Patterns and Predictors of Language and Literacy Abilities 4-10 Years in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children

Zubrick, Stephen R.; Taylor, Catherine L.; Christensen, Daniel
September 2015
PLoS ONE;9/9/2015, Vol. 10 Issue 9, p1
Academic Journal
Aims: Oral language is the foundation of literacy. Naturally, policies and practices to promote children’s literacy begin in early childhood and have a strong focus on developing children’s oral language, especially for children with known risk factors for low language ability. The underlying assumption is that children’s progress along the oral to literate continuum is stable and predictable, such that low language ability foretells low literacy ability. This study investigated patterns and predictors of children’s oral language and literacy abilities at 4, 6, 8 and 10 years. The study sample comprised 2,316 to 2,792 children from the first nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Six developmental patterns were observed, a stable middle-high pattern, a stable low pattern, an improving pattern, a declining pattern, a fluctuating low pattern, and a fluctuating middle-high pattern. Most children (69%) fit a stable middle-high pattern. By contrast, less than 1% of children fit a stable low pattern. These results challenged the view that children’s progress along the oral to literate continuum is stable and predictable. Findings: Multivariate logistic regression was used to investigate risks for low literacy ability at 10 years and sensitivity-specificity analysis was used to examine the predictive utility of the multivariate model. Predictors were modelled as risk variables with the lowest level of risk as the reference category. In the multivariate model, substantial risks for low literacy ability at 10 years, in order of descending magnitude, were: low school readiness, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status and low language ability at 8 years. Moderate risks were high temperamental reactivity, low language ability at 4 years, and low language ability at 6 years. The following risk factors were not statistically significant in the multivariate model: Low maternal consistency, low family income, health care card, child not read to at home, maternal smoking, maternal education, family structure, temperamental persistence, and socio-economic area disadvantage. The results of the sensitivity-specificity analysis showed that a well-fitted multivariate model featuring risks of substantive magnitude did not do particularly well in predicting low literacy ability at 10 years.


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