Summer Reading Program Can Shrink Socioeconomic Reading Gaps

Summer Reading Program Can Shrink Socioeconomic Reading Gaps

Jon Guryan

During summer vacation, children in lower socioeconomic status (SES) families typically lose ground to their higher-SES peers in reading comprehension. An experiment by associate professor Jonathan Guryan and his fellow researchers found that a scaffolded summer reading program could shrink that gap.

Scaffolding is an instructional technique of providing experiences to help children understand what they read. The research study, involving 824 third-grade children in 14 elementary schools, used a scaffolded summer reading intervention called READS for Summer Learning to try to boost children’s reading comprehension and access to books at home. Teachers gave comprehension lessons in the spring, families attended a literacy event, and students received lessons, books and comprehension activities during the summer.

The researchers randomly assigned students to one of four conditions, using varying degrees of support. They found that most effective treatment offered the most support. It provided books matched to children’s reading level and interest, along with oral reading and teacher instruction in comprehension at the end of the school year.

“We found clear evidence that treatment effects varied by children’s socioeconomic status,” the researchers report in their working paper. “There were larger positive effects for children in high-poverty schools than children in moderate-high poverty schools.”

Studies suggest that low-SES children have fewer opportunities to read a diversity of appropriately challenging books. In the absence of formal schooling, low-SES parents tend to have fewer resources to support their children’s reading skills, compared to middle- and high-SES parents. For that reason, the researchers found it critical to address socioeconomic disparities in children’s opportunities to read appropriate books at home.

Even though it had impact, the summer reading intervention didn’t quite measure up to the typical summer experiences of middle-SES children. “Our findings, coupled with findings from a related home-based summer reading intervention, suggest the typical summer experiences of middle-SES children are superior to intervention efforts designed to increase children’s home access to books,” the researchers say.

Guryan conducted this experiment with James S. Kim of Harvard University, Lauren Capotosto of College of the Holy Cross, David M. Quinn of Harvard, Helen Chen Kingston of Harvard, Lisa Foster of Liberty University, and North Cooc of the University of Texas.

At Northwestern, Guryan is an associate professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. An economist whose research interests focus on the economics of education, he is a faculty research fellow with the National Bureau of Economic Research. He also co-directs the Urban Education Lab, which focuses on research related to education policy.

This working paper “Can a Scaffolded Summer Reading Intervention Reduce Socioeconomic Gaps in Children’s Reading Comprehension Ability and Home Book Access?” is available through Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 2/3/16