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An Epidemiological and Longitudinal Study of Rural Child Literacy Trajectories

Elementary school is the critical period for setting the stage for children’s future academic success. The most important academic skill that is developed during this period is literacy, without which most other content area material cannot be learned well. In fact, research has found that literacy trajectories often become fixed in early elementary school, especially for children at risk. A fixed downward path in literacy during middle childhood is especially prevalent for children living in rural areas, many of whom are African American and/or poor. The current project will have unique opportunities to better understand what factors contribute to literacy trajectories, as well as factors that may buffer children against poor trajectories.

This project capitalizes on the data already collected on a large representative sample children living in rural poverty who have been followed since birth. The Family Life Project has been an 11 year project funded by NICHD and has extensive data on children’s development, including observed parenting input in the home (sensitivity, language input, and parent resources) from 6 months to 1st grade; observed quality of instruction in the classroom and teacher ratings of literacy instructional time and content from pre-K to 3rd grade; and child literacy measures of vocabulary, word recognition, and reading comprehension from K to 3rd grade. In addition, a host of other important information is gathered on families, including maternal literacy, education, age, and employment as well as poverty status, marital status, and other covariates that are not available on other projects.

This project can help understand, like no other project, the parenting practices in the home and the instructional processes in the classroom at each grade level that are related to child gains in literacy. Through our examination of the characteristics of schools, classrooms, and teachers, we will be able to better account for these different trajectories in achievement by race, poverty, and gender as well as by school poverty level. Furthermore, it is critically important to understand whether quality of instruction is more important for children with lower literacy skills than others as well as whether instruction is more important for our other risk groups (African American, poverty status, and gender). This project will contribute uniquely to our understanding of whether specific observed child skill X teacher instruction interactions during elementary school predict literacy achievement in children in low-wealth rural areas.


Funding Agency:  

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Funding Period:  

07/20/2014 to 06/30/2019

Award Amount:  



Margaret M. Swingler, Advanced Research Scientist