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Is reading comprehension difficulty a myth?

by Sarah Forrest || 25 Mar 2019

Reading comprehension is one of the primary markers of progress in elementary/primary school. If your child is in the classroom between the ages of 5 and 10, it is highly likely that their progress reports will contain a grade for comprehension!

But what do you DO about poor reading comprehension, if it’s a problem? Chances are, just asking your child more questions about what they read is not going to cut it. (If you’ve dealt with this problem, then you’ll know that is only a recipe for tears and frustration!)

That is because reading comprehension is hardly ever the root problem.

A 2014 study found that from over 425,000 participants, “less than one percent of first- through third-grade students who scored as poor in reading comprehension were adequate in both decoding and vocabulary.”

That is, if reading comprehension is a problem for a child, there’s a very strong chance it’s because they don’t have the decoding skills they need. For a lesser percentage of students, a specific language/vocabulary impairment would be to blame, and parents would almost certainly already have that diagnosis by elementary school.

So what does this huge study of nearly half a million students tell us? In the vast majority of cases, a comprehension problem = a decoding problem!

You can read more about the importance of decoding – and how to improve it – here:


Sarah Forrest is a Program Advisor for David Morgan Education and contributor at She joined DM Ed in Oxford, England after studying Spanish lit at Yale University. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she coaches parents and children through trainertext visual phonics.