Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Opening a Window into Reading Development: Eye Movements' Role within a Broader Literacy Research Framework

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Opening a Window into Reading Development: Eye Movements' Role within a Broader Literacy Research Framework

Article excerpt

Eye movement research is evolving. The emergence of this research tool as a vehicle to examine individual and developmental differences promises new insights into reading development. The promise of this tool to examine individual differences was recognized early (e.g., Rayner, 1986); however, the pre ponderance of literacy research using eye movement methodologies involved a focus on skilled adult readers (for reviews, see Rayner, 1998, 2009). This special issue, entitled "Children's Eye Movements in Reading," signifies a needed and important divergence from this historical trend, and illustrates some of the most recent efforts to account for differences among and between learners at different developmental stages in their acquisition of reading.

Our aim in this introduction is to provide (a) historical context for this work within the broader body of research utilizing eye movement methodology to examine literacy, (b) a brief summary of the included articles, and (c) our viewpoint on how eye movement research can elucidate the understanding of developmentally sensitive research questions. First, however, we discuss additional context as to the need for enhanced attention to development of literacy skills in young readers in general.

Supporting Reading Research

The development of reading skills often serves as a prerequisite for access to content area material and related background knowledge growth, general academic success, and more broadly access to information to improve health and civic engagement (e.g., Miller, Esposito, & McCardle, 2011; Miller, McCardle, & Hernandez, 2010; National Center for Health Statistics, 2010; Tamassia, Lennon, Yamamoto, & Kirsch, 2007). Despite progress and systematic syntheses and reviews providing guidance related to the target of intervention (e.g., National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Snow, 2002; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), we continue to see students struggle to obtain even modest levels of reading skills. Currently, overall growth in reading skills in the United States for fourth- and eighth-grade students remains largely stagnant (e.g., National Center for Education Statistics, 2009, 2011). This stagnation would not be reason for concern if overall levels of literacy performance were high; unfortunately, this is simply not the case. To illustrate, the latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that one out of three fourth-graders and one out of four eighth-graders cannot read at the basic level. To ground this in an educational context, a fourth-grader performing below the basic level would have difficulty making simple inferences from grade-level text or supplying details in support of a conclusion or interpretation (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). Put another way, when reading grade-appropriate material, these students have difficulty with basic comprehension of the text that they read. Critically, many subgroups demonstrate unequal achievement levels, making the need for an enhanced focus on reading even more urgent.

The aggregate view of the National Assessment of Educational Progress data, when viewed in isolation, obfuscates the discrepancies shown by some subgroups. English language learners (ELLs), individuals with disabilities, and some racial/ethnic minority groups are significantly overrepresented in the lowest performance categories. To illustrate, almost seven out of ten ELLs, as classified by the schools, perform below the basic level on the reading assessment at fourth grade. This performance level is similar to those students identified as having a disability, of whom roughly 65% perform below the basic level at fourth grade. Clearly, this level of performance is simply unacceptable if these individuals are to succeed in today's educational context and transition to future training and educational opportunities after they exit secondary educational settings. …

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