PURPOSE. This study attempts to identify sensory, cognitive and linguistic factors that individually or through their interactions are associated with success or failure in the first few years of grade school. The project is a collaborative effort of a team of investigators from audiology, optometry, speech-language pathology, cognitive science, clinical psychology, special education, language development and experimental psychology. METHOD. All students entering the first grade in the four grade schools of the Benton Community School Corporation for three consecutive years were asked to participate. Parental approval was received for 97% of the children yielding a sample of 473 subjects. All measures were administered in the first grade and the students were retested on all measures during the fourth grade.
RESULTS. The interpretation of over sixty individual predictors was simplified by reducing that complex space by an exploratory factor analysis. A principal-component analysis was used with varimax rotation. While at least six eigenvalues exceeded 1.0, it was decided to limit this analysis to a four-factor solution. The four factors accounted for approximately half of the variance and provided a solution that was readily interpretable. The names of each factor are based on the predictors within each group and are: Reading Skills, Verbal-Cognition, Visual-Cognition and Speech Processing. When these factors were correlated with various measures of reading from first two years, the stronger predictors were the Reading Skills and Visual Cognition factors. The four factors also accounted for approximately half the variance of the fourth grade reading measures. With Verbal Cognition replacing the Visual Cognition as the second strongest predictor after Reading Skills.
CONCLUSIONS. The strongest predictor of future reading ability was the reading skills children acquire before entering grade school.