reading study

3 reasons why the reading gap is still alarmingly wide


New research sheds light on why so many students are not reading at grade level

Reading ability is a big predictor of other academic success, and unfortunately, many U.S. students are not reading at grade level, according to new research.

Research has long established that proficient reading helps students succeed in other subject areas, especially as academic content becomes more challenging. Students who do not read at grade level by 4th grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Reading ability also helps children develop empathy and self-confidence.

2017 NAEP results show that more than 6 out of 10 U.S. 4th graders do not read at grade level, and that number worsens for low-income students in high-poverty schools, where 8 in 10 students are not proficient.

To gauge the nation’s reading readiness, Age of Reading surveyed more than 1,000 parents and 1,000 teachers of children ages 2-12, reporting on children’s access to books, their reading habits, and major obstacles to developing confident and strong readers.

That research zeroed in on three major factors contributing to the reading gap.

1. Many children lack access to books, especially high-quality books

More than half of surveyed parents say they have fewer than 50 books of any kind in their homes, including children’s books. Schools can’t always pick up the slack–10 percent of surveyed teachers say their school does not have a school library, and 56 percent say their students do not have access to a digital library. Other research shows that more than 8,000 elementary schools in the U.S. do not have school libraries.

Cost is another issue around lack of access to books. Seventy percent of surveyed teachers say purchasing books for a classroom library is too expensive, and 77 percent say they buy classroom books with their own money.

Based on teachers’ survey responses, students with access to both a traditional and a digital library are 53 percent more likely to read above grade level than peers without such access.

2. Parents aren’t sure how to support their children’s reading needs

Teachers need help from parents, and 7 in 10 teachers believe parents aren’t involved enough in their child’s education. In fact, teachers cite lack of parental involvement as the top challenge to students reading more books.

And for the most part, parents agree, but they say they’re not sure how to best help their children. Better communication is a good start–67 percent of parents say they don’t know their child’s reading level, and though teachers say 30 percent of their students read below grade level, only 9 percent of parents believe their child is in that category.

3. Children don’t spend enough time reading outside of school

Teachers say students should read between 15-60 minutes each day outside of school, but most students fall short of the minimum reading expectation. Seven percent of parents say their children don’t read or look at books alone outside of school, and with more than 44 million children ages 2-12 in the U.S., that amounts to more than 3 million children who never read alone outside of school.

Gender gaps also complicate the reading gap. Parents of girls rate their child’s enjoyment of books significantly higher than parents of boys. Parents of boys also are more likely to say their child mostly or only reads at the parent’s direction rather than choosing on his own to read.

There are a few ways parents can help their children become confident readers, and teachers can pass these suggestions to parents during meetings, emails, or parent-teacher conferences.

1. Get on their level. Books are like Goldilocks’ porridge—too easy and kids get bored; too advanced and they get frustrated and give up. Ask your child’s teacher what your child’s reading level is, and make sure he or she has books at that level that are just right.

2. Schedule for success. Help kids build good reading habits by setting aside at least 15 minutes every day to read together. Encourage independent readers to read on their own for that long—and reward them when they do!

3. Take them on a book treasure-hunt. Help children discover their next favorite book by visiting your local library. Encourage them to find books on the subjects they’re interested in, or ask the librarian to recommend titles that will keep their attention. Digital libraries are a great way to get books anytime and anywhere, and some can be easily searched by topic.

4. Help them explore the world of words. Books aren’t the only thing we read. Create a print-rich home by labeling objects around the house. Create a word wall where kids can see the connection between objects and their written names. By showing your kids the letters in their life, you can help them begin to decode the world around them.

Laura Ascione

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