Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us: When Schools Have High-Quality Library Programs and Librarians Who Share Their Expertise with the Entire School Community, Student Achievement Gets a Boost

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us: When Schools Have High-Quality Library Programs and Librarians Who Share Their Expertise with the Entire School Community, Student Achievement Gets a Boost

Article excerpt

Since 1992, a growing body of research known as the school library impact studies has consistently shown positive correlations between high-quality library programs and student achievement (Gretes, 2013; Scholastic, 2016). Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries' benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.

Skeptics might assume that these benefits are associated mainly with wealthier schools, where well-resourced libraries serve affluent students. However, researchers have been careful to control for school and community socioeconomic factors, and they have found that these correlations cannot be explained away by student demographics, school funding levels, teacher-pupil ratios, or teacher qualifications. In fact, they have often found that the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.

Let's take a closer look at these findings and what they mean for school library programs.

Librarians and student achievement

In these statewide studies, the most substantial and consistent finding is a positive relationship between full-time, qualified school librarians and scores on standards-based language arts, reading, and writing tests, regardless of student demographics and school characteristics. For example, a national study using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and 4th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores documented that losses of librarians are associated with declines or inferior gains in reading scores, while gains of librarians are associated with improved scores (Lance & Hofschire, 2011a). When the study was replicated in Colorado the following year using more precise state data, the result was the same (Lance & Hofschire, 2012).

In a Pennsylvania study (Lance & Schwarz, 2012), nearly 8% more students scored Advanced on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment in reading in schools with a full-time, certified librarian than in schools without. Where part-time support staff was added to the full-time librarian, almost 9% more students achieved Advanced scores. The effect of staffing on writing scores was even greater: Students with full-time librarians were almost three times more likely than those without librarians to have Advanced writing scores.

Research also suggests that the presence of school librarians has a long-term, cumulative effect. In the Pennsylvania study, if schools had full-time librarians, reading scores were consistently better for all grade levels of students--and, in fact, the proportional difference in Advanced reading scores grew from elementary to middle to high school. Schools with full-time librarians also had fewer Below Basic scores than those without librarians.

Reading and writing scores tend to be higher for all students who have a full-time certified librarian, and when it comes to reading, students in at-risk subgroups tend to benefit more than all students combined. The Pennsylvania study (Lance & Schwarz, 2012) found that while 1.6% fewer students tested at the Below Basic level in reading when they had full-time librarians than those who did not, the difference was even greater for Black students (5.5%), Latino students (5.2%), and students with disabilities (4. …

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