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Background. Children with fluent and accurate word reading in the presence of poor text comprehension are impaired on a wide range of reading-related tasks.

Aims. This study investigated the consistency of skill impairment in a sample of poor comprehenders to identify any fundamental skill weakness that (i) might be associated with poor text comprehension, and (ii) might lead to depressed reading development. An additional aim was to determine whether reading comprehension difficulties are associated with more general educational difficulties.

Sample. Twenty-three poor comprehenders and 23 good comprehenders with age-appropriate word reading accuracy were assessed when aged 8 years. Concurrent reading and language performance and reading, educational attainment and reasoning skills 3 years later are reported.

Methods. The following skills were assessed when aged 8 years: word reading, text comprehension, vocabulary, syntax, cognitive ability, working memory, comprehension subskills. Listening comprehension, SAT scores and reasoning scores at 11 years are also reported.

Results. There was no evidence for any fundamental skill weaknesses in the population of poor comprehenders at Time 1. However, poor vocabulary skills led to impaired growth in word reading ability and poor general cognitive ability led to impaired growth in comprehension. Poor comprehenders obtained lower SAT scores than did the good comprehenders at 11 years.

Conclusions. These findings indicate that a single underlying source of poor comprehension is unlikely. Poor comprehenders are at risk of generally poor educational attainment, although weak verbal or cognitive skills appear to affect the reading development of poor comprehenders in different ways.