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Breaking the Cycle: Cumulative Disadvantage in Literacy

Northrop, Laura (2016) Breaking the Cycle: Cumulative Disadvantage in Literacy. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation used a mixed method framework to investigate cumulative disadvantage in literacy (e.g. the Matthew effect), specifically focusing on the differences between early struggling readers who recover and early struggling readers who stay struggling. Quantitative analyses included growth models, logit models, OLS regression models and quantile regression models with the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K). Qualitative data came from in-depth interviews with 42 teachers and reading specialists.
Approximately 50 percent of students who are struggling readers at the start of kindergarten go on to recover and have average or above average reading achievement by the end of eighth grade. In general, recovering readers come from more advantageous homes and schools than their peers who continue to struggle.
Effective reading practices vary by grade level. Instructional practices positively associated with reading achievement include phonics, whole language and fluency in the primary years; comprehension instruction and time for reading in the upper-elementary years; and academic rigor in the middle school years. Quantile regression shows that while higher-achieving students benefit more from home and school practices in the earlier grades, lower-achieving students benefit more in the older grades.
Teachers tend to have a pessimistic outlook on struggling readers’ abilities to catch-up, but believe that students who are able to recover do so because of an alignment between child, home and school practices that provides a consistent set of expectations and interventions for struggling readers.
This research suggests three main findings about cumulative disadvantage in reading. First, that while some students do follow the cumulative disadvantage trajectory, it is not the only pathway available for students with early disadvantages in reading skills. Second, that recovery is based on child, home and school factors, and that these factors need to be aligned and consistent with each other for maximum impact. Third, schools can act as a site of intervention to disrupt the cumulative disadvantage trajectory through the use of high-quality instruction and high-quality intervention, provided by experienced and knowledgeable teachers.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Northrop, Lauralsn6@pitt.eduLSN6
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKelly, Seanspkelly@pitt.eduSPKELLY
Committee MemberShafiq, M. Najeebmnshafiq@pitt.eduMNSHAFIQ
Committee MemberHughes, Melaniehughesm@pitt.eduHUGHESM
Committee MemberWang, Ming-Temtwang@pitt.eduMTWANG
Date: 20 April 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 February 2016
Approval Date: 20 April 2016
Submission Date: 24 March 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 250
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: literacy struggling readers Matthew effect ECLS-K
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2016 20:21
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:32


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