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Students who read a lot with high comprehension experience more growth

In What Kids Are Reading: And Why It Matters, 2015, we examined the characteristics of daily independent reading practice to achievement growth for all students in grades 1–12. A clear and compelling pattern emerged, showing high gains for students who both read a lot of books and demonstrated strong comprehension of those books.

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Analyzing these results, natural questions arose: were all the students who read a lot with strong comprehension good readers to begin with? What about students who began the year reading below grade level? Looking at the data, we know the answer to the first question. No, not all kids with good reading-practice patterns began the year as strong readers. In fact, a large number of them did not. To answer the second question, we have conducted the same analysis on a sample limited to students who struggle with reading, defined as having an initial achievement score in the bottom quartile (a percentile rank (PR) between 1 and 25). The figure shows our findings:

  • Comparing results for all students to those for students who struggle with reading, there was a similar relationship between reading practice and performance—better practice was associated with more annual growth and higher end-of-year PR values for struggling readers.
  • Though better reading practice was similarly beneficial for struggling readers, it was more difficult to accomplish. Not surprisingly, a larger proportion of students (as indicated by bubble size in the chart) were in lower practice categories, suggesting they were more likely to have trouble comprehending books and spend less time reading.
  • As with all students, consistently failing Accelerated Reader (AR) Quizzes (i.e., not comprehending the main points of the books they read, measured by average percent correct (APC) on the quizzes) was associated with falling behind in general reading ability. However, for struggling readers, there was a more marked difference between the low comprehension (APC < 65%) and moderate comprehension (APC 65–85%) categories. Students whose APC was less than 65% tended to have low levels of growth and fall further behind their academic peers over the school year, whereas students with an APC greater than 65% showed high growth. Though this does not provide direct evidence of causality, these trends are very compelling and suggest that educators may want adjust factors such as book difficulty or the number of books read to help students maintain higher comprehension levels.
  • Fewer students who began the year as struggling readers maintained quality reading practice, but those who did were typically “back on track” by year’s end. Good reading practice (i.e., an APC greater than 85% and daily engaged reading time of 15 minutes or more) was associated with extremely high levels of growth and spring PR values that approached 50, which was considered typical. Although these students began the year well behind their peers, they grew at an accelerated rate and appeared to have closed gaps and approached a level of achievement typical for their grade levels.