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September 2, 2003 | Volume 1 | Number 18
School Libraries and Their Impact on Student Performance
What effects do school libraries have on student achievement?
As schools focus on student academic achievement, policy makers and educators are increasingly examining the value of school services traditionally considered supplemental. The effects of school libraries on student achievement have been extensively studied for over 75 years. Although early research generally showed a correlation between the presence of a library or librarian and higher student achievement—most notably in reading—recent research has helped identify the specific functions of school libraries and librarians that most affect achievement.
Recent studies of library systems in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania found that
These findings were consistent across the four states and remained constant after controlling for student and community characteristics, including per-pupil expenditures, teacher characteristics, poverty, race and ethnicity, and adult educational attainment. The study highlighted in this issue of ResearchBrief examines the effects of Texas school libraries on student achievement.
This study of the Texas school library system (Smith, 2001) addressed three questions: How do current library resources relate to state standards? What are the effects of school libraries on student achievement as measured by the reading portion of the state's standardized test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS)? What library practices are found in the highest performing schools? This ResearchBrief focuses on the study's second objective.
Smith surveyed 600 randomly selected Texas libraries (503 returned the surveys). By combining the survey results with data from the state's information management systems and economic data from the Federal Reserve Board, more than 200 variables were gathered for analysis. Although most of the variance in TAAS scores was attributed to socio–economic factors, Smith found school libraries to have a measurable effect on student achievement. At the elementary and middle school levels, approximately 4 percent of the variance in TAAS scores was attributed to school libraries, while that figure more than doubled at the high school level, reaching 8.2 percent. Library variables outweighed the effects of other school variables, including computers per student, teacher experience, and even teacher turnover ratio. Across all schools, 10 percent more students in schools with librarians achieved minimum TAAS expectations in reading than their peers in schools without librarians (almost 25 percent of schools in Texas do not have librarians). High–performing schools devoted many more resources to libraries than low–performing schools. Additionally, because socio–economic characteristics continue to be the strongest predictor of student success on TAAS, high–performing schools tended to have significantly fewer high–poverty students than lower–performing schools.
At the elementary school level, four library variables were most closely related to higher student achievement:
At the middle school level, two variables stood out:
At the high school level, Smith noted seven variables:
Although socio–economic factors continue to be the strongest predictor of academic success, school library characteristics may account for up to 8 percent of the variance in reading–related test scores. Effective librarians perform a variety of tasks, including student instruction and teacher professional development. Inequity in the quality and availability of library resources continues to exist between both high– and low–poverty schools as well as high– and low–performing schools.
Students and teachers across schools and academic levels are affected by the quality and availability of library services.
Although libraries appear to account for up to 8 percent of test score variance on TAAS, this study does not include a cost-benefit analysis. Additionally, this study is correlational, and though—as the author points out—causality is a plausible explanation for the relationship, there may be other reasons for this correlation. While the findings are consistent with previous research, this study was conducted under the auspices of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which is not a traditional research institution. Because of the narrow focus on school libraries in Texas, the results may not be generalizable to other states.
Smith, E. G. (2001). Texas school libraries: Standards, resources, services, and students' performance. Austin, TX: Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved August 11, 2003, from http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/pubs/schlibsurvey/survey.pdf.
Lance, K. C. (1994, Spring). The impact of school library media centers on academic achievement. School Library Media Quarterly, 22(3). 167–170, 172. Executive summary retrieved August 14, 2003, from http://www.ala.org/Content/NavigationMenu/AASL/Publications_and_Journals/School_Library_Media_Research/Editors_Choice_Resources/Information_Power_Resources/select_lance_html.htm.
Lance, K. C. (2002, February). Impact of school library media programs on academic achievement. Teacher Librarian 29(3). Retrieved August 14, 2003 from Proquest (subscription required).
Lance, K. C., Rodney, M. J., & Hamilton-Pennell, C. (2000). How school librarians help kids achieve standards. Denver, CO: Library Research Service. Executive summary retrieved August 14, 2003, from http://www.lrs.org/documents/lmcstudies/CO/execsumm.pdf.
School Library Media Research: Journal of the American Association of School Librarians is available at
____________All comments regarding ReseachBrief should be sent to RBfeedback@ascd.org. To speak directly with an ASCD staff member, please Contact Us.
Dan Laitsch serves as ASCD's consultant editor for ResearchBrief. Laitsch is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and is coeditor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership.
Copyright © 2003 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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