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The Role of Behavior in Improving Reading Outcomes: A Synthesis

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 1:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Previous research supports the correlation between language disorders and behavior problems (see Chow & Wehby, 2016), noting that students who exhibit one of these challenges often experience difficulties in the other. Furthermore, students exhibiting difficulties in one or both of these areas are more likely to also experience academic challenges, including difficulties in reading and math (Lane, 2008). That is, students identified as having emotional/behavior disorders (EBD) are likely to also exhibit learning difficulties, and those identified with learning disabilities may be more likely than typically developing peers to exhibit challenging behaviors (Kavale & Forness, 1996). Given the relation between behavior and academic challenges and their tendency to co-occur in students across disability categories, recent research has investigated ways to meet the academic and behavioral needs of struggling students. A recent synthesis by Roberts and colleagues (2015) investigated the role of reading interventions in improving behavior outcomes for students in grades K-12. Findings from the synthesis revealed that although reading-focused intervention studies tended to result in positive reading outcomes, they yielded minimal to negative behavioral effects. Their findings indicated that high-quality reading instruction, alone, was insufficient for improving student behavior.

The present study extends the existing literature to examine the relation between behavior and academics achievement. Specifically, we synthesize findings from school-based interventions to determine the extent to which behavior interventions improve reading outcomes for students with disabilities. In the review, we summarize findings from studies that (a) solely target behavior (i.e., “behavior-only”) or behavior and reading, and (c) report reading outcomes for students with disabilities in grades K-12. Of the studies meeting inclusionary criteria (K=26), a majority of studies (k = 17) used single-case design to determine intervention effectiveness, and half (k = 13) included training in metacognitive awareness. Studies were published between 200-2017 and included students with learning disabilities (LD; k = 12), ADHD/other health impairments (k = 10), EBD (k=4), speech-language impairment (k = 2), autism spectrum disorders (k=2), intellectual disability (ID; k = 1), and hearing impairment (k = 1). Findings indicate some improvement in reading skills and retention of skills for combined reading/behavioral interventions, and some improvement in behavior. Of the behavior-only studies reporting reading outcomes (k = 3), only one reported improved reading achievement among participants following treatment. Findings suggest that in general, behavior intervention alone may be insufficient for improving reading outcomes for students with disabilities. As in the review by Roberts et al. (2015), these findings support further development and refinement of interventions addressing both reading and behavior, and reporting of both outcomes in intervention research. In particular, more research is needed on populations identified by language and behavior characteristics (e.g., ID), as well as examination of individual learners’ characteristics within those designations. Further investigation of instructional methods such as data-based individualization may provide more precise methods for identifying and supporting students’ individual academic and behavioral needs in research and practice.


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