Objectives: This study had three goals: (1) to document the literacy skills of deaf adolescents who received cochlear implants (CIs) as preschoolers; (2) to examine reading growth from elementary grades to high school; (3) to assess the contribution of early literacy levels and phonological processing skills, among other factors, to literacy levels in high school.
Design: A battery of reading, spelling, expository writing, and phonological processing assessments were administered to 112 high school (CI-HS) students, ages 15.5 to 18.5 yrs, who had participated in a reading assessment battery in early elementary grades (CI-E), ages 8.0 to 9.9 yrs. The CI-HS students' performance was compared with either a control group of hearing peers (N = 46) or hearing norms provided by the assessment developer.
Results: Many of the CI-HS students (47 to 66%) performed within or above the average range for hearing peers on reading tests. When compared with their CI-E performance, good early readers were also good readers in high school. Importantly, the majority of CI-HS students maintained their reading levels over time compared with hearing peers, indicating that the gap in performance was, at the very least, not widening for most students. Written expression and phonological processing tasks posed a great deal of difficulty for the CI-HS students. They were poorer spellers, poorer expository writers, and displayed poorer phonological knowledge than hearing age-mates. Phonological processing skills were a critical predictor of high school literacy skills (reading, spelling, and expository writing), accounting for 39% of variance remaining after controlling for child, family, and implant characteristics.
Conclusions: Many children who receive CIs as preschoolers achieve age-appropriate literacy levels as adolescents. However, significant delays in spelling and written expression are evident compared with hearing peers. For children with CIs, the development of phonological processing skills is not just important for early reading skills, such as decoding, but is critical for later literacy success as well.