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Cognitive processes related to reading and arithmetic Tang, Winnie

Abstract

This study explored the robustness of the low achievement approach for diagnosing learning difficulties in a group of one hundred and twenty-one grade 3 children in two inner city schools. The children were tested using standardized tests of achievement and experimental cognitive measures. The cognitive profiles of the low achievers, the children with difficulties in reading and/or arithmetic, were examined and the results showed that the defining feature in these low achievers was a phonological deficit. The Chi square tests in this study contributed to providing important information that was particularly useful for individual diagnosis. The pattern of association between low reading achievement and the measures tapping into phonological processing showed that there was little or no likelihood of being normally achieving in reading when the phonological processing skills were low. Three different cutoff points for low achievement were used reflecting differing levels of stringency. Children in the low groups, regardless of the cutoff points used, exhibited similar characteristics in terms of their cognitive deficits. Hierarchical regression analyses of the predictor variables related to reading and arithmetic revealed that phonological processing contributed to accounting for large proportions of unique variance in both reading and arithmetic. The findings in this study suggests that the phonological core deficit model for understanding reading difficulties is robust even in a population where there are confounding social variables associated with the children (e.g., low SES and ESL home background). As well, phonological processing also emerged as being important in contributing to children's achievement in arithmetic. The efficacy of the low achievement approach was affirmed in this study: children with cognitive processing deficits related to reading or arithmetic were identified using a low cutoff of somewhere around or below the 25th percentile in standardized achievement tests. Furthermore, using the low achievement approach had the benefit of avoiding biases previously identified in IQ-achievement discrepancy definitions of learning disability.

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