“Students from disadvantaged backgrounds show a characteristic pattern of reading achievement in school: they make good progress until around fourth grade, and then suddenly fall behind. The importance of background knowledge to comprehension gives us insight into this phenomenon. Reading instruction in the early grades concerns decoding, and so reading tests are basically tests of decoding ability. Kids from wealthier homes in fact do a bit better on these tests, but poorer children are still doing okay. But around fourth grade most children can decode fairly well, and so reading tests place greater weight on comprehension. The disadvantaged kids have not had the same opportunities to acquire the vocabulary and background knowledge needed to succeed on these tests and so their performance drops significantly.”
Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.