Psychologist Obtains Research Award to Improve Young Learners’ Reading and Writing

The UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) is pleased to announce that Yusra Ahmed, research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, has received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The three-year grant, which totals $1.14 million, funds research into improving academic achievement among grade-school students struggling with reading, writing and comprehension.

“This prestigious award will allow Dr. Ahmed to deepen her important exploration of reading and writing difficulties in young students,” said Dr. Antonio D. Tillis, dean of CLASS. “This problem disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged children. Dr. Ahmed’s research will help transform these students into future UH Cougars and academic achievers across the nation.”

All research will be conducted at the University of Houston using archival data on approximately 1.5 million students from the state of Connecticut. Severe reading and writing learning difficulties occur in five to ten percent of children in the United States, constituting a serious public-health problem and placing financial burdens on society.

Although large-scale interventions to improve reading are common in American schools, Ahmed says data has shown the positive impacts of these efforts to be negligible. She believes educators must increase their focus on domain-specific processes, such as inference making and cross-domain relations with writing skills, to elevate student achievement in reading.

“A common misconception about learning disabilities in reading and writing is that students struggle because of difficulties with spelling or word reading,” Ahmed said. “However, many students experience reading and writing difficulties despite adequate literacy skills at the word level. Despite being able to read every word in a story, they fail to comprehend the meaning of the text due to problems integrating information in the text with their own knowledge.”

Ahmed’s three-year grant began in October 2018 and will continue through September 2021.