The Berlin Longitudinal Reading Study (LESEN 3-6)

Objectives and Design

The ability to read and understand texts is not only important in the school context, it is also crucial for participation in social, political, cultural, and economic life. This certainty makes the results of recent international educational assessments such as PISA, which revealed considerable deficits in students’ reading literacy in Germany (e.g., Baumert et al., 2001; Bos et al., 2003), all the more alarming. Against this background, the Berlin Longitudinal Reading Study was designed to examine individual and social factors influencing the development of reading literacy, reading motivation, and reading behaviors from 3rd to 6th grade.

A total of 33 elementary school classes in Berlin participated in the study. Assessment began at the end of 3rd grade, by which time students have typically acquired basic reading skills, and more complex reading and comprehension processes play an increasingly important role. These processes are prerequisites for continued learning both in school and throughout life.

Research Questions and Preliminary Findings

The individual factors investigated were the development and interaction of reading motivation, reading self-concept, reading practice, reading-related metacognitive knowledge, vocabulary, and decoding skills.
Findings showed that vocabulary plays a particularly important role in the level and development of reading literacy. At the same time, good reading abilities promote vocabulary development, further boosting levels of reading achievement. This mechanism explains the magnitude of the gap that exists between good and weak readers by the end of compulsory schooling. The gender gap at the end of elementary schooling is not yet as pronounced as that found at age 15 in the PISA study, but girls’ reading motivation is already much higher. The reading motivation of both girls and boys decreases to the same extent over time, however.
Because data are available on students’ development before and after selection to the different tracks of the secondary system, it is possible to examine how students’ reading development is influenced by school quality effects or the effects of the tracked school system. In view of the close connection between family background and academic achievement, moreover, we will analyze the relationship between the development of reading literacy and specific background factors (e.g., cultural capital in the sense of reading together, parental encouragement to read, or parents as reading role models).

Further objectives are to analyze the use of cognitive and metacognitive reading strategies in this age group, to survey teachers on their classroom practice and provision of remedial instruction, and to examine the diagnostic competence of German teachers with respect to their students’ reading literacy.
The longitudinal data have also been used to examine whether children from immigrant families and children from native German families show comparable patterns of development in reading literacy and specific prerequisites for reading (e.g., vocabulary, decoding skills, and motivation) from grades 3 to 6, and whether these factors play the same role in both groups. It emerged that the differences in favor of native German children were primarily attributable to their more favorable social backgrounds, which had a significant effect on the performance level at the end of the 3rd grade, but not on further literacy development up to the end of the 6th grade. Vocabulary had a greater impact than decoding skills on baseline achievement level and subsequent change in both groups. These analyses should help to identify appropriate points of intervention for programs and initiatives to support the reading skills of students from immigrant backgrounds.


Nele McElvany
Michael Becker