Understanding the influence of text complexity and question type on reading outcomes

  • Mercedes Spencer
  • Allison F. Gilmour
  • Amanda C. Miller
  • Angela M. Emerson
  • Neena M. Saha
  • Laurie E. CuttingEmail author


In the current study, we examined how student characteristics and cognitive skills, differing levels of text complexity (cohesion, decoding, vocabulary, and syntax), and reading comprehension question types (literal, inferential, critical analysis, and reading strategy) affected different types of reading outcomes (multiple-choice reading comprehension questions, free recall, and oral reading fluency) in a sample of 181 native English-speaking adolescents (9 to 14.83 years). Results from item response theory one-parameter models and multilevel models suggested that different cognitive skills predicted performance across the three reading outcomes. After controlling for student characteristics and cognitive skills, text complexity negatively impacted reading outcomes, particularly oral reading fluency and free recall. Critical analysis and inferential questions emerged as the most difficult types of comprehension questions. The implications of these findings are discussed.


Item response theory Reading comprehension Oral reading fluency Assessment Multilevel models 



This research was supported by Grant Numbers R01 HD 044073, U54 HD 083211, and R01 HD 044073-14S1 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Grant Number UL1 TR000445 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mercedes Spencer
    • 1
  • Allison F. Gilmour
    • 2
  • Amanda C. Miller
    • 3
  • Angela M. Emerson
    • 4
  • Neena M. Saha
    • 1
  • Laurie E. Cutting
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Special Education, Vanderbilt Kennedy CenterVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Teaching and LearningTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Regis CollegeRegis UniversityDenverUSA
  4. 4.Center for Neuromodulation, Stanley D. and Joan H. Ross Center for Brain Health and PerformanceOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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