• Hanke KorpershoekEmail author
  • Hans Kuyper
  • Greetje van der Werf


Word problems are math- or science-related problems presented in the context of a story or real-life scenario. Literature suggests that, to solve these problems, advanced reading skills are required, in addition to content-related skills in, for example, mathematics. In the present study, we investigated the relation between students’ reading ability and their achievements in advanced mathematics, physics, and chemistry when controlling for their mathematical ability. The study included 1,446 Dutch secondary school students who had taken their final examinations in these subjects. Using multivariate multilevel models, we found that both math and reading ability (the latter only in the pre-university track) were positively related to the examination grades on mathematics, physics, and chemistry. This relation was equally strong for boys and girls. This relation was neither moderated by students’ sex, nor by students’ ethnicity (Dutch versus non-Dutch origin).


math ability multivariate multilevel models reading ability secondary education word problems 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, T. L. (2003). Reading mathematics: More than words can say. Reading Teacher, 56, 786–795.Google Scholar
  2. Baumert, J., Lüdtke, O., Trautwein, U. & Brunner, M. (2009). Large-scale student assessment studies measure the results of processes of knowledge acquisition: Evidence in support of the distinction between intelligence and student achievement. Educational Research Review, 4, 165–176.Google Scholar
  3. Beal, C. R., Adams, N. M. & Cohen, P. R. (2010). Reading proficiency and mathematics problem solving by high school English language learners. Urban Education, 45, 58–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell, R. L., Matkins, J. J. & Gansneder, B. M. (2011). Impacts of contextual and explicit instruction on preservice elementary teachers’ understandings of the nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48, 414–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellocchi, A. & Ritchie, S. M. (2011). Investigating and theorizing discourse during analogy writing in chemistry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48, 771–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borasj, R. & Siegel, M. (1998). Using transactional reading strategies to support sense-making. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 29, 275–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, B. A. & Ryoo, K. (2008). Teaching science as a language: A “content-first” approach to science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45, 529–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Carter, T. & Dean, E. (2006). Mathematics intervention for grades 5–11: Teaching mathematics, reading, or both? Reading Psychology, 27, 127–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapman, O. (2006). Classroom practices for context of mathematics word problems. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 62, 211–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cronbach, L. J., Schönemann, P. & McKie, D. (1965). Alpha coefficients for stratified parallel tests. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 25, 291–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Evers, A., van Vliet-Mulder, J. C. & Groot, C. J. (2000). Documentatie van tests en testresearch in Nederland [Documentation of tests and test research in The Netherlands]. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  13. Fagan, D. (1997). Reading in advanced level physics. Physics Education, 32, 383–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flick, L. B. & Lederman, N. G. (2002). The value of teaching reading in the context of science and mathematics. School Science & Mathematics, 102, 105–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Stuebing, K., Fletcher, J., Hamlett, C. L. & Lambert, W. (2008). Problem-solving and computational skill: Are they shared or distinct aspects of mathematical cognition? Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 30–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gerofsky, S. (1996). A linguistic and narrative view of word problems in mathematics education. For the Learning of Mathematics, 16, 36–45.Google Scholar
  17. Graesser, A. C., Millis, K. K. & Zwaan, R. A. (1997). Discourse comprehension. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 163–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grimm, K. (2008). Longitudinal associations between reading and mathematics achievement. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33, 410–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Helwig, R. & Almond, P. J. (1999). Reading as an access to mathematics problem solving on multiple-choice tests for sixth-grade students. Journal of Educational Research, 93, 113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jacobson, M. D. (1965). Reading difficulty of physics and chemistry textbooks. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 25, 449–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kamata, A., Turhan, A. & Darandari, E. (2003). Estimating reliability for multidimensional composite scale scores. Paper presented at the annual meeting of American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  22. Kintsch, W. & Greeno, J. G. (1985). Understanding and solving word arithmetic problems. Psychological Review, 92, 109–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Koch, A. & Eckstein, S. G. (1995). Skills needed for reading comprehension of physics texts and their relation to problem solving ability. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32, 613–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Koch, A. & Gunstone, R. (2001). Training in metacognition and comprehension of physics texts. Science Education, 85, 758–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Korpershoek, H., Kuyper, H. & van der Werf, M. P. C. (2006). HAVO-5 en VWO-5 en de tweede fase; De bovenbouwstudie van VOCL’99 [HAVO-5 and VWO-5 and the second phase; the study in the upper grades of VOCL’99]. Groningen, The Netherlands: GION.Google Scholar
  26. Korpershoek, H., Kuyper, H., van der Werf, M. P. C. & Bosker, R. J. (2011). Who succeeds in advanced mathematics and science courses? British Educational Research Journal, 37, 357–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kurth, L. A., Kidd, R., Gardner, R. & Smith, E. L. (2002). Student use of narrative and paradigmatic forms of talk in elementary science conversations. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 793–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kyttälä, M. (2008). Visualspatial working memory in adolescents with poor performance in mathematics: Variation depending on reading skills. Educational Psychology, 28, 290–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lantz-Andersson, A., Linderoth, J. & Säljö, R. (2009). What’s the problem? Meaning making and learning to do mathematical word problems in the context of digital tools. Instructional Science, 37, 325–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lee, O. (2004). Teacher change in beliefs and practices in science and literacy instruction with English language learners. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 65–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lee, O., Deaktor, R. A., Hart, J. E., Cuevas, P. & Enders, C. (2005). An instructional intervention’s impact on the science and literacy achievement of culturally and linguistically diverse elementary students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 857–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lucangeli, D., Tressoldi, P. E. & Cendron, M. (1998). Cognitive and metacognitive abilities involved in the solution of mathematical word problems: Validation of a comprehensive model. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 23, 257–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O. & Foy, P. (2008). TIMSS 2007 International mathematics report. Findings from IEA’s trends in international mathematics and science study at the fourth and eighth grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.Google Scholar
  34. Nathan, M. J., Kintsch, W. & Young, E. (1992). A theory of algebra-word-problem comprehension and its implications for the design of learning environments. Cognition and Instruction, 9, 329–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ní Ríordáin, M. & O’Donoghue, J. (2009). The relationship between performance on mathematical word problems and language proficiency for students learning through the medium of Irish. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 71, 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ogborn, J. M. (1996). Explaining science in the classroom. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development. (1999). Measuring student knowledge and skills: A new framework for assessment. Paris, France: Author.Google Scholar
  38. Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development. (2007). PISA 2006 Science competencies for tomorrow’s world. Paris, France: Author.Google Scholar
  39. Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development. (2009). PISA 2009 assessment framework: Key competencies in reading, mathematics and science. Paris, France: Author.Google Scholar
  40. Ozuru, Y., Dempsey, K. & McNamara, D. S. (2009). Prior knowledge, reading skill, and text cohesion in the comprehension of science texts. Learning and Instruction, 19, 228–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Powell, S. R., Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Cirino, P. T. & Fletcher, J. M. (2009). Do word-problem features differentially affect problem difficulty as a function of students’ mathematics difficulty with and without reading difficulty? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reikerås, E. K. L. (2006). Performance in solving arithmetic problems: A comparison of children with different levels of achievement in mathematics and reading. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 21, 233–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Reusser, K. & Stebler, R. (1997). Every word problem has a solution—The social rationality of mathematical modeling in schools. Learning and Instruction, 7, 309–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shaw, J. M., Bunch, G. C. & Geaney, E. R. (2010). Analyzing language demands facing English learners on science performance assessments: The Sald framework. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 909–928.Google Scholar
  45. Snijders, T. A. B. & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis. An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London, UK: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  46. Stern, E. (1993). What makes certain arithmetic word problems involving the comparison of sets so difficult for children? Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 7–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stoddard, T., Pinal, A., Latzke, M. & Canaday, D. (2002). Integrating inquiry science and language development for English language learners. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39, 664–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Turkan, S. & Liu, O. L. (2012). Differential performance by English Language Learners on an inquiry-based science assessment. International Journal of Science Education, 34, 2343–2369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Van Berkel, K. (1999). Steekproef voor VOCL’99 [Sample for VOCL’99]. Heerlen: Statistics Netherlands (CBS).Google Scholar
  50. Van Dijk, H. & Tellegen, P. J. (1994). Handleiding, testboekje, instructieboekje GIVO, Groninger intelligentietest voor voortgezet onderwijs. [Manual, test book, instruction book GIVO, Groninger intelligence test for secondary education]. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  51. Verschaffel, L., Greer, B. & de Corte, E. (2000). Making sense of word problems. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  52. Vilenius-Tuohimaa, P. M., Aunola, K. & Nurmi, J. (2008). The association between mathematical word problems and reading comprehension. Educational Psychology, 28, 426–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Walker, C. M., Zhang, B. & Surber, J. (2008). Using a multidimensional differential item functioning framework to determine if reading ability affects student performance in mathematics. Applied Measurement in Education, 21, 162–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Yore, L. D. (1991). Secondary science teachers’ attitudes toward and beliefs about science reading and science textbooks. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28, 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hanke Korpershoek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hans Kuyper
    • 1
  • Greetje van der Werf
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations