Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13: 273–296, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Early prediction of individual growth in reading
& INGVAR LUNDBERG
Department of Education, Växjö University, Växjö, Sweden;
Department of Psychology,
Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden
Abstract. Seventy four boys with reading disabilities and a matched control group of normal
readers were followed during their compulsory schooling (to grade 9). Word decoding perfor-
mance was assessed with the Wordchains test on three occasions. For each student a linear
growth function was estimated. The slope parameter was used as the dependent variable in a
multiple regression analysis with a large number of explanatory factors from grades 2 and 3
including phonological skills, reading and spelling, non-verbal intelligence, motor skills, eye
movements, teacher ratings of school behaviour and parents’ education. The proportion of
variance in growth explained for the reading disabled boys amounted to 25%, the most power-
ful predictors being early reading performance and non-verbal intelligence. More surprisingly,
neither teacher ratings nor family background gave useful predictive information. For the
control group none of the independent variables explained the variance of growth in reading.
Keywords: Growth-curve analysis, Reading disability, Word decoding
Children not only show wide variation in reading skill already in the ﬁrst
school year, they also show considerable variation in the course of develop-
ment over the school years. The variance of reading skill has been the target of
explanatory attempts in a large number of investigations. Several factors have
been identiﬁed as powerful predictors of early reading achievement, such as
phonological awareness, letter knowledge in pre-school, language develop-
ment, intelligence, print exposure, parents’ education, etc. (for a review, see
However, individual trajectories in reading development are less known,
neither descriptively nor in terms of explanatory factors. How long does it
take before word recognition is a fully automated skill? Why do some indi-
viduals show slow development in the beginning and a rapid spurt later on?
Do most of the slow starters catch up eventually? Questions like these require
a longitudinal approach, preferably a follow-up over a long period of time
with several repeated measures.
Recent methodological research in the measurement of individual change
has been reoriented from change to growth and has begun to focus directly
on the “continuously moving line of each child’s development” (Bock 1976:
76). Francis, Fletcher, Stuebing, Davidson and Thompson (1991) discuss two