Children Who Read Books Daily Score Higher in School Tests

A good book does more to boost literacy skills than other types of reading material.   (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
A good book does more to boost literacy skills than other types of reading material. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

What children choose to read outside school directly influences their academic performance, according to a major new study by the University of Malaga and UCL, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Oxford Review of Education. Using longitudinal census data to look at more than 43,000 students aged 10 to 11 and then again when they were 13 to 14, the research provides substantial evidence that pupils who enjoy reading high-quality books daily score higher in tests.

The average marks of pupils who read books rose by 0.22 points overall, which is the equivalent of 3 months’ worth of additional secondary school academic growth. The study demonstrated no similar advantage for children’s reading daily newspapers, comics, or magazines, and only marginal benefits from short stories. The findings have important implications for parents, teachers, and policymakers, and the international research team is recommending that young people devote their reading time solely to books. Co-author Professor John Jerrim, from the UCL Institute of Education, explained:

Professor Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez, from the University of Malaga, added:

Co-author Dr. Luis Alejandro Lopez-Agudo, from the University of Malaga, says:

The amount of time children spend reading is already understood to help develop their literacy skills. This ability increases through practice and by trying longer and more challenging texts. Few studies though have focused on whether the type of material children choose influences their achievements at school. This study, looking at pupils in Spain, attempted to establish whether a link exists between literacy and mathematics scores and the type of material children look at in their spare time, as well as how long they spend doing this. Comics, short stories, books, newspapers, and magazines were the texts included in the research.

The results showed the more frequently children read books, the better they performed in school tests as teenagers. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The results showed the more frequently children read books, the better they performed in school tests as teenagers. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The researchers used data from a census carried out by the Andalusian Agency of Education Assessment. This included questionnaire responses completed during 2008 to 2009 by 10- to 11-year-olds, and from those aged 13 to 14 during 2011 and 2012. Children’s attitudes toward school were considered along with prior achievement levels. Parents were also asked about their own reading habits and how involved they were in their child’s education.

The results showed the more frequently children read books, the better they performed in school tests as teenagers. The same effect was not observed with comics, newspapers, or magazines. Specifically, researchers found:

  • 13 to 14-year-olds who read books every or almost every day scored 0.22 standard deviations higher (the equivalent of three months) on the literacy test than those who read books almost never.
  • There is evidence of positive spill-overs into other subjects, with a difference of around 0.20 standard deviations in mathematics.
  • There was some benefit from short stories for children who enjoyed them at least once a month. The researchers concluded though that increasing the frequency of this to weekly or daily was unlikely to bring any further benefits.

The study also highlighted the reading patterns across different groups of children. It showed:

  • Girls seem to read short stories, books, and newspapers more frequently than boys, and comics and magazines less frequently.
  • Young people from advantaged backgrounds read all the text types more frequently than those from disadvantaged homes.
  • High-achieving students (according to their 5th-grade test scores) were more likely to read tales/short novels and books compared to low-achieving students, though with little difference in terms of reading comics, newspapers, and magazines.
Children’s attitudes towards school were considered along with prior achievement levels. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Children’s attitudes toward school were considered along with prior achievement levels. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The findings of this study should be interpreted in the context of some limitations and the need for further research. These include the research being carried out in one particular region within Spain, and the focus upon academic progress made during the early teenage years. At this point, reading skills are already quite well-developed — there is no data for younger children.

Provided by: Taylor & Francis [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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