Background: Literacy is championed as a pathway out of poverty, yet it is vulnerable to the risk circumstances it seeks to mitigate. This study explored the developmental circumstances that gave rise to stark inequalities in reading achievement in Australian children across 6 years of school.
Methods: We used data from Growing up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children linked to Australia’s National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy across school years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Latent class analysis and growth curve modelling (n=4983) were used to identify risk profiles for reading achievement for children (ages 8.2–15.2).
Results: Four distinct profiles were identified: developmentally enabled profile (62% of children); sociodemographic risk profile (25% of children); child development risk profile (11% of children); and sociodemographic and child development (double disadvantage) risk profile (2% of children). Children with a developmentally enabled profile achieved the expected rate of growth of 1.0 year per year of school across years 3, 5, 7 and 9. By comparison, children with sociodemographic and/or child development risk profiles started behind their developmentally enabled peers, and lost ground over time.
Discussion: Across 6 years of school, multiple risk-exposed children lagged behind low risk-exposed children in the order of years of lost gains in reading achievement. The results point to the complex contexts of educational disadvantage and the need for cross-cutting social, health and education policies and coordinated multiagency intervention efforts to break the cycle of educational disadvantage.