Sunday, October 28, 2012

Access to Information and Training in its Use Means Better Test Scores and Informed Citizens? Well We Can't Have That Can We?

New study shows in-school librarians help test scores improve.
So I've posted before about how fond I am of libraries, but now it turns out I was right.

(So rare I have to make note of it.)

It turns out that a new study, which arrived in my in-box from several sources, finds that one of the things that boosts student achievement (read: test scores) most, is having an in-school librarian.

And here's what doesn't: School choice.

This according to a study just released by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

The study found that after 10 years of school choice and expanding high school options in New York City, "college readiness rates are still largely predicted by the demographics of a student's home neighborhood." It concludes, "choice has not been sufficient to increase systemic equity of opportunity."

(Full disclosure, the study looked only at high schools and so the impact of school choice on the lower grades is not part of the above study.)

Anyhoo, that's a blog post for another day. Let's get back to libraries.

According to new research from the Colorado-based RSL Research Group, gleefully reported in the education advocacy press I might add,  "having access to a full-time, certified school librarian means better outcomes for Pennsylvania’s public school students."

The above and below is courtesy of an Oct. 23 press release from the Education Law Center.
The researchers examined the 2010-11 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in reading and writing for students in grades three through 11, and tracked outcomes for students based on five school library factors: staffing, collections, digital resources and technology infrastructure, library access, and funding.

Overall, the greatest impact on student test scores was seen from having a full-time, certified librarian.

Tests scores in schools with full-time librarians improve
regardless of race, disability and household income.
• Students who have access to a full-time, certified librarian scored higher on the PSSA Reading Test than those students who do not have such access. This finding is true for all students, regardless of their socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and/or disability status. (Emphasis mine.)

• For several student groups that tend to experience achievement gaps—economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and those with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) — Reading and Writing results are markedly better when those students attend a school with a librarian and library support staff, according to the research. In fact, they benefit more proportionally than the general student population.
"This was the first comprehensive school library research conducted in Pennsylvania in more than a decade, and the first time student writing tests have been examined," according to the Education Law Center.  
Access to a full-time, certified librarian dramatically impacted student scores on the PSSA Writing Tests, particularly for high school students, according to the results, the ELC said.

"• Nearly twice as many high school students who have access to a full-time, certified librarian scored Advanced on the PSSA Writing test as those students without access to a full-time, certified librarian, according to the report.

• Considering all students, those students with access to a full-time, certified librarian are almost three times as likely to have “Advanced” scores on the PSSA Writing Test as those students without access to a full-time, certified librarian."(Emphasis mine).

Needless to say, the PA School Library Project was delighted with the study results, noting: "a school library helps teachers teach and students learn; it promotes information literacy and digital citizenship; it fosters in students a love of and enthusiasm for reading and encourages students to become life-long learners.'

"In the school library, students learn to access resources in many formats, become critical evaluators of information they need and use information technology effectively and ethically."

Again, from the Education Law Center release:
An empty school library helps no one and is a waste of
a valuable educational resource.
“The overall findings fit with research we’ve seen in other states—access to a full-time, certified school librarian significantly impacts students achievement in reading,” said Debra Kachel, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Legislation Committee Co-Chairperson. “What stands out to me is the impact on writing scores,” she said. “We haven’t seen that data before, and it underscores the larger impact having a full-time, certified school librarian has on skills, such as writing, that prepare students for college and the workforce.”

Eliminating or diminishing school library resources and access to a full-time, certified librarian has extreme consequences for Pennsylvania’s public school students, especially the most vulnerable students, said Nancy Potter, Education Law Center Attorney.
As I may have said once or twice before, let's make policy decision based more on evidence and less on ideology.

In other words, show me it works, and that its not unfair, and I say have at it.

But I'm not holding my breath that Pennsylvania - where the attitude toward public education seems to be "how can we next undermine it and then label it a failure?" -- will act on this information any time soon.

According to the Pennsylvania Education Association (Yes, it's a teachers organization), an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant-funded research project underway is designed to study what school library infrastructure contributes most to student achievement, and to examine the gap between what exists in Pennsylvania’s school library programs and what students need.

Preliminary research results from examining library staffing, and PSSA reading and writing scores show:
  • Consistently, reading scores are higher for students who have a full-time certified librarian than those who do not. This is true of all students, regardless of their socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and disability status
  • Students who are economically disadvantaged, Black, Hispanic, and have disabilities benefit proportionally more than students generally
  • Writing scores are three times higher for students who have a full-time certified librarian than those who do not.
And so what are we doing in Pennsylvania? Supporting elements of public education which help children succeed?


In Harrisburg, coming with new ways to label public
education a failure is a contact sport.
That doesn't match the narrative that competition will make schools better.

Instead, in 2011-2012, 198 PA schools (7%) eliminated or severely curtailed library services to their students., In 2012-2013, 117.5 librarian positions were eliminated (5.8% decrease).

This seems even more counter-productive when viewed in the face of yet another study, this one by the Pew Research Centery, which finds that -- Shazam! -- teens like libraries.

This from the New York Times Media Decoder blog:
"According to a study released Monday by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans surveyed in this age group said they still visited the library. They use libraries to conduct research, borrow print, audio and electronic books and, in some cases, read magazines and newspapers.

Wow, so studies show teens like school libraries, which help them
achieve. But school choices does not. I wonder which option
Harrisburg will pursue....can you guess?
That finding would seem to clash with the popular notion that young readers have turned away from libraries and print books as the source of their reading material, said Kathryn Zickuhr, research analyst with the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “A lot of people think that young people aren’t reading, they aren’t using libraries,” Ms. Zickuhr said. “That they’re just turning to Google for everything.”
I guess we can't say this often enough.

Libraries are not just books. They are magazines, computers, games, classes, tutorials.

Why at Pottstown Regional Public Library in just the past year, we have told you about a Civil War history class taking place at the library and on-line tutors ready to help the student in your house with a broad range of subjects.

Does an active and popular public library obviate the need for one in the school?

That we don't know yet, particularly given that there has been no research done on that. Were it proven to be the case, I think it would be worth exploring if it is shown to work.

But until that happens, the only thing we know for sure works, that improves the test scores with which Harrisburg is so obsessed, is a full-time librarian in the schools.

If we valued evidence in this over-politicized nation of ours, we might act on that -- that is if our goal was actually the improvement of public education.

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