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Identifying children at risk of reading disorder

Researchers: Dr Hannah Nash | Dr Paula Clarke ...

Project overview

This is the first large-scale study of dynamic assessment of three components of reading (decoding, orthographic learning and vocabulary) in a UK context. Current screening measures of reading are static and assess a child’s existing knowledge, which is a product of their capacity to learn and their experience. So, as well as identifying children with learning disorders they will also pick up children who have had less opportunity to learn English, such as children for whom English is an additional language.

Dynamic learning tasks measure a child’s ability to learn through teaching during the task (Grigorenko, 2009). The researchers aim to establish whether the dynamic assessments can predict development in reading and whether they are more accurate than current screening measures in identifying children with a reading disorder.

There is a need for reliable, accessible and accurate tools to identify those children who are most at-risk of reading failure. Low literacy is related to a range of poor life outcomes; better early identification methods will enable targeted timely intervention, and ultimately improve the life chances of many young children.


The project is divided into three work packages; decoding, orthographic learning and vocabulary. Each work packages will employ the same longitudinal design with two time points 12 months apart. At the first time point the experimental dynamic test, traditional static measures of reading related skills and reading will be administered. Reading will be assessed again at the second time point and the cut-off for reading disorder determined in each work packages.

The researchers will aim to recruit approximately 300 children to allow for potential attrition. For the decoding work packages children will be recruited at the start of Reception (4 years old, at the beginning of formal reading instruction), for the orthographic learning work packages children will be recruited from year 2 (6-7 years old, when they are making the transition from beginner to more fluent reader) and for the vocabulary work packages children will be recruited from year 3 (7-8 years old, a point at which reading comprehension can be meaningfully measured).


  1. To improve the accuracy of screening for reading disorders, to identify children who require specialist intervention.
  2. To influence policy and practice with regards to screening children for reading disorder.
  3. To advance the methodology of dynamic assessment, extending its application to assess different components of reading.
  4. To increase our understanding of the skills that underpin reading development and contribute to theories of reading.


  • Dr Hannah Nash
    University of Leeds
  • Dr Paula Clarke
    University of Leeds
  • Dr Anna Weighall
    University of Leeds

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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