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How much does mandatory extra reading time help students?

September 27, 2014 at 1:11 PM EDT
In order to make sure students are reading at grade level, many states throughout the country have taken steps to provide extra reading time and instruction for underperforming students. But how much does simply adding extra time help? Patte Barth, the director of The Center for Public Education, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the issue.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: How much does extra reading time help? And what are other states doing to improve reading proficiency? For more about this, we’re joined from Washington by Patte Barth. She is the director of The Center for Public Education.

So, we always hear about this third grade threshold that is really important to try to get a kid up to grade level by third grade, why?

PATTE BARTH: Well, a lot of research suggest that third grade reading is a threshold year. What some studies say that the likelihood of a third grader who is not reading on the grade level has a likelihood of dropping out that is three or four times greater than a child who is reading on grade level. So there is a lot of stake.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So in addition to the extra hour of the reading time, what are some other states doing? What are some different techniques to try to get kids up to speed?

PATTE BARTH: Well, the importance of the third grade reading is so high that we have over 30 states that have some kind of policy to intervene, identify and make sure children get the support they need to be on grade level. They do take different forms: about 15 states require that a third grader who is not grade level will be retained.

Now, that’s a rather controversial policy because there are other research that points to grade retention as a predictor of later dropping out. But in doing so, in making that policy, those states also put pressure on the system to provide early interventions, make sure the kids have the support so that they are on grade level, they are not retained and they can move to fourth grade with their peers.

Other states require summer school. Some states require after-hours instructions, whether after school or on Saturdays, for students who have been identified as reading. Some have at-home reading programs that they work with parents with.

So there’s a range of interventions that states are trying to provide for their children to make sure that everybody is on track, reading on grade level and able to succeed in fourth grade and beyond.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, increasing the time spent in reading during the day. Does that work?

PATTE BARTH: Interesting about time is that does it work? Well, I will give it a qualified yes. It works but it does depend on how that time is used.

So if you just merely increase the time during the day and do nothing else, you need to know you are going fill that. Is that filled with quality instruction? Is that staffed with qualified people? And something else I always like to caution people about, when you are talking about adding time to the school day of young children, little kids get tired.

So you need to make sure that they are also getting some recess during the day, that they have snacks and that they’re engaged. When all those pieces are in place, we have seen that it does make a difference.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the sort of cost investment? Obviously, it costs more money to.. and would that money, say, be better spent hiring more teachers or use differently?

PATTE BARTH: You’re right to point out that it is very costly. Because it does require extra staffing; it requires more time that buildings are open, transportation cost and so forth. So adding time can be one of the most expensive investments that a state or a district makes in their public schools.

There are other ways to invest that money as you point out. You know, the research on the quality of teachers and instruction is very very compelling about the impact that can have on student learning. Investments in the leadership — the Principal can make a lot of difference, and the quality of the curriculum.

All of these pieces are ingredients in providing a public education that will make sure all students are succeeding and thrive after high school. How you invest those? There is no magic formula, and that’s one of the benefits we have in this country.

We don’t have a single system — we have 50 state systems. Within that, we have 14,000 school districts. And so all of them and each of them can take different approaches to this, in putting this recipe together, and they do. When they do that, as researchers, we can learn what is working the best. We can share that information and learn from each other.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright. Patte Barth, the director of The Center for Public Education. Thanks so much for joining us.

PATTE BARTH: Thank you.

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