When K-12 students have access to a well-staffed, high-quality media center, their test scores tend to go up.
At least, that’s the conclusion of a recent study by the Library Research Service (LRS), a partnership between the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado State Library. The study suggests that providing the most skilled library staff and a state-of-the-art, interactive media center is a sound investment in student achievement.
The Colorado researchers said their findings replicated the results of similar studies done previously in Alaska and Pennsylvania.
According to one of the study’s authors, Keith Curry Lance, the survey shows an increase in reading scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) as certain aspects of library media technology improve.
“How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards: The Second Colorado Study,” released in June, defines an “outstanding” library media program as one that includes program development, collaboration between the library media specialist and teachers, information technology resources, and frequent visits to the library media center by individual students.
Researchers found that CSAP reading scores increased in proportion to gains in the number of hours library media specialists put in for every 100 students. Other factors that led to increased CSAP scores included the number of print volumes per student, the number of periodical subscriptions per student, the number of electronic reference guides per student, and total library media expenditures per student.
“When we conducted the recent Colorado study … we found the improvement of test scores runs 18 percent higher in elementary schools with stronger programs and 10 to 15 percent higher in secondary schools,” Lance said.
Staffing for media and technology programs is one key to creating a successful media center and garnering higher test scores, according to the researchers.
“The most important role the library media specialist serves is being a master teacher and a special consultant for educators,” Lance said. “Schools trying to cut corners by removing a librarian add a handicap to every teacher in the school. Library media specialists are supposed to teach information literacy and provide in-service training to educators.”
Another measure for “outstanding” media center status is access to technology.
The technology component of the study addressed the number of computers in the media center and throughout the school, the number of machines connected to the internet, and the number of computers with access to licensed data programs, such as Lexis-Nexis. As the number of electronic resources available to students increased, so did their test scores, researchers found.
“We really tried to identify high-quality, current data resources, but with the internet, you generally get what you pay for. For really well-organized, reputable information, you just have to pay,” Lance said.
Collaboration between teachers and library media specialists also yielded higher scores, according to the Colorado study.
“Most schools have a librarian and a technology person, but very often those two roles don’t dovetail. We found that where networks are used to extend the reach of the library media program, the better the test scores [were],” Lance said.
Where there was a strong technology program in the media center, the study found, elementary students scored 6 to 13 percent higher than where there wasn’t, with the first number representing the mean and the second representing the median score differential. At secondary schools, students’ scores were 18 to 25 percent higher.
The study also looked at flexible scheduling, meaning that students can use computers in a self-guided environment. In schools with these types of media centers, researchers found that students scored 13 to 22 percent higher on the CSAP.
According to Lance, the study also compared the schools with the highest and lowest test scores and found that media center resources were key to a jump in the scores. “Increasing the resources in media centers by 50 percent caused test scores to increase by 100 percent,” he calculated.
“How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards” is the second study of its type in Colorado. The first study, conducted in 1992, did not address the role of educational technology and the internet.
“We weren’t able to address technology at all in the first study, because that sort of [information] was just not available,” Lance said.
Alaska and Pennsylvania have conducted similar studies, Lance said, and all three states have yielded similar results. “The findings across three states were remarkable consistent,” he said.
Library Research Service