Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Learning and Instruction


Learning & Instruction EdD

First Advisor

Robert Burns

Second Advisor

Kevin Oh

Third Advisor

Helen Maniates


Factors that Affect the Reading Comprehension of Secondary Students with Disabilities

Thirty-million Americans are considered functionally illiterate and are unable to complete job applications or understand health care forms. Fifty-seven percent of adults with disabilities believe that job opportunities are limited due to their poor reading ability. Without strong literacy skills, post-secondary college and employment options are limited. The genesis of adult literacy issues can be linked to below-grade level reading at the elementary and secondary school levels. For students with disabilities (SWD), reading deficits are rampant and lead to low self-efficacy and higher drop-out rates. While reading difficulties are not isolated to SWD, there is a significant gap in reading achievement between students with and students without disabilities. Additionally, poor academic outcomes for SWD are related to inconsistency in the application of teaching reading strategies.

To understand the factors integral to reading comprehension, this study explored the relative importance of working memory, vocabulary, prior knowledge, word recognition, reading strategies, and motivation-to-read for the reading comprehension of secondary SWD. These variables represent the major constructs of Kintsch’s Construction Integration Model of reading and have been identified in reading comprehension research as the factors integral to reading comprehension.

Participants were 158 SWD in grades 9 to 12 attending two large urban northern California high schools. Multiple regression analyses were conducted with the affective and cognitive variables both individually and jointly and, in order of importance, word recognition, vocabulary, reading strategies, working memory, and prior knowledge were found to influence the reading comprehension of secondary SWD. Of the motivation-to-read factors, extrinsic motivation had a statistically significant negative relationship with reading comprehension indicating that internally motivated students had higher reading comprehension ability. Intrinsic motivation was also a significant contributor to reading comprehension when the affective factors were regressed onto reading comprehension. Differences in the relative importance of the cognitive components between low- and high-comprehenders were also noted suggesting that high-comprehenders had more internalized reading abilities than low-comprehenders.

The results from this study findings suggest a variety of cognitive and affective factors influence the reading comprehension of secondary SWD. Knowing the relative importance of these variables will help identify appropriate instruction to target key reading deficits. Multi-sensory direct instruction in word recognition and vocabulary is one such method that has promise for secondary SWD.

Included in

Education Commons