Book fairs are simple way to increase summer reading by low-income students

Studing in outdoorSpending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for a child from a low-income family reduces the summer slide in learning as much as summer school and at a fraction of the cost, according to Richard Allington, co-author of the recently released book, Summer Learning Loss, Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap.

Allington says if schools held book fairs in the spring where children from low-income families could select 10-15 books that they wanted to read, this simple intervention could go a long way toward closing the reading gap.

His 3-year study, which recently won the International Reading Association’s Albert J. Harris Award, found that 1st and 2nd-grade students who chose books from spring book fairs scored significantly higher on state reading achievement tests than students in a control group. Book fairs were held in 17 high-poverty schools during the spring. Children could select up to 15 books for summer reading from approximately 500 books. Over a 3-year period, about 852 students received their selected books on the final day of school and 478 randomly selected students from these same schools received no books and served as the control group.

Students continued to reap the benefits of summertime reading the following school year when they showed a 35 to 40% grade-level increase in reading achievement in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), according to Allington. Allington’s study, “Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students,” was published in Reading Psychology in 2010. The Albert J. Harris Award is given for a published paper that most significantly advances the profession’s understanding of reading/learning disabilities.

Recent research by Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle at Johns Hopkins University found that reading growth did not differ between rich and poor children during the school year in grades 1-9 . By 9th grade, however, the reading achievement gap was about three years wide. Most of the reading achievement gap at 9th grade was due to summer reading loss. While middle-class children increased their reading achievement during the summer according to the Johns Hopkins researchers, the reading of poorer children declined, resulting in a gap that got 3 months wider every year.

Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Generation Gap, ed. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, New York: Teachers College Press, 2013.

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