Understanding Reading Comprehension Performance in High School Students
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The ability to extract meaning from text is an important skill. Yet many students struggle with effectively comprehending what they read. In comparison with research carried out with younger students, there is a lack of research in the reading comprehension of adolescents (Grades 4 – 12). The goal of this dissertation was to increase our understanding of the factors that underlie the poor reading comprehension abilities of this older group of students. This dissertation includes two studies drawn from a sample of 137 age 15 year old high school students. Study One utilized archival data from government mandated tests of reading achievement of 78 students administered in Grades 3, 6, and 10, and results from a commercially available test of reading comprehension administered in Grade 10. This longitudinal study examined the prevalence of the stability, cumulative growth, and compensatory models in reading comprehension development. Probabilities of later-grade reading achievement categorization conditioned on earlier-grade reading achievement were computed, the prevalence of developmental paths was estimated, and tests of regression to the mean were conducted. Overall findings suggest considerable stability across time. Study Two examined the specificity of the comprehension weaknesses of 15 year old readers whose comprehension skills are below those expected from their skill in word reading and nonverbal ability (unexpected poor comprehenders). Regression analyses identified unexpected poor comprehenders, and two contrast groups (expected average and unexpected good comprehenders). Characteristics of unexpected poor comprehenders are examined after controlling for word-reading accuracy, phonological decoding, reading rate, nonverbal ability, and vocabulary. Findings indicate a critical disadvantage of unexpected poor comprehenders lies in their weakness in vocabulary and that comprehension difficulties related to the identification of details and main ideas in summary writing remain when vocabulary is controlled. Implications for interpreting previous and informing future research are discussed. Results of both studies are discussed with respect to the nature of the reading comprehension construct, identification and remediation of reading comprehension difficulties, and the assessment of reading comprehension.