. Those who scored at or below the 40th percentile were defined as struggling readers and those who scored above were defined as proficient readers.

“What is the reading component skill profile of adolescent struggling readers in urban schools?” by Michael Hock et al., Learning Disability Quarterly, Volume 32, Winter 2009, pps. 21-38.

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