Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



Forthcoming in Journal of Learning Disabilities. Copyright © 2009 Jennifer M. Thomson and Tiffany P. Hogan.


As we write the prologue to this Special Issue of the Journal of Learning Disabilities, "Advances in the early detection of reading risk," the U.S. National Early Literacy Panel has recently released its report, “Developing Early Literacy” (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). A chapter of the report is devoted to reviewing studies that attempt to identify the most accurate preschool and kindergarten predictors of later outcomes in reading and spelling. The report is affirmative of an emerging consensus that the very early status of skills directly related to literacy: alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming (RAN), phonological memory and early writing, is highly correlated to early progress in reading, spelling and writing. Yet the report also highlights how far we are from fully understanding the early development of literacy. As the authors point out, despite the scope of the analysis being from birth to 5-years-old, the initial age of children in most of the studies available was 4 years of age or older and outcome variables generally did not go beyond second grade, with many studies restricting their focus to within-kindergarten relationships. In this way, the findings are highly influenced by proximity effects, i.e. skills measurable immediately at the onset of literacy instruction yield the highest correlations to early literacy through both their cognitive and temporal proximity to early reading measures. Another somewhat surprising finding was the inconsistent predictive value of oral language once alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness were controlled and further the observation that more complex oral language skills, such as grammar, definitional vocabulary, and listening comprehension, had stronger relationships with both decoding and reading comprehension compared to basic measures of vocabulary production/understanding. The report calls for studies that help elucidate a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the role of oral language in literacy development. In the collection of papers here we set out to add meaningfully to the body of evidence summarized by the NELP report in several key ways.