Ten years ago, the company Renaissance Learning developed a computerized way for teachers to track students reading outside of the classroom.
After a student reads a book, he or she will prove their knowledge by taking a test. A computer system will keep track of which books a student has read, as well as the reading difficulty of each book.
The goal is to test the student’s knowledge of their understanding of the basic concept of the story. The longer and more difficult the book is, the more points it is worth.
This program is called Accelerated Reader. There are now almost 10 million students in the United States using this program, in more than 30,000 schools. Accelerated Reader released data from the 2013-14 school year, with the intention of making it an annual report.
Below are three findings that Accelerated Reader discovered: from http://hechingerreport.org/ and Education By The Numbers.
*Please click on chart to see a clear view.
1. Girls read 800,000 more words
Girls read more books than boys do, in every grade, but boys aren’t that far behind girls from kindergarten through third grade. It’s beginning in fourth grade that reading habits really diverge by gender.
Starting in fourth grade, girls read, on average, 100,000 more words per year than boys do. Over the course of a child’s elementary, middle and high school education, that adds up to an almost 800,000-word difference (3.8 million words for girls vs. 3 million words for boys). The chart above shows the number of words that boys and girls, on average, read in each grade.
2. “The sweet spot” is 15 minutes a day
The good news is that the data also show that the more anyone reads, the more his or her reading ability improves over the course of a school year.
“Struggling students who read a lot have strong gains,” said Stickney.
A student who began the year in the bottom 25 percent of readers but proceeded to read for a half-hour a day and successfully answered quizzes on the books caught up with his class by the end of the year. In numerical terms, he jumped from 12th percentile to 48th percentile in one year. Admittedly, not a lot of students in this bottom category had this motivation — fewer than 25,000 students from the cohort of 10 million. But their growth was so strong, it outpaced the growth of advanced students who read just as much.
3. Supercharged learning
Which students showed higher rates of reading growth than everyone else? Stickney found accelerated growth for students who read challenging books that were above the students’ designated reading level. “These students really do grow,” he said. “They have even higher gains.”
But this supercharged growth occurred only when the student understood a majority of the book’s main points. The problem is that many students pick up a challenging book from time to time (about 12 percent of the 330 million books read on the Renaissance’s program were above the student’s designated reading level), but don’t comprehend it well. For these students, there was usually no benefit; they would have learned more had they embraced a book at their reading level.
So should a parent or teacher push a student to stretch and read a tough text? It depends. Stickney says it can’t hurt to give it a shot and see if the child can handle it. Some children are more inclined than others to look up a word in the dictionary. Perhaps a teacher can offer other comprehension strategies.
Programs like Accelerated Reader allow students to get the most out of learning. It will be interesting to track the annual report that Accelerate Reader produces every year!