Well, there is more good news than bad news. In particular, there is a strong relationship between quality of implementation of AR and reading achievement on the Star Reading test. The better AR is implemented, the higher the reading achievement. Recommendations for the future seem clear.
Pupils should be encouraged to: pass all quizzes; sustain a higher level of challenge in their reading on transfer to secondary school; and sustain Average Percent Correct at or above the 85% level on every book. Teachers should be aware of the very different pupil preferences for reading over time and the marked differences in preferences in secondary fiction and non-fiction between boys and girls (although not necessarily encouraging them!).
Even high-achieving readers need encouragement to sustain high challenge in their reading, especially in secondary. Struggling readers are seriously under-challenged in secondary, but their level of accuracy is low as well. Boys might profess more interest in non-fiction but need encouragement to read it carefully. Books popular with children should guide school purchasing decisions in the future, with a greater emphasis on higher readability books in secondary.
The take-home messages of this report:
1) There is a marked downturn in difficulty of books at secondary transfer. Although there are some signs that schools are addressing these issues, more needs to be done. Even though the books are easier in relation to age, there is also a decline in accuracy of reading. Secondary teachers and librarians need to get better at encouraging children to pay attention to the feedback AR gives them.
2) This downturn in difficulty even includes favourite books which are read at much higher levels of difficulty with successful understanding in primary. Pupils need to be encouraged to aim higher with the difficulty of books.
3) High-ability readers and struggling readers are also seriously under-challenged in secondary school – here again encouragement to aim higher with difficulty is needed.
4) Non-fiction readers are also seriously under-challenged, especially in secondary school where boys choose male-dominated books. Encouragement to aim higher with difficulty and for boys to choose a wider range of books is needed.
5) In addition to exhortations from teachers, the peer group are a powerful resource. The lists of favourite books need to be made available to children, who should be encouraged to make their own recommendations for favourite books to their classmates, giving reasons for their choices and indicating the readability level of the book.
6) If the Republic of Ireland could sustain the high level of difficulty read in the early years of primary through upper primary and into secondary, their profile would look much stronger. If Northern Ireland could begin in lower primary with as hard books as the Republic, their profile would look much stronger.
7) Primary teachers in Wales are in need of more information or in-service training to encourage them to encourage their children to be more proactive in terms of difficulty and quality of comprehension.
8) The relationship between book difficulty and APC is not a straightforward one – while some easier books are read with higher comprehension, others are not. Some quite hard books are read with comprehension. Teachers should be aware of this and investigate the patterns of motivation which bring about this phenomenon.