A Quantile Regression Analysis of Cognitive Ability and Spelling Predictors of Written Expression: Evidence of Gender, Age, and Skill Level Moderation

By Hajovsky, Daniel B.; Villeneuve, Ethan F. et al. | School Psychology Review, September 2018 | Go to article overview

A Quantile Regression Analysis of Cognitive Ability and Spelling Predictors of Written Expression: Evidence of Gender, Age, and Skill Level Moderation


Hajovsky, Daniel B., Villeneuve, Ethan F., Mason, Benjamin A., De Jong, David A., School Psychology Review


Girls demonstrate a reliable, moderate skill advantage over boys on measures of writing (e.g., Camarata & Woodcock, 2006; Halpern, 2004; Kaufman, Kaufman, Liu, & Johnson, 2009; Scheiber, Reynolds, Hajovsky, & Kaufman, 2015). (1) This finding has been supported consistently across different writing assessment instruments and in group- and individually administered testing settings (e.g., Hedges & Nowell, 1995; Jewell & Malecki, 2005; Malecki & Jewell, 2003; National Center for Education Statistics, 2011; Scheiber et al., 2015). Although the female writing advantage has been shown to occur across the continuum of writing ability (Pargulski & Reynolds, 2017), support for consistency across ages has been mixed. For example, some studies have shown the female advantage in writing to be consistent across ages (e.g., Reynolds, Scheiber, Hajovsky, Schwartz, & Kaufman, 2015), whereas other studies have suggested this advantage may, in fact, increase with age (Malecki & Jewell, 2003; Scheiber et al., 2015).

Grappling with the female writing advantage requires a working model of writing development. Theories that include constructs that explain individual differences in writing skills may provide a descriptive account of how explanatory variables operate on writing. One such theoretical model of writing is the not-so-simple view of writing, which incorporates underlying individual differences in cognitive processes, in addition to transcription and text-generation processes, to explain writing (Kim & Schatschneider, 2017). Text generation involves mapping ideas into units of language in verbal working memory or encoding language representations into oral language propositions. During this process, executive functions (e.g., Berninger, Abbott, Cook, & Nagy, 2017) play a critical role in guiding the memory search process underlying writing fluency as well as controlling the dynamic reciprocal processes required of writing. These reciprocal processes include setting goals, generating ideas, planning words and sentences, and monitoring and subsequently revising the quality of writing (Altemeier, Abbott, & Berninger, 2008). Transcription, in turn, involves translating those language representations into orthographic symbols of written language (Berninger, 1999). Naturally, underdeveloped transcription skills result in a hindrance in writing performance by not allowing students to clearly and efficiently express their ideas (Hayes & Berninger, 2009), and it has been suggested that individual differences in transcription skills represent a source of the gender difference in writing (Berninger, Nielsen, Abbott, Wijsman, & Raskind, 2008; Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997). However, given well-developed transcription skills (handwriting fluency and spelling), text generation and cognitive resources are freed to support the higher and nonautomatic processes required to express ideas in written language (Graham et al., 1997; Kim & Schatschneider, 2017).

While the mechanisms of text generation and transcription are frequently studied within the academic literature (e.g., Kim & Schatschneider, 2017; Limpo, Alves, & Connelly, 2017), the cognitive components that relate to writing development are not always considered, particularly across potential moderator variables (e.g., gender). However, language skills (e.g., vocabulary) and cognitive abilities (e.g., verbal fluency, working memory) as predictors of overall writing quality are well supported in the empirical literature (Abbott & Berninger, 1993; Berninger et al., 2017; Hayes, 2006; Kim & Schatschneider, 2017). The inclusion of such variables that involve individual differences in basic writing skills (e.g., handwriting fluency, spelling) within an explanatory model of writing should be studied within groups (e.g., boys and girls) to determine whether patterns of empirical results generalize across groups (e. …

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