Monday, April 29, 2013

Increasing Reading Scores - the School Library Connection

An article in the Des Moines Register on Sunday focused on Iowa's students and some of the strategies we as educators and as a community can use to support their reading abilities.  Unfortunately, school libraries were not mentioned.

There have been many studies that show a relationship between school libraries and student achievement.  A 2012 study in Pennsylvania, found that schools with strong library programs had students who were more likely to have higher scores on state Reading and Writing assessments than those without well-staffed, funded, equipped, stocked and accessible school libraries. This was true for all students, even more so for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

In New Jersey, a three-year study published in 2012 found “school libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school, and to the development of students who can function in a complex and increasingly digital information environment.”

A research compilation report by Scholastic (linked here) lists 19 other state (and one Canadian) studies about the impact of school libraries on student achievement. A 2002 study of schools in Iowa showed that students who scored highest in reading on ITBS tests used more than 2.5 times more books and materials during library visits than other students. In Colorado, 7th grade students scored 21% higher on reading tests in schools with a well-staffed library and strong collection than those without. In Florida, elementary students scored 9% higher when their school had a school library staffed more than 60 hours a week.  In Massachusetts, they found that both elementary and junior high school students scored higher on state tests when a school library program was present. In this report alone, there are many more examples of how library programs impact our students’ success.

In Iowa, some school districts have long recognized the contributions of school libraries and have made quality programs a priority.  However, many districts in our state barely meet state mandates for employing at least one qualified teacher librarian in each school, stretching one teacher across up to six buildings and programs.  If Iowa is truly interested in increasing the reading scores of our students, an investment in school libraries is a strategy that needs to be seriously considered.

As you know, increased reading scores are not all that school libraries can offer – access to high quality, current, and high-interest resources is just one part of a great library program. Teacher Librarians are also equipped to collaborate with teachers to integrate information and digital literacy skills into regular classroom curriculum, offering teachers and students a chance to enhance what they already do. Teacher Librarians are experts in implementing appropriate and effective technology to engage students and advance their learning. Teacher Librarians teach the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate a growing global digitally-centered world. School Libraries offer a physical and digital space to connect learners to the larger world around them, opening doors to opportunities that in the past may have been unavailable.

I urge you to read over a few of the studies mentioned and familiarize yourself with data that can support what we already know and see in our daily work. Be prepared with hard numbers for those who crave data and personal anecdotes for those who understand the real lives of our students.

And stay tuned for a follow up article in the Des Moines Register!