Does Summer Reading Build Skills?

Does Summer Reading Build Skills?

summer reading

If kids read more over the summer, will their reading skills grow? SESP associate professor Jonathan Guryan wanted to find out if reading books over the summer would provide a needed boost for kids' reading skills.

He knows that reading skills differ widely by family income, and gaps increase over the summer. Also, earlier research linked reading skills to the amount of reading students do outside of school.

To understand the impact of summer reading, Guryan and two colleagues conducted a randomized experiment with 11,000 second and third graders in 463 classrooms at 59 North Carolina public schools. They tracked a summer program called Project READS, which encouraged the children to read over the summer by mailing them 10 books, one a week.

The researchers saw striking results related to how summer reading improved the children’s reading skills. They discovered that the quality of kids’ reading was even more important for improving reading skills than the number of books read.

Jon Guryan

“Reading more books generates increases in reading comprehension skills, particularly when students read carefully enough to be able to answer basic questions about the books they read,” the researchers say. They found these improved skills persisted months later.

Another interesting finding was that the impact of the program varied by age and gender. Third-grade girls showed more improvement on reading comprehension tests than third-grade boys, suggesting more focused reading among girls. Second-graders did not make gains, and the researchers concluded that second grade may be too early for a summer reading program.

Guryan conducted this research with James Kim and David Quinn of Harvard University for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Their full research paper is available here.

An economist and an NBER fellow, Guryan is a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy. He is also a fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern. Guryan's research primarily focuses on understanding the sources and consequences of racial inequality and the economics of education.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 1/14/15