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Five years on, following the data has helped us make reading more accessible and exciting to students across demographics.

Excite, expand, equitize: Using data to support reading

Five years on, following the data has helped us make reading more accessible and exciting to students across demographics

Key points:

Five years ago, we were already well into discussions about investing in a digital reading application. Our overall objective was to expand access to literacy and use real-world data in curating and individualizing collections to better serve the needs of the district’s highly diverse student population. A priority was to give students seamless connection to the digital collections of the Lexington Public Library that serves our local area. As was the case for most districts in the country, the pandemic precipitated an even greater push to provide digital content.

The platform we selected—OverDrive Education’s Sora reading app—aligns with our public library system for easy access to its wealth of digital materials. The solution also allowed us to ease into the use of digital content at our own pace and within funding availability.

Below are some of the highlights of what we learned from following the data and the ways we’re applying that knowledge to improve access to literacy and help more students discover the excitement of reading.

Serving diverse demographics, ensuring maximum investment impact

Our district—Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky—encompasses 70 schools and programs that serve more than 41,000 students from backgrounds representing 95 home languages. We’re a minority-majority district with approximately 6,600 English Learners (ELs) and 5,200 students classified for special education.

Our mission within the Office of Information and Analysis is to provide solutions that support more effective teaching and learning. When looking for our digital reading system, we found these features very beneficial.

  • Aligning with our public library using a single platform. Both the district and the Lexington Public Library use digital libraries. Students can easily access the collections through their reading app. Readers don’t even need their library card—they can use their school Google accounts to access both our district and public libraries.
  • Providing impactful data on student reading habits. We can view data insights from both public library reading activity and from our own district collections. Following students’ reading habits across all collections gives us a more accurate and complete picture of their interests and reading behaviors.
  • Maximizing purchasing power for district-wide access. Standardizing district-wide on a reading app ensures ubiquitous access and maximizes the resources we can deliver with each investment.

Since our launch of this platform, we have continued to follow the data to build out collections, as well as to advocate for reading resources.

Building the collection

To build and expand our collection, our technology team solicits insights from the departments that have provided funding. We also work as a department to analyze the data and make purchasing decisions. Our Library Advisory Council helps brainstorm about content, and we regularly share data with district librarians. Staying close to the data has helped the district bolster both enthusiasm for and competency in reading.

Creating excitement

Librarians and teachers routinely review usage statistics such as books opened, time read,  reading sessions, average time per session and per book, total unique users, and achievements earned. This data helps them track progress and make recommendations for high-interest or high-instructional-value titles. With this information in hand, we’re able to curate individual, department, themed, and other collections that we know will engage more students.

Expanding our community of readers

Giving students access to different types of digital content helps generate reading interest. Our students can choose to read digital magazines, non-English content, Battle-of-the Books texts, and books from wide variety of curated collections.

Usage statistics have given credence to our educators’ long-held beliefs that offering students independent reading choice and behind-the-computer-screen privacy increases interest and participation. But the data doesn’t always support preconceived notions. For example, in following the data on average-time-per-book by format we learned that our students were spending more time in audiobook texts than in ebooks. That surprising discovery led us to increase funding for our audiobook collection. Without this data in hand, we’d have missed a golden opportunity to boost reading hours.

Equitizing access

One of our top department goals is to support equitable access to resources. The digital reading app helps us achieve that objective by eliminating such traditional roadblocks as limited English fluency, school size and staffing constraints. Today, by leveraging Sora features and usage data, we’re better equipped to offer titles in our students’ home languages, give every reader access to a district-sized resource pool, and maintain a robust collection of targeted books.

Using data for advocacy

Increasing funding to expand our collection of audiobooks is just one example of the many ways we’re using data for advocacy. Collaborating departments can request specific data so that they can see the impact of their efforts and advocate for continued support. Usage trends inform purchase decisions—for example, we track usage of materials and content packages to calculate our return on investment and validate specific funding requests.

As evidenced by our success in making reading more accessible and relevant to students across demographics, choosing this path was one of the best decisions we’ve made in our on-going efforts to support reading in the classroom.

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