Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech and Hearing Science

Research Advisor

Ilsa Schwarz, Ph. D.


Richard Allington, Ph. D. Mark Hedrick, Ph. D. Kristin E. King, Ph. D.


decoding, language, narrative skills, poverty, reading comprehension, working memory


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between reading comprehension and the prerequisite skills typically assessed by a school based speech pathologist with a focus on children raised in poverty. Based upon previous studies, three hypotheses were developed. First, children from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds would not perform as well as children from the standardization sample on norm referenced language tests although the language tests would predict reading comprehension. Second, decoding would not be as good a predictor of reading comprehension for children from low SES backgrounds as it is in typically developing children from middle SES backgrounds because of differences in language ability. Third, processing dependent measures (working memory) would be more predictive of reading comprehension than nonverbal IQ testing for children from low SES backgrounds.

Twenty six children between the ages of 7 and 10 years of age participated in this study. All of the participants were from low SES homes, were receiving instruction in a mainstream classroom, and did not have an Individualized Education Program. None of the children had a history of hearing, visual, neurological, emotional or behavioral problems. All participants were tested to evaluate reading comprehension, word decoding, receptive vocabulary, receptive and expressive language, narrative skills, cognitive ability and working memory.

Children in this study performed significantly poorer than the standardization sample on all four language measures which included the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th edition, the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, 4th edition, the Narrative Scoring Scheme and Subordinate Index scores of the narrative task analyzed using the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts. Participants achieved similar scores on the Word Identification and Word Attack subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, Revised, when compared to the standardization sample, while the average score on Passage Comprehension was below the expected mean. There were positive correlations between reading comprehension and decoding and language skills. Regression analyses showed that both decoding and language scores accounted for significant independent variance in reading comprehension beyond either decoding or language alone. In addition, all cognitive scores were significantly correlated with reading comprehension. Specifically, the word recall task of the Competing Language Processing Test explained a much higher proportion of the variance in Passage Comprehension than the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence, 3rd edition and the Nonword Repetition Task.

These results are consistent with previous studies that show that poverty or low SES has a negative effect on language skills and that children from low SES families are more likely to experience limited language and cognitive stimulation from the home environment. Results show that these children have smaller vocabulary sizes, less complex syntactic knowledge and less sophisticated knowledge of story structure than normative populations. However, they are able to able to decode within the normal range of ability. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses showed that language played a more important role in passage comprehension than shown in previous studies, indicating that their poor reading comprehension skills are likely due to weaknesses in language skills. Study results also support evidence that verbal working memory is associated with language and reading comprehension, demonstrating that both verbal working memory and reading comprehension require efficient allocation of limited resources for storage and processing. The results of this study suggest that language intervention should be initiated in an effort to improve reading comprehension for children in poverty.