The Huge Benefits of a Little Bit of Reading

By: Neil Mufson
A parent recently shared with me a web article from the site School Leaders Now entitled “10 Staggering Statistics About Struggling Readers and Reading Growth.”  While we do indeed have some struggling readers, most of our children are highly proficient — but reluctant — readers.  Screens, scheduled activities, and busy lives have led to a decrease in independent reading frequency throughout our society and amongst Country School kids. But regular reading is a powerful cognitive elixir. It boosts a child’s academic performance in virtually every area. That is why we introduced our STAR time as part of every school day. From 8:20 - 8:40, everyone in the school participates in Stop Together And Read.
I was rather chagrined when, during a recent assembly, I asked the kids how many like our STAR time. Probably about 75% of our youngest kids raised their hands; about 40% of our middle grades kids did; and almost none of our oldest kids would admit to liking  it. While that last cohort’s response might be expected from a developmental level — if only middle school kids would see reading as cool — it is no surprise given societal and social pressures. The example of being well read (and being well informed, and knowledgeable about both the world and interpersonal relations) is no longer modeled by our nation’s leaders.
As I have reported before, the national statistics about reading are staggering:

  • 33% of American high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives;
  • 42% of American college graduates never read another book the rest of their lives;
  • 80% of American families have not read or bought a book in the last year.
I decided it was imperative that we do something about these trends with Country School kids because those who don’t read regularly fall way behind, even before high school and college.
The “10 Staggering Statistics” article found from an analysis of 9.9 million students, that students who read just 15 minutes per day make accelerated reading gains. Those who read over a half-hour per day make the most sustained gains. Not surprisingly, societal data shows that proficiency in reading leads to huge gains in high school graduation rates. But when that data is scrutinized, score gaps between regular and infrequent readers — on virtually every standardized measure of reading comprehension — increase as students get older. By the time students are seniors in high school, it is estimated that regular readers have internalized some 14,000 more vocabulary words than infrequent readers. The top third of all readers were found to be about 70% more proficient in math and science as well. Students who are able to achieve higher comprehension rates were also more than 2 times more likely to achieve college and career readiness.
When students get to our 6th, 7th, and 8th grades and start taking the SSAT (Secondary School Admission Test), I often am asked by parents whose children score low what they can do to improve. The reality is that, generally, it’s too late. Tutoring or review courses can only do so much. Gains have to be made, internalized, and sustained over time. Inevitably these parents share that their children spend very little time at home reading. So that you do not come in for a similar conference in those grades, begin insisting that your child read on the average at least 20 minutes per day at home. Our STAR time helps. But STAR alone is not enough.  
While the average Country School child last year scored at the 81st percentile nationally on standardized reading comprehension measures (and at the 91st percentile nationally on math measures), the reality is that most of us are hoping that our children will be competitive with a much more selective cohort. The single most important activity that you can stress at home that has the highest correlation to improved academic achievement is reading. Feel free to blame it on me! Families that adopt a time when everyone reads generally find it enormously satisfying and centering — and I bet their kids do better in school now and far into the future.

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