Jonathan Guryan Assesses Summer Reading to Close Skills Gap

Jonathan Guryan Assesses Summer Reading to Close Skills Gap

John Guryan

Researchers have argued that the achievement gap between students of high and low socioeconomic status worsens  during the summer while students are not in school. In an effort to investigate how to narrow this gap, SESP associate professor Jonathan Guryan is helping to lead a new study of a summer reading program.

Guryan’s evaluation focuses on a five-year, multi-district trial of the READS program, Reading Enhances Achievement During the Summer, developed by James Kim of Harvard University. The study is a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard for rigorous education research.

Over the course of the study, approximately 10,000 students in 70 North Carolina elementary schools will participate in READS. Students in the program receive two books biweekly over summer break, matched to their interests and reading level. Paired with the books are family activities to support summer reading. Members of the control group receive the books and activities at the start of school. Pretests and posttests, as well as reading tests, are used to measure impact for both groups.

In addition to monitoring student achievement and overall progress, Guryan will examine different variations of READS that could improve its effectiveness. He will also measure its cost-effectiveness and identify those elements useful for replicating and further expanding the program.

In an earlier study of summer reading, Guryan and his colleagues discovered that the Project READS program increased reading of incentivized books, and incentives were most effective for the most motivated students. ”Incentives appear to have increased the reading scores for the most motivated students with properly matched books,” Guryan explains. "These also tend to be students in the middle of the reading skill distribution."

In this study of fourth and fifth graders in nine elementary schools, students were mailed 10 books during the summer, based on interests and reading level. As incentives to read they received points for each book read, which could be used to buy prizes.

An economist, Guryan is an associate professor of human development and social policy and of economics, a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and a courtesy member of the Economics Department and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is also a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a research consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Much of his research falls into two main categories: understanding the sources and consequences of racial inequality and understanding the economics of education. His work on these subjects has been published in leading journals such as the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, Developmental Psychology, Educational Psychology, and the Review of Economics and Statistics.

By Marilyn Sherman and Institute for Policy Research
Last Modified: 10/2/13