Well-stocked, staffed school libraries boost FCAT scores, UCF research shows

02/20/04

Students at schools with better libraries outperform peers on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, University of Central Florida research reveals

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Students at schools with well-staffed libraries that circulate the most books and have the most computers outperform their peers on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, according to research at the University of Central Florida.

FCAT scores, the state's primary measure of student achievement, were 20 percent higher in 2000-01 in reading at high schools that employed at least one full-time professional librarian and the equivalent of one other full-time library employee, UCF education professor Donna Baumbach concluded in her "Making the Grade" report. FCAT scores also were highest at elementary and middle schools with well-staffed libraries.

Fifty-five percent of students passed the FCAT reading test at high schools with a full-time professional library media specialist and one or more employees who worked a combined 40 hours or more a week, compared with 37 percent at other high schools. Other factors influencing test scores include the size of a school's library collection, the age of the materials and the availability of computers in the library.

Like studies in Colorado, Oregon, Texas, Iowa and New Mexico, the Florida research shows there is a strong correlation between available resources in a school's library and student achievement.

"What we're seeing is that if you have an active media center that the entire school sees as its own and participates in, you're going to have a dramatic increase in your FCAT scores," said Barbara Correll, director of learning resources for the Broward County School District.

"Making the Grade" examined a variety of characteristics of school libraries, which are also known as media centers. Schools reported information about technology that's available in their media centers, the numbers of videos and periodicals they have and the numbers and ages of books in their collections.

As school districts begin to craft their 2004-05 budgets, librarians are making sure principals, school board members and parents are aware of the study's conclusions. Superintendents and schools throughout the state were given copies of the report. Posters highlighting the study's results are displayed in Broward County schools' media centers.

"Making the Grade" recommends, among other things, that libraries receive more money from the state and school districts. About 45 percent of school library budgets statewide comes from other sources, including parent-teacher groups, grants and book fairs.

Recommendations also include improving library services at schools with many low-income students or students with disabilities and encouraging librarians to communicate the importance of media centers in student learning to parents, legislators and others.

"I'd like to see more awareness of the difference library media specialists can make in a school," said Margie McLoughlin, media specialist at Sterling Park Elementary School in Seminole County. "I have seen an amazing difference when I can find a book that a child was really hoping to read. It just seems to make a connection with them and make them want to read more."

One obstacle to motivating children to read can be the age of many books in Florida library collections, another issue addressed in the study.

Baumbach found that many school libraries are made up mostly of books that were published in 1980 or earlier. They could include geography books that show the Soviet Union, West Germany and East Germany in maps, or books on the space program that predate the Challenger explosion in 1986.

"Children don't want to read books that are 40 years old and moldy," Baumbach said. "They want to read good, contemporary books. If children can find books that they want to read, they're more likely to become lifelong readers and to use libraries for the rest of their lives. We're spending a lot of money teaching kids to read, but if they don't have equitable access to good books and they don't read, we've missed the whole point."

According to the study, the average publication date for a book in a Florida school library is 1983. Parents can go to www.sunlink.ucf.edu and click on "SUNLINK Resources" and then "Age of Collection" to find out how recently materials in their children's libraries were published.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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