Poor reading in French elementary school: the interplay of cognitive, behavioral, and socioeconomic factors

Joel Fluss, Johannes C Ziegler, Josiane Warszawski, Béatrice Ducot, Geneviève Richard, Catherine Billard
Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: JDBP 2009, 30 (3): 206-16

BACKGROUND: : Reading impairment is the major learning disability in childhood. Most previous studies were done on English-speaking populations. Yet, it has been argued that the English writing system exacerbates phonological deficits because of its exceptionally high inconsistency between spelling and sound. Thus, cross-language studies are needed to explore the universal versus language-specific factors underlying reading impairment. The goal of the present research was to study biological, socioeconomic, cognitive, and behavioral factors underlying poor reading in French-speaking second grade children.

METHODS: : A total of 1062 children from 20 different schools in the city of Paris participated in the study. After an initial test phase, children with a suspected impairment in reading acquisition were assessed individually. Subsequently, 100 poor readers and 50 controls were matched for sex, age, school, and neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES). They underwent comprehensive medical, cognitive, and behavioral assessment complemented by individual socioeconomic data.

RESULTS: : The average prevalence of reading impairment was around 12% in our sample. It was highly influenced by neighborhood SES, varying from 3.3% in high SES to 24.2% in low SES areas. Among the individual SES variables, low maternal education significantly distinguished poor from typical readers. Multiple regression analyses showed that reading outcome was best predicted by phonological awareness skills and attention deficits.

CONCLUSION: : The majority of poor readers come from low SES areas. As in the English literature, the most robust predictor for reading impairment is phonological awareness. In addition, behavioral problems, such as attention deficits, seem to aggravate reading deficits for children with weak phonological awareness skills.

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