Sensory, Cognitive, and Linguistic Factors in the Early Academic Performance of Elementary School Children: The Benton-IU Project

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Publication Date

March 2003

Publication Title

Journal of Learning Disabilities

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Standardized sensory, perceptual, linguistic, intellectual, and cognitive tests were administered to 470 children, approximately 96% of the students entering the first grade in the four elementary schools of Benton County, Indiana, over a 3-year period (1995-1997). The results of 36 tests and subtests administered to entering first graders were well described by a 4-factor solution. These factors and the tests that loaded most heavily on them were reading-related skills (phonological awareness, letter and word identification); visual cognition (visual perceptual abilities, spatial perception, visual memory); verbal cognition (language development, vocabulary, verbal concepts); and speech processing (the ability to understand speech under difficult listening conditions). A cluster analysis identified 9 groups of children, each with a different profile of scores on the 4 factors. Within these groups, the proportion of students with unsatisfactory reading achievement in the first 2 years of elementary school (as reflected in teacher-assigned grades) varied from 3% to 40%. The profiles of factor scores demonstrated the primary influence of the reading-related skills factor on reading achievement and also on other areas of academic performance. The second strongest predictor of reading and mathematics grades was the visual cognition factor, followed by the verbal cognition factor. The speech processing factor was the weakest predictor of academic achievement, accounting for less than 1% of the variance in reading achievement. This project was a collaborative effort of the Benton Community School Corporation and a multidisciplinary group of investigators from Indiana University.


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