What Do We Know About Reading and Students with E/BD?
When you watch a young child reading aloud from a favorite book with fluency, expression, and ease, it is difficult to imagine that reading can be anything but the easiest task to master. Fortunately, for most students reading is a skill that is readily acquired. However, reading researchers view the reading process as a complex one, and though acquired easily by some youngsters, it is only with enormous difficulty and practice that others learn to read (Pressley, 1998). This is particularly true for most of the students who are identified for special education services (Bos & Vaughn, 1998). In particular, students with cognitive impairments such as mental retardation and learning disabilities (LD) are "at risk" for demonstrating significant difficulties in the acquisition of reading skills, with more than 90% of these students requiring special instruction in reading (Lyon, 1995).
Is the case the same for students with E/BD? To assist us in teaching students with E/BD, it is important first to learn what the research says about the reading of students with E/BD. This article explores research relative to students' reading achievement levels, the comparison of reading levels for students with E/BD and students with LD, and the relationship between externalizing behaviors and reading problems.
Reading Levels of Students with E/BD
Only a few studies have documented the reading achievement of students with E/BD. Most of these studies have described reading levels, based on standardized measures, for purposes of comparison with achievement in other subjects or to other groups of students.
The achievement patterns of psychiatric samples, such as students hospitalized for serious behavior disorders, have been studied by Forness and his colleagues, who found moderate levels of reading difficulties. In one study, students were on the average only moderately below grade level on a standardized test of reading achievement despite considerable variability within the sample (Forness, Frankel, Caldon, & Carter, 1980). In a second study, only one-third of a sample of 92 psychiatric inpatients had deficits of more than 1 year in reading when adjusted for IQ (Forness, Bennett, & Tose, 1983). In addition, they displayed a homogeneous pattern of underachievement in reading, spelling, and math, rather than specific deficits in one area. Students in both samples ranged from elementary to middle school (ages 6–14).
Descriptive achievement data have also been obtained on students with E/BD who are in the public schools (Kauffman, Cullinan, & Epstein, 1987). Due to the large age range (7–19), the students were subdivided into younger, middle, and older groups. Almost three-fourths of the sample, regardless of the age group, were functioning 1 to 2 or more years below grade level on reading comprehension.
Another way in which reading achievement has been explored is by studying the intellectual and achievement characteristics of students with E/BD. A review of 25 studies published from 1966 to 1985 in this area (Mastropieri, Jenkins, & Scruggs, 1985) revealed the following:
- Underachievement in reading was noted when actual achievement was compared to intellectual ability levels.
- Support was found for the notion that students with BD are underachieving in all areas of academic functioning with no content-specific deficits, except in some studies that documented more serious problems with math.
- While other variables have been studied in relation to achievement including attitude toward school subjects, locus of control, impulsivity, and responses to test-taking situations, no causal links between these variables and reading levels were evident.
In summary, the reading levels of students with E/BD as a group may be characterized as typically below grade level and moderately deficient. This finding holds across all grade levels. However, as with any categorization or subgroup, there is considerable variability among students with E/BD, with some individuals being excellent readers. Most studies suggest that students with E/BD also exhibit patterns of underachievement when ability levels are taken into consideration.
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