What We Know About Correlates of Reading

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 11 describes the following:

Title | What We Know About Correlates of Reading

Author | Hammil, D.

SourceExceptional Children, 70(4), 453-469.

Year Published | 2004

This research analyzed the combined results of 3 meta-analyses that examined the extent to which a variety of measures of specific abilities related to reading. More than 450 studies were reviewed, and almost 11,000 different coefficients were analyzed. The best predictors of reading proved to be other written language abilities (i.e., abilities involving print). The implications were: (1) Professionals interested in improving literacy skills should focus on teaching written language abilities such as print awareness and book handling, letters, phoneme-letter correspondences, word recognition, alphabet knowledge, and comprehension; and (2) the current interest in the role of nonprint abilities in reading such as phonological awareness, rapid naming, intelligence, and memory might be overemphasized. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)(journal abstract)

Educational laws such as No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have placed an increased emphasis on using scientifically based practices in education, particularly reading instruction. Fortunately, reading instruction and literacy skills are among the most researched areas of education. Over the past 50 years, researchers have tried to determine which skills form the foundation for reading. The skills that have been examined range from the most basic, such as print awareness and book handling, to the more complex, such as comprehension and intelligence. This meta-analysis examines what skills best predict reading ability in children.

Research Questions
The present study was conducted to (a) analyze and interpret the results of 3 extensive meta-analyses that examined the extent to which a variety of measures of specific abilities relate to reading achievement; and (b) to discuss the relevance of the results on identification and intervention procedures.

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | This study examined 3 meta-analyses. In total, the 3 meta-analyses synthesized for this article examined 452 studies.
  • Number of Subjects | 10,754
  • Years Spanned | 1950-2002

Research Subjects
Children who were learning to read.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Most of the subjects were learning pre-reading skills or in beginning reading programs. The majority of children ranged from the pre-kindergarten level through elementary school.

Specified Disability
This meta-anlysis did not focus on children with disabilities.

Various reading programs.

Duration of Intervention

The most accurate and dependable predictor of reading ability was a student’s success with and experience with: Reading, Writing Conventions, Letters, and Written Knowledge.

Combined Effects Size
The combined effect size of specific abilities related to reading achievement were as follows: Reading (0.71), Writing Conventions (0.62), Letters (0.52), Written Language (0.47), Rapid Naming (0.44), Phonological Awareness (0.40), Intelligence (0.35), and Memory (0.30). Other abilities had less significant impacts on reading achievement.

Note: Effect size is a statistical calculation, often represented as ES or d, that measures the impact of an intervention. An effect size below d = 0.20 suggests that a treatment did not have a significant effect. An effect size of d = 0.20 is considered small or low; an effect size of d = 0.50 is considered moderate; an effect size of d = 0.80 or above is large.


  1. The abilities that correlate with overall strong reading skills are those associated with the English writing system. Strong reading skills do not simply correlate to a student’s knowledge and experience with reading itself, but also with writing conventions, letters, and written knowledge clusters. The elements that make a strong reader include the abilities to: (a) associate speech sounds with letters (phonics); (b) sound out and pronounce words; (c) comprehend print; and (d) read with accuracy and speed. Strong readers also tend to excel with other print tasks such as spelling, punctuating, constructing sentences, and writing composition.
  2. Programs that stress a variety of written language skills are the most effective. The specific written language skills to be stressed are: print awareness; alphabet knowledge; sound-letter correspondence; spelling; punctuation; abbreviations; acronyms; comprehension; reading fluency; and writing composition.
  3. Skills that do not specifically focus on written language, but on other areas of language outside of the realm of print, do not correlate strongly with reading ability. These skills include phonemic awareness, rapid naming, speech, and memory.

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