Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Cognitive Models of Task Performance for Reading Comprehension


Reading comprehension is a central skill students must learn to become successful learners in other content domains. For example, adequate reading skills are required to acquire scientific and mathematical literacy skills. In the present volume, then, we begin by describing cognitive models of task performance in reading comprehension, because reading skills function as a gatekeeper for the acquisition of most other academic skills.

Although students typically prefer reading over mathematics (OECD, 2004), many students continue to struggle with their reading performance. According to 2003 PISA results (Lemke et al., 2004), students in the United States scored 495 on the reading component, which is not measurably different from the OECD average of 494 (PISA results are scaled to have a mean of approximately 500 with a standard deviation of 100). This is good news for American students. However, it should be noted that among the thirty-eight countries participating in the assessment, eleven countries scored higher in reading than the United States.

More recently, the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (2009) reported that although students' reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have increased since 1992, they remain unchanged from 2007 to 2009. In particular, 67 percent of students in grade four read at a basic level, and only 33 percent were classified as either proficient or advanced.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Bartlett, F.C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bejar, I.I., Williamson, D.M., & Mislevy, R.J. (2006). Human scoring. In Williamson, D.M., Mislevy, R.J., and Bejar, I.I. (Eds.), Automated scoring of complex tasks in computer-based testing (pp. 49–81). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bower, G.H. & Morrow, D.G. (1990). Mental models in narrative comprehension. Science, 247, 44–48.
Britton, B.K. & Gülgöz, S. (1991). Using Kinstch's computational model to improve instructional text: Effects of repairing inference calls on recall and cognitive structures, Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 329–345.
Butcher, K.R. & Kintsch, W. (2003). Text comprehension and discourse processing. In Healy, A.F. and Proctor, R.W. (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Volume 4 experimental psychology, (pp. 575–595). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
Cain, K. & Oakhill, J.V. (1999) Inference making and its relation to comprehension failure. Reading and Writing, 11, 489–503.
Campbell, J.R. (2005). Single instrument, multiple measures: considering the use of multiple item formats to assess reading comprehension. In Paris, S.G. & Stahl, S.A. (Eds.), Children's reading comprehension and assessment (pp. 347–368). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Crocker, M.W. (2005). Rational models of comprehension: Addressing the performance paradox. In Culter, A. (Ed.), Twenty-first century psycholinguistics: Four cornerstones (pp. 363–380). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Dawson, M.R.W. (1998). Understanding cognitive science. Blackwell.
Dikli, S. (2006). An overview of automated scoring of essays. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 5(1). Retrieved May 21, 2010 from
Embretson, S.E. & Wetzel, C.D. (1987). Component latent trait models for paragraph comprehension. Applied Psychological Measurement, 11, 175–193.
Ferstl, E.C. & Kintsch, W. (1998). Learning from text: Structural knowledge assessment in the study of discourse comprehension. In Goldman, S.R. & Oostendorp, H. (Eds.), The constructions of mental representations during reading, (pp. 247–277). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Francis, D.J., Fletcher, J.M., Catts, H.W., & Tomblin, J.B. (2005). Dimensions affecting the assessment of reading comprehension. In Paris, S.G. & Stahl, S.A. (Eds.), Children's reading comprehension and assessment (pp. 369–394). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Fox, E. & Alexander, P.A. (2009). Text comprehension: A retrospective, perspective, and prospective. In Israel, S.E. & Duffy, G.G. (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 227–239). New York City: Routledge.
Gaddy, M.L., Broek, P., & Sung, Y-C. (2001). The influence of text cues on the allocation of attention during reading. In Sanders, T., Schilperoord, J., & Spooren, W. (Eds.), Text representation: Linguistic and psycholinguistic aspects, (pp. 89–124). Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Gerrig, R. & McKoon, G. (1998). The readiness is all: The functionality of memory-based text processing. Discourse Processes, 26, 67–86.
Gilabert, R., Martínez, G., & Vidal-Abarca, E. (2005). Some good texts are always better: text revision to foster inferences of readers with high and low prior background knowledge. Learning and Instruction, 15, 45–68.
Glenberg, A.M., Jaworski, B., Rischal, M., & Levin, J. (2007). What brains are for: Action, meaning, and reading comprehension. In McNamara, D.S. (Ed.), Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies, (pp. 221–240). New York: Erlbaum.
Glenberg, A.M. & Robertson, D.A. (1999). Indexical understanding of instructions. Discourse Processes, 28, 1–26.
Goldman, S.R. (1985). Inferential reasoning in and about narrative texts. In Graesser, A.C. & Black, J.B. (Eds.), The psychology of questions (pp. 247–276). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gorin, J. (2005). Manipulating processing difficulty of reading comprehension questions: The feasibility of verbal item generation. Journal of Educational Measurement, 42, 351–373.
Gorin, J. & Embretson, S.E. (2006). Item difficulty modeling of paragraph comprehension items. Applied Psychological Measurement, 30, 394–411.
Graesser, A.C. & Kreuz, R.J. (1993). A theory of inference generation during text comprehension. Discourse Processes, 16, 145–160.
Graesser, A.C., Singer, M., & Trabasso, T. (1994). Constructing inferences during narrative text comprehension. Psychological Review, 101, 371–395.
Graesser, A.C., McNamara, D.S., Louwerse, M.M., & Cai, Z. (2004). Coh-Metrix: Analysis of text on cohesion and language. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 193–202.
Graesser, A.C., Millis, K.K., & Zwaan, R.A. (1997). Discourse comprehension. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 163–189.
Graesser, A.C. (2007). An introduction to strategic reading comprehension. In McNamara, D.S. (Ed.), Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies, (pp. 3–26). New York: Erlbaum.
Hannon, B. & Daneman, M. (2001). A new tool for measuring and understanding individual differences in the component processes of reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 103–128.
Holmes, V.M. (2009). Bottom-up processing and reading comprehension in experienced adult readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 32 (3), 309–326.
Jackson, N. E. (2005). Are university students' component reading skills related to their text comprehension and academic achievement?Learning and Individual Differences, 15, 113–139.
Jenkins, J.R., Fuchs, L.S., Broek, P., Espin, C.A., & Deno, S.L. (2003). Accuracy and fluency in list and context reading of skilled and RD groups: Absolute and relative performance levels. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18, 222–236.
Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1983). Mental models. Towards a cognitive science of language, inference, and consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Just, M.A. & Carpenter, P.A. (1980). A theory of reading: From eye fixations to comprehension. Psychological Review, 87, 329–354.
Just, M.A. & Carpenter, P.A. (1987). The psychology of reading and language comprehension. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Just, M. A. & Carpenter, P. A. (1992). A capacity theory of comprehension: Individual differences in working memory. Psychological Review, 99, 122–149.
Kendou, P. & Broek, P. (2007). The effects of prior knowledge and text structure on comprehension processes during reading of scientific texts. Memory & Cognition, 35 (7), 1567–1577.
Kintsch, W. (1988). The use of knowledge in discourse processing: A CI model. Psychological Review, 95, 163–182.
Kintsch, W. (August 23, 1993). The long and crooked way toward a model of text comprehension. Current Contents, 34. Accessed from World Wide Web on September 10, 2009, at
Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kintsch, W. (2005). An overview of top-down and bottom-up effects in comprehension: The CI perspective. Discourse Processes, 39 (2,3), 125–128.
Kintsch, W. & Dijk, T.A. (1978). Towards a model of text comprehension and production. Psychological Review, 85, 363–394.
Kinstch, W. & Kintsch, E. (2005). Comprehension. In Paris, S.G. & Stahl, S.A. (Eds.), Children's reading comprehension and assessment (pp. 71–92). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Kintsch, W. & Rawson, K.A. (2005). Comprehension. In Snowling, M.J. and Hulme, C. (Eds.), The science of reading, (pp. 209–226). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Landauer, T.K., Laham, D., & Foltz, P.W. (2000). The Intelligent Essay Assessor. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 27–31.
Landauer, T.K., Laham, D., & Foltz, P.W. (2003). Automated essay scoring: A cross disciplinary perspective. In Shermis, M. D. and Burstein, J. C. (Eds.), Automated essay scoring and annotation of essays with the Intelligent Essay Assessor (pp. 87–112). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Leighton, J.P. & Gierl, M.J. (Eds.). (2007). Cognitive diagnostic assessment for education. Theories and applications. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Lemke, M., Sen, A., Pahlke, E., Partelow, L., Miller, D., Williams, T., Kastberg, D., & Jocelyn, L. (2004). International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics Literacy and Problem Solving: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective. (NCES 2005–003). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Leslie, L. & Caldwell, J.S. (2009). Formal and informal measures of reading comprehension. In Israel, S. and Duffy, G. (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 403–427). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Linderholm, T., Virtue, S., Tzeng, Y., & Broek, P. (2004). Fluctuations in the availability of information during reading: Capturing cognitive processes using the landscape model. Discourse Processes, 37 (2), 165–186.
Magliano, J.P., Trabasso, T., & Graesser, A.C. (1999). Strategic processing during comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 615–629.
Magliano, J.P., Millis, K., Ozuru, Y., & McNamara, D.S. (2007). A multidimensional framework to evaluate reading assessment tools. In McNamara, D.S. (Ed.), Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies (pp. 107–136). New York City: Erlbaum.
Marr, D. (1982). Vision. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.
McKoon, G. & Ratcliff, R. (1992). Inferences during reading. Psychological Review, 99, 440–466.
Miller, J.R. & Kintsch, W. (1980). Readability and recall of short prose passages: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 335–354.
Myers, J.L., O'Brien, E.J. Albrecht, J.E., & Mason, R.A. (1994). Maintaining global coherence during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, memory, and Cognition, 20 (4), 876–886.
Myers, J. & O'Brien, E. (1998). Accessing the discourse representation during reading. Discourse Processes, 26 (2), 131–157.
,National Center for Education Statistics (2009).The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2009 (NCES 2010–458). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.
,National Reading Panel (NRP). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Newell, A. & Simon, H.A. (1972). Human problem solving. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Oakhill, J.V., Cain, K.E., & Bryant, P.E. (2003). The dissociation of word reading and text comprehension: Evidence from component skills. Language and Cognitive Processes, 18, 443–468.
,Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2004). Learning for tomorrow's world: First results from PISA 2003. Paris, France: Author.
Perfetti, C.A. (1999). Comprehending written language: A blueprint of the reader. In Brown, C.M., & Hagoort, P. (Eds.), The neurocognition of language processing (pp. 167–208). London: Oxford University Press.
Perfetti, C.A., Landi, N., & Oakhill, J. (2005). The acquisition of reading comprehension skill. In Snowling, M.J. and Hulme, C. (Eds.), The science of reading, (pp. 227–247). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Pressley, M. & Afflerbach, P. (1995). Verbal protocols of reading: The nature of constructively responsive reading. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Pressley, M., Woloshyn, V., & Associates, . (1995). Cognitive strategy instruction thatreally improves children's academic performance (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
Raaijmakers, J.G. & Shiffrin, R.M. (1981). Search of associative memory. Psychological Review, 88, 93–134.
Rayner, K., Pollatsek, A., & Starr, M. (2003). Reading. In Healy, A.F. and Proctor, R.W. (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Volume 4 experimental psychology, (pp. 549–574). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
Reichle, E.D., Pollatsek, A., Fisher, D.L., & Rayner, K. (1998). Toward a model of eye-movement control in reading. Psychological Review, 105, 125–157.
Rips, L.J. (1994). The psychology of proof. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Samuels, S.J. (1994). Word recognition. In Ruddell, R. B., Ruddell, M. R., & Singer, H. (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (pp. 359–380). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Samuels, S.J. & Flor, R. (1997). The importance of automaticity for developing expertise in reading. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 13, 107–122.
Sheehan, K.M. & Ginther, A. (2000, April). What do passage-based multiple-choice verbal reasoning items really measure? An analysis of the cognitive skills underlying performance on the current TOEFL reading section. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Council of Measurement in Education (NCME), New Orleans, LA.
Singer, M. & Kintsch, W. (2001). Text retrieval: A theoretical explanation. Discourse Processes, 31, 27–59.
Snowling, M.J. & Hulme, C. (2005). Editorial part III. In Snowling, M.J. and Hulme, C. (Eds.), The science of reading, (pp. 207–208). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Stanovich, K.E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: Guilford.
Trabasso, T. & Broek, P.W. (1985). Causal thinking and the representation of narrative events. Journal of Memory and Language, 24, 612–630.
Trabasso, T., Broek, P., & Suh, S. (1989). Logical necessity and transitivity of causal relations in the representation of stories. Discourse Processes, 12, 1–25.
Dijk, T.A. & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.
Broek, P., Risden, K., & Husebye-Hartmann, E. (1995). The role of readers' standards for coherence in the generation of inferences during reading. In Lorch, R.F. Jr. & O'Brien, E.J. (Eds.), Sources of coherence in text comprehension (pp. 353–373). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Broek, P., Risden, K., Fletcher, C.R., & Thurlow, R. (1996). A “landscape” view of reading: Fluctuating patterns of activation and the construction of a stable memory representation. In Britton, B.K. & Graesser, A.C. (Eds.), Models of text understanding (pp. 165–187). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Broek, P., Young, M., Tzeng, Y., & Linderholm, T. (1998). The Landscape model of reading: Inferences and the online construction of memory representation. In Oostendorp, H. & Goldman, S.R. (Eds.), The construction of mental representations during reading (pp. 71–98). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Broek, P., Rapp, D.N., & Kendeou, P. (2005). Integrating memory-based and constructionist approaches in accounts of reading comprehension. Discourse Processes, 39, 299–316.
Verhoeven, L. & Perfetti, C. (2008). Advances in text comprehension: Model, process, and development. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 293–301.
Whitten, S. & Graesser, A.C. (2003). Comprehension of text in problem solving. In Davidson, J.E. and Sternberg, R.J. (Eds.), The psychology of problem solving (pp. 207–229). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zwaan, R.A. & Radvansky, G.A. (1998). Situation models in language comprehension and memory. Psychological Bulletin, 123, 162–185.
Zwaan, R.A., Stanfield, R.A., & Yaxley, R.H. (2002). Do language comprehenders routinely represent the shapes of objects?Psychological Science, 13, 160–171.