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ASU part of major reading comprehension research effort

July 20, 2010

Two scientists at Arizona State University are on a core team of researchers from five universities awarded $20 million to improve listening and reading comprehension in preschool through third grade.

The “Language Bases for Reading Comprehension” grant is part of the larger “Reading for Understanding” research initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, which focuses on the development of reading comprehension from preschool through 12th grade. 

Many American students do not understand what they read well enough to support their success in school, work and society, according to IES,  the research arm of the federal agency. 

The IES initiative comes after decades of reading research that primarily focused on word-recognition skills like phonemic awareness or decoding – essential in helping children to get words off a page, but not enough to singlehandedly enable them to read with understanding. This project brings the disciplines of speech and hearing sciences, education, educational research methodology, developmental psychology, experimental psychology and quantitative psychology to increase basic understanding of the role of lower- and higher-level language skills in listening and reading comprehension. 

The ASU research team is lead by Shelley Gray and Laida Restrepo, associate professors in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The ASU team will manage a $4.3 million subcontract of the $20 million grant. The five-year study is under the direction of Ohio State University’s Laura Justice, who will oversee the research teams from OSU and ASU as well as  University of Kansas; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; and Lancaster University in the U.K.  More than 3,000 children in over 300 classrooms are expected to participate. 

Gray explained that research at ASU will involve three studies. The first longitudinal design will require five years to complete. Researchers will follow a large group of children in preschool through third grade to identify key precursors of skilled reading comprehension. The second study is the development of two oral language and listening comprehension interventions for preschoolers and kindergarteners that are designed to improve later reading comprehension. The development will involve teachers and administrators from local school districts. The third study will be a randomized controlled trial of the fully developed oral language and listening comprehension interventions. 

“ASU's unique contribution to the project is a parallel set of studies investigating listening and reading comprehension in children who are learning to speak English as a second language,” said Gray. Working with preschools in the Phoenix metro area, the ASU research team will work with teachers and administrators to develop a bilingual intervention for young children. 

Gray and Restrepo invite schools that are interested in participating in the research to contact them via email or phone: or 480-965-6796. Stipends are available for teachers and administrators who work with the development team and schools that participate in the research, Gray noted.


Written by Maria Polletta (

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences