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Delayed Disaster Impacts on Academic Performance of Primary School Children


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Social disruption caused by natural disasters often interrupts educational opportunities for children. However, little is known about children's learning in the following years. This study examined change in academic scores for children variably exposed to a major bushfire in Australia. Comparisons were made between children attending high, medium, and low disaster‐affected primary schools 2–4 years after the disaster (n = 24,642; 9–12 years). The results showed that in reading and numeracy expected gains from Year 3 to Year 5 scores were reduced in schools with higher levels of bushfire impact. The findings highlight the extended period of academic impact and identify important opportunities for intervention in the education system to enable children to achieve their academic potential.
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Delayed Disaster Impacts on Academic Performance of Primary School
Lisa Gibbs and Jane Nursey
University of Melbourne
Janette Cook
Smouldering Stump
Greg Ireton and Nathan Alkemade
University of Melbourne
Michelle Roberts
Department of Education and Training Victoria
H. Colin Gallagher
University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Tech-
Richard Bryant
University of New South Wales
Karen Block, Robyn Molyneaux, and David Forbes
University of Melbourne
Social disruption caused by natural disasters often interrupts educational opportunities for children. However,
little is known about childrens learning in the following years. This study examined change in academic
scores for children variably exposed to a major bushre in Australia. Comparisons were made between chil-
dren attending high, medium, and low disaster-affected primary schools 24 years after the disaster
(n=24,642; 912 years). The results showed that in reading and numeracy expected gains from Year 3 to Year
5 scores were reduced in schools with higher levels of bushre impact. The ndings highlight the extended
period of academic impact and identify important opportunities for intervention in the education system to
enable children to achieve their academic potential.
Natural disasters arise from many different types of
hazards and cause widespread destruction, and
often death and injury. The size and severity of the
event often undermines the capacity of systems and
services to respond, resulting in signicant loss of
infrastructure and facilities. The subsequent ongoing
stressors and social disruption add to the trauma of
the original event and can reduce mental health and
well-being for years afterward (Bonanno, Brewin,
Kaniasty, & La Greca, 2010; Bryant et al., 2014;
Bryant et al., 2017). In addition to the direct threats
of the disaster experienced by adults, children can
experience specic challenges associated with differ-
ent stages of physical, mental, emotional, cognitive,
and social stages of development (Anderson, 2005;
Bonanno et al., 2010; Peek, 2008).
One of the potential disruptions for children after
disasters involves access to schools because school
facilities may be destroyed, teachers are not avail-
able, or children are relocated (Casserly, 2006;
We appreciate the opportunity provided by the Department of
Education and Training to analyze such important data sets and
note that all research ndings and opinions are those of the
authors and should not be attributed to the department. It is
noted that coauthor Michelle Roberts is employed by the Depart-
ment of Education and Training. We gratefully acknowledge the
generous funding provided by the Teachers Health Foundation.
We also acknowledge the NHMRC TRIP Fellowship held by Lisa
Gibbs and additional salary support from the Jack Brockhoff
Foundation for Lisa Gibbs and Karen Block. In addition to the
study authors, the following partners are contributing to the
ongoing Strengthening Schools Communities study: Victorian
Department of Health and Human Services, Australian Red Cross,
and Cindy Wilson and Gloria Melham from Catholiccare Wollon-
gong, and community member Jane Fraga. We also thank Shane
Kavanaugh for his comments on technical aspects of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Lisa Gibbs, Centre for Health Equity, University of Melbourne,
Level 5, 207 Bouverie Street, Carlton, VIC, Australia 3053. Elec-
tronic mail may be sent to
©2019 The Authors
Child Development published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Society
for Research in Child Development.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and
distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited,
the use is non-commercial and no modications or adaptations are made.
DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13200
Child Development, xxxx 2019, Volume 00, Number 0, Pages 111
Sacerdote, 2008). The likely inuence of the individ-
ual, family, social, and systemic stressors on child aca-
demic achievement have been known for some time
(Vogel & Vernberg, 1993), but the evidence base for
the nature, extent, and timing of postdisaster impacts
on child academic performance is still limited.
The evidence related to trauma exposure in early
childhood has shown a range of developmental
impacts that may be relevant to academic perfor-
mance. This includes changes in neurodevelopmen-
tal processes such as myelination, synaptogenesis,
and pruning. These processes underlie the develop-
ment of functional neurocircuits and white matter
tracts in the brain that in turn facilitate the normal
development of cognitive, emotional, social, behav-
ioral, and physical skills (De Bellis & Zisk, 2014;
Gabowitz, Zucker, & Cook, 2008; McCrory, DeBrito,
& Viding, 2010). Neuropsychological decits associ-
ated with early childhood trauma and posttrau-
matic stress disorder (PTSD) have been well
documented and include difculties in attention,
working memory, speed of processing, memory
retrieval, and executive skills such as planning,
problem solving, error monitoring, and set shifting,
as well as less severe difculties in language and
visual integration skills (Barrera-Valencia, Calder
Delgado, Trejos-Castillo, & OBoyle, 2017; Samuel-
son, Krueger, Burnett, & Wilson, 2010; Spann et al.,
2012). Although the majority of research into under-
standing the neuropsychological impacts of early
trauma exposure and PTSD has been done with
children exposed to signicant maltreatment (Kava-
naugh, Dupont-Frechette, Jerskey, & Holler, 2017;
Masson, Bussieres, East-Richard, Mercier, & Cellard,
2015), a small number of studies have documented
similar cognitive decits in children exposed to
other types of trauma including disasters (Parslow
& Jorm, 2007; Turley & Obrzut, 2012). The relation-
ship between specic neuropsychological skills and
academic achievement is complex and likely changes
as the child develops (Cragg & Gilmore, 2014). Liter-
acy skills in particular are multifactorial and each
component (e.g., spelling, reading accuracy, reading
uency, and reading speed) is thought to have differ-
ent cognitive mechanisms underlying them (Moll
et al., 2014; Ozernov-Palchik, Yu, Wang, & Gaab,
2016). Working memory and speed of processing are
considered to be core skill requirements (among
others) for the development of both numeracy and
reading skills in early primary school children (Cragg
Nugent, & Numtee, 2007; Moll et al., 2014; Wang
et al., 2016; Welsh, Nix, Blair, Bierman, & Nelson,
2010). However, as reading progresses, visual verbal
integration skills and rapid automatized naming (in-
volving rapid retrieval of the names of sequential
visually presented items) along with higher executive
functions become important skills that can differen-
tially impact the acquisition of literacy skills (Moll
et al., 2014; Ozernov-Palchik et al., 2016). Similarly,
continued achievement in mathematicsisdependent
upon the development of broader executive functions
(Cragg & Gilmore, 2014).
The available evidence indicates that early inter-
ruptions to the development of these cognitive skills
can have adverse impacts on academic performance
at primary, secondary, and university levels (Di Pie-
tro, 2015; Pane, McCaffrey, Kalra, & Zhou, 2008; Peek
& Richardson, 2010; P
erez-Pereira, Tinajero,
ıguez, Peralbo, & Sabucedo, 2012; Scott, Lapr
Marsee, & Weems, 2014). In the disaster context such
interruptions may arise from the development of a
trauma-related mental health disorder, such as PTSD,
or be due to ongoing stressors such as having to relo-
cate to another school in another location as a result
of the disaster (McFarlane, Policansky, & Irwin, 1987;
Pane et al., 2008; Sacerdote, 2008; Scott et al., 2014).
Age-based differences emerged in a study with pri-
mary and secondary school children 1 year after an
oil spill disaster affecting coastal towns in Spain, sug-
gesting stage of development may be a factor in
determining subsequent impacts on academic perfor-
mance (P
erez-Pereira et al., 2012). Conversely, no sig-
nicant difference was found for completion of
secondary school certicates between disaster-
affected and nondisaster-affected students 2 years
after the Canterbury, New Zealand earthquakes (Bea-
glehole, Bell, Frampton, & Moor, 2017), or in aca-
demic outcomes for primary school children in the
Netherlands up to 3 years after a major rework dis-
aster (Smilde-van den Doel, Smit, & Wolleswinkel-
van den Bosch, 2006). The authors in the Netherland
study speculated these positive outcomes may have
been due to various school-based intervention pro-
grams for affected children. This is supported by
other studies that indicate that positive school envi-
ronments can, over time, mitigate the disaster-related
impacts on academic performance (Barrett, Aus-
brooks, & Martinez-Cosio, 2012; Pane et al., 2008;
Peek & Richardson, 2010; Reich & Wadsworth, 2008;
Sacerdote, 2008). This has not been specically evalu-
ated in disaster contexts; however, a meta-analysis of
the impact of social and emotional learning programs
in schools generally, demonstrated improved aca-
demic performance across all year levels (Durlak,
Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011).
The trajectory for potential disaster impacts on
academic achievement over time is unknown because
2 Gibbs et al.
extends to 3 years postdisaster, although a 20 year
follow-up of children affected by a disaster did
demonstrate that those who were bushre affected
were less likely than the comparison group to extend
their education and careers (McFarlane & Van Hooff,
2009). Further examination of this issue is of para-
mount importance because of the potential for short-
term impacts on academic performance to affect per-
ceptions of capability, aspirations, and long-term
educational and employment pathways.
This article reports on a study of academic scores
for primary school children in Victoria, Australia
up to 4 years after a major bushre event in Febru-
ary 2009, commonly referred to as the Black Satur-
day bushres (another term for bushreis
wildre). The aim was to identify whether:
1. students in schools with high and medium
bushre impact showed reduced progression
in their academic scores from Year 3 to Year 5
compared to their peers in schools with low or
no impact, and;
2. if there were differences in impact for different
school subjects.
Black Saturday Bushres
The 2009 res in rural Victoria began in January
after a decade-long drought. The re conditions
became extreme, beginning in the east of the state
and continuing to burn for several weeks. On satur-
day 7, February temperatures climbed to 47°C
(117°F), winds gusted at over 100 km/h (60 mph),
and multiple new res ignited across the rural and
regional parts of the state. The res burned 400,000
hectares of landscape, completely destroyed two
townships and signicantly damaged others result-
ing in widespread destruction and the loss of 173
lives including 35 children and young people. Six-
teen children and young people were orphaned,
and many more were injured and traumatized by
their experiences (Victorian Bushres Royal Com-
mission, 2009). One hundred and nine communities
self-identied as being affected by bushres. Over
2,000 homes were destroyed, three schools and at
least three preschools were completely destroyed in
the res with staff and students housed in tempo-
rary accommodation for up to 2 years. Over 70
schools and childcare settings in high impact areas
were highly affected through building and student
exposure, as were other community resources such
as sporting facilities and playgrounds, resulting in
family, school, and community level disruption for
years after the event.
This study utilized two major data sets held by
the Victorian Department of Education and Training:
(a) Enrollment in the rst year at a Victorian primary
school is accompanied by a parent completed School
Entrant Health Questionnaire (SEHQ), which collects
health, well-being, development, and demographic
information about the student; (b) Standardized
National Assessment ProgramLiteracy and Numer-
acy (NAPLAN) academic assessments are conducted
in Grades 3 and 5 in primary school and Years 7 and
9 in secondary school. The students included in this
study were 33,690 students who in 2008 were
enrolled in rst year at a Victorian government pri-
mary school and completed their standardized
NAPLAN academic assessments in 2011 (Grade 3)
and 2013 (Grade 5). Students were excluded if they
changed schools between Grade 3 and Grade 5. Stu-
dentsNAPLAN results were matched with their
SEHQ data. After this matching process the nal
sample available for the analyses was n=24,642 stu-
dents (female =11,982; male =12,660).
Bushre Affectedness
Schools included in this study were located in
areas that receive re protection from the Country
Fire Authority (CFA) rather than the Metropolitan
Fire Brigade. This classication was used as a proxy
indicator to identify schools located in peri-urban,
rural, regional, and remote communities to mini-
mize confounding factors that would arise from
comparison with urban schools. The included schools
were then classied into three levels of bushre
affectedness (0low, 1moderate, 2high). Classi-
cation followed a complicated geospatial procedure
using the Victorian Bushre Reconstruction and
Recovery Authority data. There were 78 primary
schools (n=1,285) in localities dened as a high
bushre affectedness region based on loss of lives
and properties. There were an additional 50 schools
(n=832) that were dened as being in a moderate
affected region because they were located in a catch-
ment zone adjacent to a high impact locality. The
remaining 1,073 schools (n=22,525) were dened as
being in a lowaffected region because very limited
Disaster Impacts on Child Academic Performance 3
or no damage occurred and there was no loss of
lives. They were all classied as lowrather than
noimpact because even the areas that did not have
re come through were at risk on the day of the
res, their local CFA services were all involved in
re response, and many of the communities were
affected by subsequent road closures and service dis-
ruptions. This classication procedure was designed
by the University of Melbourne Centre for Disaster
Management and Public Safety.
National Assessment ProgramLiteracy and Numeracy
The NAPLAN tests are run annually in Aus-
tralian primary schools for students in Grade 3
and Grade 5. They are designed to assess four
education domains of reading, writing, numeracy,
and language conventions. The language conven-
tions are further subdivided into spelling and
School Entrant Health Questionnaire
Household language. Is the primary household
language English? (0no, 1yes).
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Is the student
an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (ATSI)? (0
no, 1yes).
Lives with both parents. Does the student live
with both parents? (0no, 1yes).
Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status. The
Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status path-
way is based on parent responses to questions
about the child covering eight domains; (a) expres-
sive language and articulation; (b) receptive lan-
guage; (c) ne motor skills; (d) gross motor skills;
(e) behavior; (f) social-emotional; (g) self-help;
(h) school. Parents report whether they have con-
cerns in these domains (yes or no). Children are
rated for risk, from 1 to 4, with higher scores indi-
cating lower risk, based on the number of items
which are scored as yes.
Mothers education/fatherseducation. The mothers
and fathers education was a self-report question
whereby the parents highest level of school educa-
tion was selected as either: Year 9 or Equivalent or
below;Year 10 or Equivalent;Year 11 or
Equivalent; or, Year 12 or Equivalent.
Statistical Analyses
When data intrinsically have a hierarchical or
clustered structure then multilevel models (MLM)
are specically designed for these types of analyses
(Hox, 1998). As is the case in most educational
research the data in this study are nested at the
individual (Level 1) and within schools (Level 2),
which supports the use of MLM analyses. Regard-
less of whether the primary variables of interest are
at the individual or school level, failure to account
for the clustering effects can lead to incorrect con-
clusions due to inaccurate calculations of standard
errors and condence intervals (Maas & Hox, 2004).
We ran our analysis using Mplus version 7.4
en & Muth
en, 2013) with the robust maxi-
mum likelihood estimator. Our analysis is a specic
type of MLMrandom slope analysis. Furthermore,
we include the test of whether the random slopes
are predicted by the level of bushre affectedness
(i.e., low, moderate or high level of affectedness).
Our analysis will control for school clustering
effects when dening the slope of change at the
individual level, predicting Year 5 NAPLAN
domain scores based on corresponding Year 3
NAPLAN domain scores.
In our study, we are primarily focused on
whether the level of bushre affectedness predicts a
difference in academic performance at the school
level. Therefore, at the higher level of the model we
will include bushre affectedness as a predictor of
the slope. If this affectedness level signicantly pre-
dicts the slope, then the rate of change between
Year 3 NAPLAN domain scores and Year 5
NAPLAN domain scores is different between the
schools within the three affectedness levels. To
account for the inuence of demographic factors,
we have included Lives with both parents,
Home language English,”“ATSI status,
Mothers level of education,”“Fathers level of
education,”“Gender,and Pediatric Healthas
controlling variables for the Year 3 and Year 5
NAPLAN scores. The analysis will account for
these demographic inuences prior to dening the
slope between Year 5 and Year 3 NAPLAN scores.
In simple terms, our analysis will dene a slope
that represents the relationship between Year 3
NAPLAN scores predicting Year 5 NAPLAN scores.
The scores at both year levels are controlled for by
relevant demographic variables to minimize noise.
As the data are clustered we run this analysis using
the recommended MLM approach. Finally, at the
school level we investigate the impact of bushres on
the slopes, which were dened at the individual
level. This will investigate whether the 2009 Black
Saturday bushres are inuencing the natural rela-
tionship between Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN scores.
These analyses have been run ve times separately
for each of the NAPLAN domains: (a) reading, (b)
4 Gibbs et al.
writing, (c) spelling, (d) numeracy, and (e) grammar.
We ran the multilevel analyses with list wise deletion
for missing data enabled, as per the Mplus default
Descriptive Statistics
Demographic details are provided in Table 1.
Dependant samples T-tests found that both overall
and for each affectedness region separately,
NAPLAN domain scores in Grade 5 were signi-
cantly higher compared with domain scores in
Grade 3 (all p<.001). Chi-square tests were con-
ducted to compare categorical variables across
affectedness regions and found the proportion of
students who lived with both parents was signi-
cantly lower (p=.004) in the high impact region
(84.4%) compared with the medium impact (88.9%)
and the low impact (87.4%) regions. Additionally,
the proportion of mothers who had a minimum
level of education being Year 12 or equivalent was
signicantly lower (p<.001) in the high impact
(51.8%) and medium impact (56.0%) regions com-
pared with the low impact region (64.4%). Simi-
larly, the proportion of fathers who had a
minimum level of education being Year 12 or
equivalent was signicantly lower (p<.001) in the
high impact (40.2%) and medium impact (42.4%)
regions compared with the low impact region
(56.2%). There were no other differences in the
demographic variables.
Multilevel Results
The full details of the separate multilevel analy-
ses for each of the ve NAPLAN domains can be
seen in Table 2. In Level 1 we see across all ve
NAPLAN domains 29 of 35 controlling variables
were signicant for Year 3 scores, and there were
28 of 35 that were signicant for Year 5 scores,
although there were some differences in which vari-
ables were signicant at each year level.
At Level 2 we nd the predictive relationship
between Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN scores is unaf-
fected by level of bushre impact for the writing,
spelling, and grammar domains. Conversely, the
predictive relationship between Year 3 and Year 5
NAPLAN scores is affected by level of bushre
impact for the reading and numeracy domains. In
both sets of analysis there was a signicant negative
relationship at Level 2 between the slope and
affected level, therefore as affected level increases the
slope decreases, or the slope becomes atter between
Year 3 NAPLAN and Year 5 NAPLAN. That is, we
nd a attened developmental trajectory between
Year 3 and Year 5 NAPLAN scores (reading and
numeracy) for those individuals in schools that have
been more affected by the bushres.
To investigate the differences in the slopes for
the reading and numeracy domains across the
levels of bushre affectedness, subpopulation analy-
ses were run in Mplus using the Complex data
command to control for clustering effects when cal-
culating standard errors in the model. The differ-
ences in the slopes across bushre affectedness
regions can be seen in Figure 1. This gure shows
the comparative standardized beta weights for Year
5 NAPLAN domain scores being predicted by Year
Table 1
Student ParticipantsDemographics
Measure M(SD)/proportion
9.97 (0.42)
Gender (% female) 48.60%
ATSI (% yes) 1.60%
Home language English (% yes) 88.80%
Lives with both parents (% yes) 87.30%
Mother education (mode) Year 12 +(63.5%)
Father education (mode) Year 12 +(55.0%)
High risk 6.80%
Moderate risk 16.60%
Low risk 8.20%
None 68.40%
Region impact
Low (n) 22,525 (91.4%)
Medium (n) 832 (3.4%)
High (n) 1,285 (5.2%)
Grade 3 (2011)
Reading 435.17 (88.35)
Writing 424.04 (60.86)
Spelling 416.58 (74.96)
Numeracy 417.52 (74.17)
Grammar 436.96 (93.24)
NAPLAN Grade 5 (2013)
Reading 511.31 (65.47)
Writing 489.59 (60.78)
Spelling 498.02 (68.38)
Numeracy 496.81 (73.25)
Grammar 507.83 (71.21)
Note. ATSI =Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; PEDS =Par-
ents Evaluation of Developmental Status; NAPLAN =National
Assessment ProgramLiteracy and Numeracy.
Age at February 1, 2013 (Grade 3). The data were captured in
whole years and did not include months.
The range of possible
scores in each domain for each year level is 01,000 (Australian
Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013).
Disaster Impacts on Child Academic Performance 5
3 NAPLAN domain scores in each region sepa-
rately after controlling for demographics. As we
can see for the domains of reading and numeracy
there is a pattern of reduction in the slope values
with the increase in levels of bushre affectedness.
Although the scores for numeracy plateau between
the moderateand highaffected regions, they
are both sufciently less than the slope for the
lowregion to nd a signicant result.
This study analyzed primary studentsacademic
performance from 2 to 4 years after the Black Satur-
day bushres, adjusting for demographic factors
collected 1 year before the bushres. The analyses
examined the level of improvement in academic
scores from Year 3 to Year 5 across regions of
impact (i.e., were the changes in academic scores
over time the same for low-, moderate-, and high-
affected regions). The results showed that in read-
ing and numeracy the expected gains in academic
scores from Year 3 to Year 5 were reduced with
higher levels of bushre impact. There were no sig-
nicant trends in academic scores for the writing,
spelling, and grammar domains of the academic
assessment, and no gender differences in any of the
This nding demonstrates the potential impact of
disaster exposure on academic performance. The
differential impact on subject performance was con-
sistent with another study of student academic per-
formance after a re at a discotheque party in
Sweden in which 63 young people were killed and
213 physically injured (Broberg, Dyregrov, & Lilled,
2005). The authors attributed this to the different
levels of concentration required: The most negative
inuence on schoolwork was reported for subjects
demanding high concentration (e.g., mathematics,
Table 2
Multilevel Model Unstandardized Parameter Coefcients (B) and Signicance Tests (p) at Level 1 and Level 2 for NAPLAN Domains Reading,
Writing, Spelling, Maths, and Grammar
Level 1
Both parent 9.214 .001 3.345 .037 0.594 .603 3.908 .021 2.834 .084
Home lang 6.225 .006 5.081 <.001 7.207 <.001 10.215 <.001 3.731 .006
ATSI 19.855 .002 6.841 .064 0.528 .847 4.760 .152 11.221 .005
Mother education 13.410 <.001 4.289 <.001 1.118 .001 2.569 <.001 4.513 <.001
Father education 13.030 <.001 4.391 <.001 1.956 <.001 3.108 <.001 3.961 <.001
Gender 13.577 <.001 12.639 <.001 3.192 <.001 7.467 <.001 2.862 <.001
PEDS8 5.911 <.001 1.775 <.001 0.453 .109 0.874 .028 2.743 <.001
Both parent 1.692 .218 5.446 .004 5.822 .010 10.007 <.001 6.760 .017
Home lang 0.372 .751 5.410 <.001 14.159 <.001 2.472 .233 2.040 .396
ATSI 4.754 .130 13.396 .002 8.240 .161 16.062 .001 16.779 .031
Mother education 2.400 <.001 7.504 <.001 8.007 <.001 9.559 <.001 13.672 <.001
Father education 2.898 <.001 6.181 <.001 9.958 <.001 10.548 <.001 13.971 <.001
Gender 0.764 .263 19.927 <.001 12.709 <.001 14.837 <.001 18.932 <.001
PEDS8 1.984 <.001 4.590 <.001 5.059 <.001 4.601 <.001 6.177 <.001
Level 2
AFFLVL 0.038 <.001 0.005 .739 0.016 .101 0.051 <.001 0.675 .500
AFFLVL 1.508 .163 1.659 .170 1.096 .231 2.735 .045 3.014 .028
AFFLVL 4.862 .013 1.702 .241 4.853 .002 3.036 .127 4.646 .025
Reference category for gender =male. ATSI =Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; PEDS =Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status;
NAPLAN =National Assessment ProgramLiteracy and Numeracy.
6 Gibbs et al.
physics, and grammar) whereas subjects like reli-
gion, psychology, and arts were reported to have
become easier, more interesting or more important
(pp. 12821283). This may reect a shift in student
priorities and social and emotional responses to
subject content following their loss and trauma
experiences. Another explanation is that difculties
with certain subjects are mediated through the dis-
ruption of neuro-maturational processes that under-
lie the development of cognitive, social, and
emotional building blocks necessary for academic
achievement (De Bellis & Zisk, 2014; Gabowitz
et al., 2008; McCrory et al., 2010).
Different types of cognitive decits related to
working memory, speed of processing, visual -
verbal integration skills, rapid automatized naming,
and higher executive functioning may have greater
importance for particular types of learning. How-
ever, given that these same cognitive skills are
known to be impacted by early trauma experiences
and the development of PTSD, it is possible to
hypothesize that the decits in reading and numer-
acy demonstrated by the children in this study may
be cognitively mediated (either directly or indirectly
though the development of PTSD), as was reported
in the Broberg et al. (2005) study. This is supported
by evidence that lower socioeconomic status and
proximity to disaster impact zone have been inde-
pendently associated with higher risk for delayed
development of these core neuropsychological skills
(Welsh et al., 2010) as well as development of PTSD
(Terasaka, Tachibana, Okuyama, & Igarashi, 2015).
Studies of childrens postdisaster recovery trajec-
tories have shown different groupings, reecting
individual variation in response to a given experi-
ence. Some children show resistance to disaster
impacts, others show progressive recovery, and
others show ongoing or delayed impacts (Kronen-
berg et al., 2010; La Greca et al., 2013; Saigh,
Mroueh, & Bremner, 1997; Scott et al., 2014; Shan-
non, Lonigan, Finch, & Taylor, 1994). There are also
likely to be different contributing factors to poor
academic performance including persistent symp-
toms of PTSD and aggression (Scott et al., 2014),
impacting on school satisfaction (Sims, Boasso,
Burch, Naser, & Overstreet, 2015) and test anxiety
(Weems et al., 2013) School staff are often acutely
aware of the initial impacts of an emergency event
on studentsacademic performance (Dyregrov,
Dyregrov, Endsjø, & Idsoe, 2015). However, over
time, parents and schools may not recognize that
delayed impacts arise from the disaster experience,
and therefore children may not be offered appropri-
ate support programs (Gibbs et al., 2015; Grelland
Røkholt, Schultz, & Langballe, 2016; Smilde-van
den Doel et al., 2006).
The impact on reading results in this study may
also have arisen due to reduced supported reading
at home. Our previous work has shown that the
bushres and subsequent life stressors markedly
Low Impact Medium Impact High Impact
Reading* Numeracy*
Figure 1. Standardized beta weights for Year 5 National Assessment ProgramLiteracy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) predicted by Year
3 NAPLAN across regions of bushre affectedness.
Disaster Impacts on Child Academic Performance 7
affected the mental health of parents up to 5 years
later (Bryant et al., 2017), which could create a fam-
ily environment that could hinder childrens abili-
ties to study and learn. We also note that parents in
the high-affected region had lower education levels,
and it is possible that this factor may have con-
tributed to the poorer performance of children in
these communities. No other studies of childrens
postdisaster academic performance have identied
subject differences in impacts. However, a study of
prenatal exposure to disaster has shown a similar
association with lower third grade results in read-
ing and maths (Fuller, 2014). It was not possible in
this study to assess individual exposure to the dis-
aster from the available data, including psychologi-
cal or family factors that may moderate academic
performance. Instead, attendance at schools in dis-
aster impacted areas was used as a proxy for disas-
ter exposure. At primary school level, the vast
majority of students would be attending schools
close to their home, as compared to secondary
school for which many students travel longer dis-
It is also possible that academic performance
was impaired because of substantial damage to
infrastructure and social disruption in schools,
which directly limited the accessibility of teaching
facilities for children. Focusing on school-level
impacts is helpful in highlighting the demands on
school staff and resources (Alisic, Bus, Dulack, Pen-
nings, & Splinter, 2012; Casserly, 2006), and the
importance of a planned comprehensive program of
postdisaster support for children. It has been sug-
gested that school-level programs and high stan-
dards of academic achievement at studentsnew
schools may mitigate the disruption and academic
decline experienced by relocation (Barrett et al.,
2012; Pane et al., 2008; Peek & Richardson, 2010).
However, this is mostly based on research arising
from Hurricane Katrina where the children moved
away from schools that have been described as
among the most poorly performing schools in the
USA to schools with higher academic standards
and expectations of students (Casserly, 2006; Peek
& Richardson, 2010; Reich & Wadsworth, 2008). A
combination of sensitive support from teachers, tar-
geted academic support, and encouragement to
engage in extracurricular activities have been indi-
cated but not yet proven as factors likely to enable
students to adjust to the school changes and thus to
realize their academic potential (Barrett et al., 2012;
Grelland Røkholt et al., 2016; Pane et al., 2008;
Smilde-van den Doel et al., 2006). This provision of
a positive supportive environment has been
recognized more broadly as an important element
in child and youth resilience (Durlak et al., 2011;
Ungar, 2011), and mental health promotion (Weare
& Nind, 2011). Further research would be helpful
to identify the content and dose of school-level
interventions most likely to support positive post-
disaster outcomes. Additional examination of regio-
nal differences would also provide insights into the
inuence on student resilience of wider factors such
as levels of available resources, local recovery pro-
cesses, and social connectedness.
In the data sets utilized for this study, it was not
possible to track students who moved to different
schools during their primary school years. This
means that the nal sample only included students
who attended the same school in Prep, Grade 3, and
Grade 5. It is possible that some students temporar-
ily relocated and then returned between the study
measures. However, children who permanently relo-
cated were not included in the sample because of
the difculties in linking the data. This is a limitation
of the study. Families who relocated following the
Black Saturday bushres were most likely to have
been signicantly affected in terms of property loss
(Gibbs et al., 2016). Other postdisaster studies have
also shown that children who relocated to new areas
and schools were most at risk initially of poor aca-
demic outcomes (Pane et al., 2008; Peek & Richard-
son, 2010; Sacerdote, 2008). Therefore, the results in
this study may represent an underestimation of the
disaster impacts on academic achievement. In fact,
high mobility in school years is generally considered
a risk factor for academic achievement (Obradovic
et al., 2009) particularly if it occurs for negative
reasons, but the effect may be a proxy for a range of
other high-risk factors such as low income,
marginalized social groups, and non-nuclear fami-
lies (Pane et al., 2008). As previously noted, in a
postdisaster context, it appears that the initial nega-
tive consequences of shifting to a new school in a
new area may be offset by a positive school culture
(Barrett et al., 2012; Peek & Richardson, 2010).
This study contributes new ndings about delayed
impacts on academic achievements for children living
in postdisaster communities. It extends the existing
evidence base by examining the period up to 4 years
after the event and identies a subject-specicdepres-
sion in academic achievements over time for reading
and numeracy that clearly differentiates between dif-
ferent levels of bushre affectedness at the school
8 Gibbs et al.
level. Given the apparent delayed impact, previous
ndings in the literature of no impact within a 3-year
period of the disaster event should be reviewed.
Although it is positive to nd no difference in those
early years after the event, the risk is that subsequent
impacts on academic performance are overlooked
and, without targeted interventions, childrensfuture
academic trajectories, and life opportunities may be
compromised. There is emerging evidence that the
early neurodevelopmental impacts of trauma may
only be observed at later stages of development
when key abilities are due to emerge, for example,
the development of executive skills through adoles-
cence. Without early intervention, these adverse
developmental trajectories have the potential to
impact educational and functional outcomes many
years down the track. It is promising that the wider
evidence base indicates there are opportunities to
mitigate negative impacts on child academic achieve-
ments through positive multilevel school strategies.
This provides direction for research, policy, and
school-level planning and response to disaster events.
This study may also be used to guide future research
studies into the developmental factors likely to be
underlying the delayed impacts on academic achieve-
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Disaster Impacts on Child Academic Performance 11
... Nearly 40 million children a year have their education interrupted by disasters (Watt 2019). Disasters may last a short period, but survivors can be involved with the disaster aftermath for months or even years Gibbs et al. 2019;Lazarus et al. 2003). Thus, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2017) underscores the need to provide education during and after a conflict or disaster to counter the negative effects of disaster disruption on the school system. ...
... Disaster epics are often followed by a delayed but serious disaster impact on the educational performance of schoolchildren (Gibbs et al. 2019;Nguyen 2018). Although it is positive to find no statistically significant difference in those early years after the event, as in the Chimanimani case, the risk is that subsequent impacts on academic performance are overlooked, and thus without targeted interventions, children's future academic trajectories are compromised. ...
... Protracted disruption periods point to a bleak future for the education system (Kousky 2016;Nguyen 2018). The study results are congruent with the study of wildfires' effects on academic performance in Australia by Gibbs et al. (2019), which showed that a disruptive event may not have apparent effects in the short term, but when considered over time, the effects are profound on child academic performance in the future. In addition, Watt's (2019) study in Mozambique also showed that when children fail to attend school for an extended period because of a disaster, they face the danger of succumbing to child labour, early marriages and trafficking, as well as other risks. ...
... This study describes students who optimally use digital media facilities in learning Islamic education as a demand for 21st-century learning skills. Research (Gibbs et al., 2019) discusses the library's role as the main factor in supporting physical, mental, and active development programs in educating the nation. Libraries can improve community information literacy so people can improve their performance and daily activities. ...
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This study seeks to determine the strategy of library management as a means of literacy culture in elementary schools. This study aimed to determine the involvement of school libraries and librarians in enhancing literacy culture in elementary schools. This study uses a qualitative method with a case study approach. Data collection techniques using in-depth interviews, observation, and documentation. Informants in this study were school librarians at MIN 1 Tulungagung. Data analysis techniques include data collection, reduction, presentation, and conclusion. The study results show that the role of the school library in implementing literacy culture includes preparing facilities and infrastructure, facilitating school literacy movement activities, as a facilitator and preparing all the needs for the continuation of the school literacy movement.
... There were reductions in the children's expected numeracy and literacy test scores based on the expected trajectory between the two test scores at approximately ages 9 and 13 years. The hypothesized impact pathway was through cognitive deficits related to impacts on working memory as a result of trauma including loss of parent(s) which may have resulted in disruption to schooling and lack of parental support for reading at home (Gibbs et al., 2019). Another study, whose primary study factor was health effects in children from wildfires used an existing cohort of >6000 children, 86% aged 6 to 7 years old in California (Künzli et al., 2006). ...
... This theory emphasizes the influence of the environment in the development of each individual where the development of learners is the result of interactions between the surrounding nature and the learners. Furthermore, Gibbs (2019) said that the environment affected by natural disasters often interferes with educational opportunities for children. The results of his research show that changes in the academic field are experiencing obstacles. ...
... In Racine et al., 2021 meta-analysis of 29 studies published in the first year of the pandemic, prevalence estimates for depression and anxiety in children doubled. Previous studies show that the stress and isolation of lockdown can negatively impact children's mental health for many months (Loades et al., 2020), and school closures can compromise children's educational opportunities for years (Dorn et al., 2020;Gibbs et al., 2019). ...
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In 2020, Australia's successful COVID‐19 public health restrictions comprised a national “initial lockdown” (March–May) and “ongoing lockdown” (July–November) for metropolitan Victorian residents only. We evaluated associations between ongoing lockdown and family finances and mental health. In the June and September 2020 Royal Children's Hospital National Child Health Polls, caregivers of children in Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) reported the following: job/income loss; material deprivation (inability to pay for essential items); income poverty; mental health (Kessler‐6); perceived impact on caregiver/child mental health; and caregiver/child coping. Data from caregivers (N = 1207/902) in June/September were analysed using difference‐in‐difference modelling (NSW provided the comparator). During Victoria's ongoing lockdown, job/income loss increased by 11% (95%CI: 3%–18%); Kessler‐6 poor mental health by 6% (95%CI: −0.3%–12%) and perceived negative mental health impacts by 14% for caregivers (95%CI: 6%–23%) and 12% for children (95%CI: 4%–20%). Female (vs. male) caregivers, metropolitan (vs. regional/rural) families, and families with elementary school‐aged children (vs. pre‐/high‐school) were the most affected. The ongoing lockdown was associated with negative experiences of mental health, employment and income, but not deprivation or poverty, likely because of government income supplements introduced early in the pandemic. Future lockdowns require planned responses to outbreaks and evidence‐informed financial and mental health supports.
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Background: Environmental disasters such as wildfires, floods and droughts can introduce significant interruptions and trauma to impacted communities. Children and young people can be disproportionately affected with additional educational disruptions. However, evaluating the impact of disasters is challenging due to difficulties in establishing studies and recruitment post-disasters. Objectives: We aimed to (1) develop a Bayesian model using aggregated school-level data to evaluate the impact of environmental disasters on academic achievement and (2) evaluate the impact of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire (a six-week fire event in Australia). Methods: Bayesian hierarchical meta-regression was developed to evaluate the impact of the mine fire using easily accessible aggregated school-level data from the standardised National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test. NAPLAN results and school characteristics (2008-2018) from 69 primary/secondary schools with different levels of mine fire-related smoke exposure were used to estimate the impact of the event. Using an interrupted time series design, the model estimated immediate effects and post-interruption trend differences with full Bayesian statistical inference. Results: Major academic interruptions across NAPLAN domains were evident in high exposure schools in the year post-mine fire (greatest interruption in Writing: 11.09 [95%CI: 3.16-18.93], lowest interruption in Reading: 8.34 [95%CI: 1.07-15.51]). The interruption was comparable to a four to a five-month delay in educational attainment and had not fully recovered after several years. Conclusion: Considerable academic delays were found as a result of a mine fire, highlighting the need to provide educational and community-based supports in response to future events. Importantly, this work provides a statistical method using readily available aggregated data to assess the educational impacts in response to other environmental disasters.
Purpose: Natural disasters can significantly impact children's health, development, and wellbeing, as well as their access to education and support services (including speech-language pathology). Children's needs are often overlooked in the urgent aftermath of natural disasters. This is especially true for children with communication difficulties. This commentary explores the impacts of bushfire on Australian children, to propose a sustainable, community-based approach to supporting children's health, wellbeing, and communication. Result: The Royal Far West Bushfire Recovery Program, a multidisciplinary allied health program, supported children's recovery, resilience, and development in the aftermath of Australia's Black Summer bushfires in 2019-2020. Children learnt coping strategies and were more able to communicate with adults and peers about their feelings and experiences, but residual impacts of bushfires remained for some children. Allied health telepractice services, including speech-language pathology, enhanced access for vulnerable children, highlighting the potential for technology to provide high-quality services to support recovery, particularly in remote areas. Conclusion: Climate change increases the frequency and severity of bushfires and other natural disasters with significant consequences for vulnerable and at-risk communities. Children with communication needs are particularly vulnerable during and following these disasters. High quality, evidence-based interventions are needed to support the health, wellbeing, and communication needs of children, with opportunities for involvement of speech-language pathologists. This commentary paper focusses on SDG 1, SDG 3, SDG 4, SDG 9, SDG 10, SDG 11, SDG 13, and SDG 15.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has caught many organizations changed the way organizations conduct their activities. Universities are learning organizations delivering knowledge to students. In a matter of days, the learning activities were changed into online mode after a brief announcement by the national government declaring a state of disaster in Indonesia. Online platforms in universities are common as most universities already conduct some form of online learning. But this time it was different. The pandemic has caused a barrier in a form of social distance, online. This study tries to answer the following questions: what are the students' perception of online learning in management programs? What challenges do the students face in online learning during COVID19, and what are the solutions for those challenges? Descriptive survey method was conducted on a sample of management students at several universities in Bandung. Questionnaires were distributed through an online platform with a snowball sampling technique. The results of this study indicate that students are not ready to follow the online learning system. Limited facilities, level of understanding, difficulty interacting with lecturers or fellow students, miscommunication due to misperceptions, unsupportive online learning environment, and technical problems become obstacles in online learning. Students prefer face-to-face learning over online learning. In essence, they are easier to grasp the material presented. In the teaching materials dimensions, respondents gave a negative response to all indicators, where the biggest negative 92% response was on the online college environment indicator.Then on the learning interaction dimension, the biggest negative response is 86% about online learning interactions with fellow students Furthermore, in the learning environment dimension, 94% of respondents stated th at they prefer face-to-face learning which provides convenience in solving problems
This chapter reviews national and international literature to look specifically at significant crises in the past one hundred years, focussing mainly on developed countries, and how such crises have affected how children and young people access education. The selected crises include influenza pandemics (1918–19 “flu pandemic”; H1N1/09 “swine flu”), the COVID-19 pandemic, and environmental disasters including Hurricane Katrina, United States (2005), Christchurch Earthquakes, New Zealand (2010–11), Great East Japan Earthquake (2011), and bushfires in Australia (2009, 2019/20). This chapter examines three questions: How has school education responded to crises in the past? How did these crises and responses impact on learners? And what lessons can be learned about how crises affect social and educational equity? We answer these in three sections. Section 1 introduces and contextualises the selected historical crises. Section 2 identifies three key impacts of crises on learners: first, that access to schooling is compromised; second, that school closures impact on student mental health and wellbeing; and third, there is an increased risk of academic under-achievement. Section 3 draws out the key lessons that can be learned from these crises which are useful in informing how education systems prepare for managing crises into the future.
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Background/Objective: Several diagnostic criteria of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are remarkably similar to symptoms reported by individuals with depression, particularly as they manifest as cognitive processing deficits in children. Because of this overlap in profile and the high rate of comorbidity of PTSD and depression (48% to 69%), pinpointing similarities/differences in cognitive processes related to each of these disorders is essential to accurate diagnosis. This study aims to examine cognitive performance profiles of 23 children who have been victims of PTSD and to compare their results with 23 children with depression and 24 controls. Method: Empirical study, observational and descriptive methodologies were performed using several neuropsychological tests to assess IQ, attention, memory and executive function. Statistical comparisons between groups were made using the non-parametric Kruskall-Wallis test and post-hoc analyses were conducted using a Mann Whitney U test, as well as Quade's co-variance analysis. Results: Data show different profiles of cognitive performance in those with PTSD compared to those with depression and controls. Conclusions: The findings suggests that PTSD and depressed children differ somewhat in their cognitive profiles, and the differences in IQ found between those with PTSD and those without are not necessarily a confounding variable, but may rather be a consequence of their traumatic experience.
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Objective: To examine the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes on the important adolescent transition period of school leaving. Method: Local and national data on school leaving age, attainment of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) standards, and school rolls (total registered students for schools) were examined to clarify long-term trends and delineate these from any impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes. Results: Despite concerns about negative impacts, there was no evidence for increased school disengagement or poorer academic performance by students as a consequence of the earthquakes. Conclusion: Although there may have been negative effects for a minority, the possibility of post-disaster growth and resilience being the norm for the majority meant that negative effects on school leaving were not observed following the earthquakes. A range of post-disaster responses may have mitigated adverse effects on the adolescent population. Implications for Public Health: Overall long-term negative effects are unlikely for the affected adolescent population. The results also indicate that similar populations exposed to disasters in other settings are likely to do well in the presence of a comprehensive post-disaster response.
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Parents are advised to get their children back to school soon after exposure to trauma, so that they may receive social support and restore the supportive structure of everyday life. This study explores parents’ experiences of supporting adolescents in regaining school functioning after the July 2011 massacre at Utøya summer camp in Norway. One year after the attack, 87 parents of 63 young people who survived the massacre were interviewed using qualitative interviews. The qualitative data were analyzed using thematic analysis. All parents were actively supportive of their children, and described a demanding process of establishing new routines to make school attendance possible. Most parents described radical changes in their adolescents. The struggle of establishing routines often brought conflict and frustration into the parent-adolescent relationship. Parents were given general advice, but reported being left alone to translate this into action. The first school year after the trauma was describe d as a frustrating and lonely struggle: their adolescents were largely unable to restore normal daily life and school functioning. In 20% of the cases, school-home relationships were strained and were reported as a burden because of poor understanding of needs and insufficient educational adaptive measures; a further 20% reported conflict in school-home relationships, while 50% were either positive or neutral. The last 10%, enrolled in apprenticeship, dropped out, or started working, instead of finishing school. Implications for supporting parents with traumatized adolescent students are indicated.
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The objective of this article was to conduct a systematic review of long-term follow-up studies on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in children and adolescents. The MEDLINE and PsycINFO databases were searched from 1980 through January 2014. Studies that examined PTSD symptoms in children for over three years after mass natural disasters were selected. Ten studies, including four cohort studies, four cross-sectional studies, one descriptive study, and one case-series study following disaster-exposed children, met all the selection criteria and thus were included in this review. The follow-up period ranged from three to 20 years after the disasters. Synthesized results regarding PTSD prevalence rate, changes over time, and influential factors on PTSD were summarized and discussed. The reviewed studies indicated that PTSD symptoms decrease rapidly during the first two years after a disaster; however, the long-term course is not yet clear. Several factors including gender and disaster experience appeared to be influential on PTSD symptoms; however, gender effect was possibly confounded by other factors. To examine moderating effects among those influential factors, as well as to avoid confounding, multivariate analytical methods would be beneficial and recommended in future research. Also, recovery patterns await further investigation for better understanding of the factors associated with chronic PTSD.
This paper uses a standard difference-in-differences approach to examine the effect of the L’Aquila earthquake on the academic performance of the students of the local university. The empirical results indicate that this natural disaster reduced students’ probability of graduating on-time and slightly increased students’ probability of dropping out. While post-disaster measures (e.g. fast re-establishment of education activities in temporary locations) are likely to have mitigated the effects of this event, disruptions in the learning environment and the mental trauma suffered by students in the aftermath of the earthquake may have worsened their academic performance.
Objectives To map the changing prevalence and predictors of psychological outcomes in affected communities 5 years following the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. Method Follow-up assessment of longitudinal cohort study in high, medium and non-affected communities in Victoria, Australia. Participants included 1017 respondents (Wave 1) interviewed via telephone and web-based survey between December 2011 and January 2013, and 735 (76.1%) eligible participants were retested between July and November 2014 (Wave 2). The survey included measures of fire-related and subsequent stressful events, probable posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive episode, alcohol use and severe distress. Results There were reduced rates of fire-related posttraumatic stress disorder (8.7% vs 12.1%), general posttraumatic stress disorder (14.7% vs 18.2%), major depressive episode (9.0% vs 10.9%) and serious mental illness (5.4% vs 7.8%). Rates of resilience increased over time (81.8% vs 77.1%), and problem alcohol use remained high across Wave 1 (22.1%) and Wave 2 (21.4%). The most robust predictor of later development of fire-related posttraumatic stress disorder (odds ratio: 2.11; 95% confidence interval: [1.22, 3.65]), general posttraumatic stress disorder (odds ratio: 3.15; 95% confidence interval: [1.98, 5.02]), major depressive episode (odds ratio: 2.86; 95% confidence interval: [1.74, 4.70]), serious mental illness (odds ratio: 2.67; 95% confidence interval: [0.57, 1.72]) or diminished resilience (odds ratio: 2.01; 95% confidence interval: [1.32, 3.05]) was extent of recent life stressors. Conclusion Although rates of mental health problems diminished over time, they remained higher than national levels. Findings suggest that policy-makers need to recognize that the mental health consequences of disasters can persist for many years after the event and need to allocate resources towards those who are most at risk as a result of substantive losses and ongoing life stressors.
Developmental dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a strong genetic basis. Previous studies observed white matter alterations in the left posterior brain regions in adults and school-age children with dyslexia. However, no study yet has examined the development of tract-specific white matter pathways from the pre-reading to the fluent reading stage in children at familial risk for dyslexia (FHD+) versus controls (FHD−). This study examined whitematter integrity at pre-reading, beginning, and fluent reading stages cross-sectionally (n = 78) and longitudinally (n = 45) using an automated fiber-tract quantification method. Our findings depict white matter alterations and atypical lateralization of the arcuate fasciculus at the pre-reading stage in FHD+ versus FHD− children. Moreover, we demonstrate faster white matter development in subsequent good versus poor readers and a positive association between whitemattermaturation and reading development using a longitudinal design. Additionally, the combination of white matter maturation, familial risk, and psychometric measures best predicted later reading abilities. Furthermore, within FHD+ children, subsequent good readers exhibited faster white matter development in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus compared with subsequent poor readers, suggesting a compensatory mechanism. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of white matter pathway maturation in the development of typical and atypical reading skills.