Effects of reading instruction on cognitive processes (ERIC) - A computer-based assessment in elementary schools

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Being able to read texts fluently and understand their content is a key competence and prerequisite for educational success. Primary school education lays the foundation for efficient reading competence which can have a strong influence on later educational achievement. Understanding the causes for successful learning outcomes as well as learning deficits is hence a central concern for both practitioners and educational researchers from many disciplines.

The project ERIC is a collaboration between researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB) and the Institute for Educational Progress (IQB) who interested in the relationship between learning processes of individual students and teaching methods employed by teachers in German primary school classes. We want to investigate which cognitive processes underlie reading competency in 4th grade children and how different teaching methods influence their development. Our aim is to provide some insight into what kinds of instruction result in the most stable learning achievements in reading competence.

Why ERIC is important

Die Grundlagen fuer viele Kompetenzen werden in der Grundschule gelegt. | The pr
© Mauritius

The last decades have seen a growing number of national and international large scales assessments in Germany (e.g., PISA, IGLU, IQB Ländervergleich). While some of these assessments measured children’s and adolescent’s literacy skills, these generally provide an output orientated description of the current levels of literacy achievement but do not offer insights into instruction and learning processes. The study ERIC aims to fill this gap. The criticism that large-scale assessments do not provide adequate information on instructional and learning processes is particularly relevant in the primary school setting. Although reading comprehension deficits are generally diagnosed in secondary educational settings, the causes for these deficits often lie in inefficient development underlying reading processes during earlier years of education. These processes start at the very basic level of decoding single words. With this in mind, we intend to investigate the use of learning opportunities in reading tuition in primary education and how specific didactic methods influence the development of cognitive processes underlying reading comprehension.

What makes ERIC different from other studies

Lehrmethoden können sehr unterschiedlich eingesetzt werden und sich unterschied
© Mauritius

The project ERIC brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB) and the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement (IQB) in Berlin. ERIC is funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and aims to track the development of reading processes and the availability learning opportunities in German lessons in German primary schools. We will follow fourth grade students in the last six months of their school year and correlate the development of their reading processes with scores on a national reading assessment at the end of the school year. Our aim is to provide results of practical relevance to primary school reading education and to provide an evidentiary basis to detect and remediate developmental deficits in specific reading processes.

Research questions we want to answer in ERIC

For educators to provide the best possible support to students in their reading development, four main questions need to be addressed:

1. What are the relevant cognitive processes underlying reading comprehension that educators can potentially influence to best support student’s reading development? How well do these reading processes predict success in reading assessments used in large-scale educational assessment?

2. Are educators able to diagnose students’ proficiency in specific cognitive processes underlying reading comprehension? Are specific deficits diagnosed adequately in typical educational settings?

3. What learning opportunities to educators provide their students? How are these learning opportunities adapted to the individual needs of students?

4. Which educational methods and techniques are particularly effective in supporting students’ reading development and their success in educational assessments of reading comprehension? Which groups of students profit from specific learning opportunities?

How ERIC will be conducted

Computergestützte Testverfahren koennen z.B. Reaktionszeiten messen. | Computer
© N. Lüth

ERIC is comprised of a sample of 60 fourth grade classes, recruited from the federal states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Rheinland-Pfalz. The study will not compare individual schools, students, or federal states.


ERIC will include two assessment points of students’ reading processes and an online questionnaire study of the students’ German teachers:

1. Students will take part in a computer-based assessment of their reading processes (T1) which will be repeated after three months (T2). At T2 students will additionally take part in a national assessment encompassing the domains of reading comprehension, listening comprehension and orthographic proficiency. The computer-based assessments will be conducted in groups of 15 students with trained test instructors.

2. The teachers of the participating students will give evaluations of their students’ proficiency in specific reading processes. Teachers will also make regular entries in an online logbook, describing their teaching techniques and the learning opportunities provided to their students over a three month period. These entries will document time dedicated to specific tasks and exercises, content and methods of German lessons and an evaluation of the quality of tuition provided.


ERIC | Logo


Principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Sascha Schroeder
sascha [dot] schroeder [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de

Project coordinator at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Simon Tiffin-Richards
tiffin-richards [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de

Principal investigators at the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement

Katrin Böhme
katrin [dot] boehme [at] iqb [dot] hu-berlin [dot] de

Dirk Richter
dirk [dot] richter [at] uni-potsdam [dot] de                

Technical assistant at the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement

Jana Bastian-Wurzel
jana [dot] bastian-wurzel [at] iqb [dot] hu-berlin [dot] de