The contribution of vocabulary knowledge and spelling to the reading comprehension of adolescents who are and are not English language learners

Abstract

This study examined the contributions of vocabulary and spelling to the reading comprehension of students in grades 6–10 who were and were not classified as English language learners. Results indicate that vocabulary accounted for greater between-grade differences and unique variance (ΔR 2 = .11–.31) in comprehension as compared to spelling (ΔR 2 = .01–.09). However, the contribution of spelling to comprehension was higher in the upper grade levels included in this cross-sectional analysis and functioned as a mediator of the impact of vocabulary knowledge at all levels. The direct effect of vocabulary was strong but lower in magnitude at each successive grade level from .58 in grade 6 to .41 in grade 10 while the indirect effect through spelling increased in magnitude at each successive grade level from .09 in grade 6 to .16 in grade 10. There were no significant differences between the language groups in the magnitude of the indirect impact, suggesting both groups of students relied more on both sources of lexical information in higher grades as compared to students in lower grades.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Students are identified as LEP or ELL in a two-step process. First, a caretaker must report on the school’s home language survey that a language other than English is spoken in the home. Second, the student’s listening, speaking, reading, and writing proficiency (as assessed by a validated measure such as the CELLA) must be below the average English proficiency level of English speaking students at the same age and grade. In Florida, these steps are governed by Rules 6A-6.0901 and 6A-6.0902.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Grant P50HD052120 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Grant R305A100301 from the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, and Grant R305F100005 from the Institute of Education Sciences. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health, or the Institute of Education Sciences.

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Reed, D.K., Petscher, Y. & Foorman, B.R. The contribution of vocabulary knowledge and spelling to the reading comprehension of adolescents who are and are not English language learners. Read Writ 29, 633–657 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9619-3

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Keywords

  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading comprehension
  • Adolescents
  • English learners