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Alumni Profile

John Sabatini

Program: Ph.D. Educational Studies: Cognition and Instruction

Year of Completion: 1997

Dissertation Title: Is accuracy enough? The cognitive implications of speed of response in adult reading ability.

Dissertation Advisor: Dr. Richard L. Venezky

John Sabatini

Current Position

Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Psychology and the Institute for Intelligent Systems, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

Current Research

Dr. Sabatini’s research interests and expertise are interdisciplinary, extending across reading literacy development and disabilities, assessment, cognitive psychology, the learning sciences and educational technology.  In the course of his career, he has had opportunity to conduct research on reading, writing, and critical thinking; develop assessments, instructional programs and educational technology tools; and to participate in evaluation and implementation studies.  While his primary focus has been on adolescent and adult learners, he has participated in research inclusive of learners from pre-K through adulthood, language learners and neuro-diverse subpopulations.


Recent Publications

  • Sabatini, J., O’Reilly, T., Dreier, K., & Wang, Z. (2020). Cognitive processing challenges associated with low literacy in adults (pp. 17-400. In D. Perin (Ed.), Wiley Handbook of Adult Literacy, Wiley BlackwellHoboken, NJ.
  • Sabatini, J., O’Reilly, T., Weeks, J. & Wang, Z. (2019). Engineering a 21st Century Reading Comprehension Assessment System Utilizing Scenario-based Assessment Techniques.  International Journal of Testing, 1-23. DOI: 10.1080/15305058.2018.1551224
  • Sabatini, J., O’Reilly, T., & Wang, Z. (2018). Relating reading comprehension to oral reading performance in the NAEP fourth-grade special study of oral reading. Reading Research Quarterlyhttps://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.226
  • Sabatini, J., O’Reilly, T., & Doorey, N. (2018). Retooling literacy education for the twenty-first century: Key findings of the reading for understanding initiative and their implications. Princeton, NJ: Center for Research on Human Capital and Education, Educational Testing Service and CCSSO.
  • Sabatini, J. (2015). Understanding the basic reading skills of US adults:  Policy and practical implications from the PIAAC literacy survey. Princeton, NJ: The ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education.

Recent Awards/Funding

Dr. Sabatini has accumulated over $30 million in grant/contract funding in his career to date in over 25 grants in which he served as PI, co-investigator, or project lead (in contracts). He has been the principal investigator of an Institute of Education Sciences funded grant to develop pre- K-12 comprehension assessments, as part of the Reading for Understanding initiative, and to adapt those assessments for use in adult education programs. Other major research efforts include a NICHD funded Learning Disabilities Research Center project studying subtypes of reading disabilities in adolescents and a NICHD/Dept of Education/National Institute for Literacy grant to investigate the relative effectiveness of reading programs for adults.  He provides technical and research advice to national and international surveys including the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PISA), the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and National Assessments of Adult Literacy (NAAL).


Why did you choose to pursue your PhD at CEHD? What was it about the university/school that drew you here?

“I was between jobs, doing volunteer work in adult literacy education and at the Franklin Institute serving as a research assistant with a researcher exploring science misconceptions with museum exhibits. Five years earlier, I had earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from the University of Chicago and had experience as a research assistant conducting educational and disabilities research. I was exploring a wide range of possible graduate programs near Philadelphia. I called UD’s College of Education. I spoke with Dr. Lou Mosberg and described my background. He said that there was a faculty member with research grants in adult literacy and middle school science and technology.  That faculty member was Dr. Venezky, who served as mentor, advisor and sponsor for my career at UD.”


Can you share on positive memory that has stuck with you since you left UD?

“I had the privilege to work with Dick Venezky both as a graduate student and then as a professional researcher until his untimely passing.  He was instrumental in my getting positions first at University of Pennsylvania, then at ETS where I spent 17 years in the research department.  Because I had the opportunity to work on large, interdisciplinary grant and Center projects with him at UD, I had a unique skill set that put me ahead of the curve in a sense, at a time when tenure track positions primarily sought scholars with a single-focused expertise, and who conducted their own studies.  Nowadays, interdisciplinary teams working on large scale/budget projects is becoming the norm, and I could not be enjoying it more!”

The School of Education honors Dr. Venezky through the Richard L. Venezky Award for Creative Research in Literacy. Learn more about current faculty associated with the Ph.D. in Education’s specialization in Literacy.


Updated on February 20, 2020