Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Dissertation (UNI Access Only)


Reading (Middle school); Sixth grade (Education);


A persistent decline in reading proficiency levels for students as they move from grade 5 to grade 6 has existed in the state of Iowa over the past several years (Iowa Department of Education, 2017). While many state initiatives to support literacy such as Every Child Reads, Title I, and Early Literacy Instruction are targeted at the early grades, the most significant drop in reading achievement occurs as students transition from fifth to sixth grade (Iowa Department of Education, 2017). At the same time, the complexity of reading demands increases as evidenced by the changes in curriculum expectations and the addition of literacy standards for science, social studies, and technical subjects (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). At this level, there is also a shift in expectations for literacy instruction. Teachers of various subject areas have often resisted the call to be ‘a teacher of reading’ (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). Past approaches include content literacy, or the ability to effectively use reading and writing as tools for learning content area texts (Bean, Readence, & Baldwin, 2011). Recently, the approach of disciplinary literacy, the ability to engage in the literacy practices consistent with those used by subject area experts (Fang, 2014) has emerged as a method to support literacy instruction. While there is an abundance of research on effective content and disciplinary literacy practices, there is also a gap between these findings and teacher practice. This gap, along with the increasing complexity of text, may also contribute to the decline in reading proficiency as students advance through the grades. The shift from generalized content strategies that apply to multiple subject areas to disciplinary literacy strategies that are specific to the unique needs of a subject has the potential to close the research and practice gap (Fang & Coatoam, 2013). Without a deep understanding of the similarities and differences between content literacy and disciplinary literacy, teachers may view this shift as a change in semantics rather than an incentive for change in practice. This mixed method study will focus on student variables such as gender, socio-economic status, and special education status to determine if these factors can predict whether students who were proficient in reading comprehension at the end of third grade will no longer be proficient at the end of sixth grade. It will also explore the confidence and preparation of teachers to teach the literacy skills and strategies necessary for students to access and comprehend the content they teach as students advance through the grades.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education

First Advisor

Timothy Gilson, Committee Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xiii, 169 pages)



File Format


Off-Campus Download