A recent research brief from Common Sense Media on study reading habits reports that reading achievement has stagnated among older teens, that girls read more frequently and perform better than their male counterparts, and that the amount that adolescents read has dropped precipitously. These are just some of the findings reported by a research brief released by Common Sense Media. This report relies upon and consolidates several large studies on children and reading, national surveys about reading attitudes and behaviors, and government data sets on reading frequency and achievement. Utilizing this information, the brief pulls together major data points and summarizes key findings from across these studies.
One of the key findings of the report is that the proportion of children who are daily readers drops markedly from childhood to the teenage years. Additionally, this trend has accelerated since 1984. According to government studies, the proportion of 13-year olds who report that they “never” or “hardly ever” read has grown from 8% to 22 %. The book publisher Scholastic has been surveying students and parents about reading since 2006. In that time, the percent of students, ages 6 to 17, who report reading for “fun” every day has dropped from 31% in 2006 to 16% in 2012.
The report also finds that there is a significant gap in reading patterns and achievement based on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Only 18% of black students and 20% of Hispanic fourth graders are rated as “proficient” in reading as compared with 46% of white students. According to one study, this gap equates to about two grade levels. Significantly, the size of this achievement gap has been largely unchanged over the past two decades. Not surprisingly, numerous studies found significant differences across race, income and parent education when it comes to the proportion of children who are daily readers. For example, a 2013 Common Sense study found a 22 percentage-point difference between white and Hispanic children, and a 19 percentage-point difference between white and black children concerning the likelihood of being a daily reader.
A gender gap as to achievement and the frequent of reading continues to persist between boys and girls. For example, a 2013 Scholastic study found that two-thirds of girls enjoy reading, as compared to just half of the boys. Furthermore, the gender gap in daily reading becomes increasingly older as children get older, with only 18% of boys between 15 to 17 reporting reading five to seven times a weeks, as compared to 30% of the girls. Again, a gap in reading frequency is reflected in an achievement gap. For example, eighth-grade girls out performed boys by 11 percentage-points in reading proficiency. Interestingly, the gender gap in reading is not confined to the United States, as the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study found that “girls outperformed boys in 2011 in nearly all of the countries and benchmarking participants, and there has been little reduction in the reading achievement gender gap over the decade.”
Finally, the report looked and the impact of e-reading. While there was some evidence that parent and student attitudes toward e-books are softening, the majority of children still prefer reading printed materials. Although there is little longitudinal information about e-reading, there are hints that e-reading may contribute to more frequent reading. A Scholastic study reports that of children who read an e-book, one in five say that they are reading more books for fun, particularly among boy respondents.
The Common Sense Media Research Brief highlights the challenges facing educators and schools concerning the teaching of literacy and fostering a love of reading. The trend of the past few decades is unmistakable; children are reading less than they did in the past. Any attempt to improve reading achievement will need to confront and address this reality.