Achievement gaps for students with disabilities: Stable, widening, or narrowing on a state-wide reading comprehension test?

Ann C. Schulte, Joseph J. Stevens, Stephen Elliott, Gerald Tindal, Joseph F T Nese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Reading comprehension growth trajectories from 3rd to 7th grade were estimated for 99,919 students on a state reading comprehension assessment. We examined whether differences between students in general education (GE) and groups of students identified as exceptional learners were best characterized as stable, widening, or narrowing. The groups included students with disabilities (SWD) from 8 exceptionality groups and 2 groups of academically gifted students (AG). Initial reading comprehension achievement differed for all exceptionalities. Controlling for sociodemographic variables, small, but statistically significant differences in growth rate were observed, with SWD groups growing more rapidly and AG groups growing more slowly than GE students. Given that differences in growth for SWD were small relative to the magnitude of the initial achievement gaps, the observed pattern of growth was one of stable differences. There was evidence of some narrowing of the achievement gap for students identified with learning disabilities in reading. The findings were interpreted within the simple view of reading where increases in word recognition skills for SWD in the grade range examined may have accounted for their more rapid growth in reading comprehension relative to GE students. The findings suggest that similar expectations for rate of reading growth for GE students and SWD might be incorporated into growthbased accountability models, but they also suggest that reading comprehension growth sufficient to have an impact on SWD achievement gaps does not routinely occur in typical educational practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-942
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Achievement gaps
  • Hierarchical linear modeling
  • Matthew effect
  • Reading comprehension
  • Students with disabilities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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