Primary schools buck the national literacy trend

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An independent study, based on reading records of more than 150,220 children suggests that the reading comprehension of year 1 primary school children is beyond what is expected for their age.

The report shows that primary schools have made impressive gains in improving literacy standards but, as they move toward secondary school stage, reading levels decline year on year.

The independent study, based on the reading records of more than 150,000 students in 967 schools who read more than 1,860,440 books and 20,921,740,102 words was conducted by Professor Keith Topping, University of Dundee, and assessed student’s comprehension.

The data gathered from the Accelerated Reader program revealed that year 1 students at primary school had a very high reading comprehension even on some books of high readability for this year. The same applied to students in years 2 and 3. However by Year 4 the ‘average percent correct’ score for the assessment began to decline.

Commissioned and published annually by Renaissance Learning this is the third report to provide detailed information on the books that children read and their comprehension levels.  Dirk Foch, managing director of Renaissance Learning, said: “With literacy rates in the UK declining in comparison to other countries, it is promising news that the levels at which thechildren surveyed read in Years 1-4 are above what would be age-appropriate.”

Annie Mauger, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, who provided the foreword for the 2011 report, said: “Every child needs the best possible start in reading. Every parent wants this for their child. Day-to-day, as part of their school life, parents want to know that their children are being challenged to read more and learn more. The more tools they can be given to support that process the better.”

The main findings of the report were:

  •  In the first four years, difficulty was above what would be age-appropriate, but in Year 5 it fell slightly below this criterion, and generally declined steadily after that. Girls generally tended to choose harder books than boys of the same age.
  • Regarding popularity of authors, Roald Dahl remained the most popular children’s author when measured by adding appearances in the top 20 lists (38).
  • There are some disturbing signs regarding difficulty of books for high-achieving children. Although in a small number of years the difficulty of books remained the same as in 2010, in the majority of years the difficulty of books had sharply declined. No pupils from any year were reading books with a difficulty of more than two years or more above their actual level.
  • Struggling readers chose the same books that appeared on the lists for average readers of a higher chronological age. The difficulty of the books read started almost at the right level (two years behind chronological age), but very quickly the difficulty fell away until the readers were very much under-challenged.
  • Very few non-fiction titles are read by children – but boys like non-fiction more than girls. However, the difficulty of non-fiction books mirrored that for fiction books - so there was no evidence that either boys or girls read harder non-fiction books more successfully than fiction.
  • In Years 5-6 relative difficulty declines somewhat, but children are still reading above their chronological level. There is a marked difference after Year 6 (the year before secondary transfer). Beyond this point the favoured books are no longer above chronological age and a rapid decline in difficulty sets in.
  • Girls tended to read harder books than boys of the same age, which is not surprising given their better attainment at reading. Boys showed more interest than girls in non-fiction books, especially in the secondary years, but they were not more difficult and the boys did not read them any more carefully.
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