What’s holding back students’ reading progress?

What’s holding back students’ reading progress?

While one initiative in NSW has seen vast improvements in the literacy of K-2 private school students, not all manage to stay on track in terms of reading progress.

Ten-year data showing the trend of students’ NAPLAN results has found that while the majority of Australian students are showing better progress in reading, Year 5-7 students made six months less progress despite their numeracy progress remaining unaffected.

Writing in The Conversation, the Grattan Institute’s School Education Program Director Peter Goss said the lag in Years 5-7 students’ reading outcomes does not mean that their literacy is far worse – just that their progress isn’t as fast compared to other year levels. 

Goss pointed out that advantaged students – and those who have English-speaking backgrounds – have surprisingly turned out to be the most affected by this despite having improved the most in Year 5 reading.

Citing an example, Goss said students with parents who are senior managers end up being 10 months behind the benchmark for reading progress.

Finding the culprit

Goss suggested that some schools may have pushed their students to reach the minimum standard, or a number of students end up reading less due to technology but noted that these potential reasons do not explain the drop in Year 5-7 students’ reading progress.

“My best guess is that some advantaged primary schools focus on literacy and numeracy until the year 5 NAPLAN tests are done, but then switch to project-based learning, leadership or year 6 graduation projects,” Goss wrote.

“These “gap year” activities don’t displace maths hour (which drives numeracy progress) but may disrupt reading hour or other activities that build reading skills.”

Disadvantaged primary schools, however, continue to hone their students’ reading levels to better prepare them for secondary schooling.

Goss further pointed out that educators should further look into the transition from primary to secondary schooling to address the dip in Year 5-7 students’ reading progress. Teachers handling these Year levels should also help extend the reading capabilities of those who are doing well, he added.

Addressing technology’s role

While Goss only offered guesses on what might be causing this issue, a university researcher is looking into the link between technology and the trend of students reading fewer books.

Associate Professor Leonie Rutherford from Deakin University’s School of Communication and Creative Arts is leading a comprehensive study on the reading habits of Australian adolescents to develop evidence-based policies on library provision, publishing and book selling in a digital world.

Associate Professor Rutherford said she hopes they can help school and library educators to “address the decline in recreational reading during adolescence” by looking into the digital practices of Australia’s youth as well as how these affect their ability to find a book to read.

The research – funded by the Australian Research Council – also seeks to understand how technology provides communities, platforms, networks or infrastructures help Australia’s youth find books they want to read.

A previous study led by Associate Professor Rutherford had found that amid the digital environment, younger readers have difficulty finding a book they would like to read, causing them to read less.

"Reading fiction has been linked to important citizenship competencies, such as empathy and understanding of the perspectives of others. Studies also show that readers have enhanced brain connectivity, sleep better, and exhibit lower stress levels,” Associate Professor Rutherford said.

"But today's teens are busy people, both socially and educationally, and reading for pleasure and visiting libraries declines markedly in the teenage years.”

Associate Professor Rutherford further noted that the decline in reading not only affects library professionals’ ability to extend literacy education, “but also the sustainability of Australia’s book industries that depend on the renewal of readers."