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Kids Who Read Books Daily Do Better on School Tests

A good book does more to boost literacy skills than other types of reading material, according to a new study.

In fact, what children choose to read outside school directly influences their academic performance, according to the new study led by researchers at the University of Malaga in Spain and University College London in the UK.

Using longitudinal census data to look at more than 43,000 students between the ages of 10 and 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, according to researchers.

The average marks of students who read books rose by 0.22 points overall, which is the equivalent of three months’ worth of additional secondary school academic growth, the researchers discovered.

The study did not find a similar advantage for children’s reading daily newspapers, comics or magazines, and only marginal benefits from short stories, according to the researchers.

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.

“Although three months’ worth of progress may sound comparatively small to some people, it equates to more than 10 percent of the three academic secondary school years measured — from when these young people are aged 11 years old to 14, which we know is a hugely developmental period,” said co-author Professor John Jerrim from University College London.

“In an increasingly digital world, it’s important that young people are encouraged to find time to read a good book,” he continued. “Other less complex and less engaging forms of reading are unlikely to bring the same benefits for their cognitive development, and shouldn’t be counted as part of their reading time. This is particularly important for low-achievers, where any association is likely to be strongest.”

“Reading is a fundamental skill that plays a key part in all our lives,” added lead researcher Dr. Luis Alejandro Lopez-Agudo from the University of Malaga. “Our results provide further evidence that it’s not only whether young people read or not that matters, but also what they read.”

The amount of time children spend reading is already understood to help develop their literacy skills, the researchers noted. This ability increases through practice and by trying longer and more challenging texts.

But few studies have focused on whether the type of material children choose influences their achievements at school, the researchers said.

That led to this study, which looked at students in Spain. Researchers attempted to establish whether a link exists between literacy and mathematics scores and the type of material children read 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 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 towards 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, and magazines, the study discovered.

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, while the opposite holds true for comics and magazines.
  • 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.

The researchers noted there are some limitations to the study. It was carried out in one particular region within Spain, and the focus was on academic progress made during the early teenage years. At this point, reading skills are already quite well-developed and  there is no data for younger children, the researchers said.

Further researcher is needed, they concluded.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Oxford Review of Education.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

Kids Who Read Books Daily Do Better on School Tests

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Kids Who Read Books Daily Do Better on School Tests. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/03/01/kids-who-read-books-daily-do-better-on-school-tests/154579.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Mar 2020 (Originally: 1 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Mar 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.