No Big Surprise: Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading for Pleasure

According to an article in The New York Times, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report showing that as students read less for fun, their reading test scores are declining. In addition, “performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.”

One of the reasons kids don’t read for pleasure, according to a 2006 study by Scholastic/Yankelovich is homework.

9 thoughts on “No Big Surprise: Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading for Pleasure

  1. Sara, I am SO glad you picked up on this story. I was going to write you today to please post it.

    I read about the NEA report in the Washington Post. I was infuriated that the article did not mention one word about homework, Yet I can tell you it is the MAJOR culprit why my daughter reads far less than she would ike.

    My 15-year daughter is a VORACIOUS reader. She would read all afternoon and evening if you would let her. That is why I was so furious when Washington Post’s Jay Mathews attacked your book last year and claimed you were against homework solely so kids could watch more tv with their families. Ha! Would that my daugther were lucky enough to have discretionary time to even watch television. Homework fills practically her every waking moment. But it’s not tv she would choose, if she were not required to work all the time, it’s books.

    I homeschooled my child for one magical year, 8th, and I allowed her to indulge her reading fantasy practically to her heart’s desire. The end result is that we covered thirty classic novels not to mention ten books of reading on average every week! I had to take her out of school so she could read, play, socialize, visit museums and spend time outdoors, all with ample time for family.

    My daughter has spent most of her life in gifted programs and while she does need the challenge those classes afford, it comes with a hefty price tag of exponentially more homework. I have interviewed top people in the field of gifted education and not one of them espouses that gifted means “work them to death.” I wonder who advises these programs.

    A story, if you will, as my mind drifts back to 5th grade, the first year of public school following five of private. My daughter was told to read for twenty minutes each day and then write a reading response. Sometimes she didn’t have all her homewwork done (largely a waste of time) and because she is scrupulously honest, would blurt out why when asked. “I read all afternoon,” she’d sheepishly admit. To which she was roundly rebuked, publicly shamed in front of her peers.

    I don’t get it. Schools drill and kill and drill and drill students on reading. Here is a child who wants to read all afternoon (we are talking Wuthering Heights in 5th grade, of her own volition) and she is made to feel guilty for “goofing off.” She was also told not to read for hours and save all her responses for one afternoon but to read for twenty minutes each day, as directed. Now we chastise children for reading more than the required allotment? I know this sounds unbelievable but it happened. In a Gifted Talented Center!

    My daughter’s two abiding passions in elementary were reading and writing novels. As much as I dreaded this, eventually I would have to coax my daughter out of that tree, ask her to put the notebook away and start her homework. I’d catch her sneaking more paragraphs on her novel writing and would have to “redirect” her. My heart broke. She might very well have finished that novel that year and published it.

    You send the message long enough to a child that it’s not okay to read and write all afternoon and evening for pleausre and eventually they get the message. My daughter’s in high school now. She still loves to read but I never see her writing her own stories and novels anymore. She’s too drained. And a well meaning teacher this year told her it would be a very rigorious year and that she would have no time for pleausure reading.

    And we wonder why our children stop reading when they get to high school. Isn’t the NEA aware of any of this?

    Thanks for listening.

    J.

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  2. This is so true! Lately, I haven’t been able to read for pleasure, and my grades have been dropping! Why? Because I have too much homework!

    Since I am off all week for Thanksgiving, I have been reading every minute of free-time I have had!

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  3. JP, you are lucky to look forward to a long weekend of reading. We are not so fortunate. My daughter begged me to cancel our holiday travel plans to New York to visit family. Now we have no plans for Thanksgiving dinner. Just as well. An entire weekend shut in with homework isn’t much cause for celebration.

    This may sound dire but it is absolutely true. Admittedly, I do not sacrifice my entire family on the alter of homework.I subscribe to “The Case Against Homework’s” triage theory of the Good, Bad and Ugly.

    Admittedly here, my daughter sacrificed last weekend to attend a youth convention. I “forced” her to go and have some fun because she is always so worried and stressed about the homework load, which is massive. She said she would only go if we made a deal to forego our Thanksgiving plans so she could catch up. I promised her so here we are.

    My daughter receives a fair amount of weekend homework. Which means our entire weekend is built around homework. It could fill every moment if we let it. My daughter is between activties now but once it starts up again, god only knows how she will juggle weekend homework with school meets. She’ll muddle through as best she can.

    This upcoming holiday weekend makes me sad. My daughter returned from the convention at 6:30 pm Sunday and immediately began to tackle her massive weekend load. But she was tired and jazzed from her exciting time away.

    I recalled vacation weekends from which I have just returned. Would I be able to quickly shift gears and get to work? Most adults cannot. Most adults I know would unwind, curl up in a chair with a good book and a cold beer, unpack and slowly prepare for bed. No one wants to come home from a weekend away only to have the glow marred by the immediate pressure of work. Most of us would rather give it one more day before jumping back into the fray. One girl getting off the bus moaned she had a project due the next morning that would keep her up all night. That is no longer allowed in my house.

    I am saddened that my daughter is effectively “punished” for having taken a weekend off. Mind you, this weekend was replete with serious learning and community service. It wasn’t frivolous. And what if it was? Isn’t a 15-year old entitled to some fun after a long hard week at school with several hours of nightly homework? Don’t adults kick back after an exhausting week?

    Why must we be forced to give up an entire holiday weekend with family as payback? Besides, my daughter was not granted an extension on this weekend homework, which means she will be severely docked. By the time she hands it all in on Monday, it’ll garner such a reduced grade, one wonders why we should even bother?

    J.

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  4. Hmm… I would just like to say, that for an 8th grader 10 books a week is pretty incredible; with or without school. I’m a 9th grader and I don’t think I could handle half that much, even though I love reading.

    I think it is horrible how much school destroys our lives. I mean; there is my natural teenage instinct to hate school, but there is also the fact that it really doesn’t do any good.

    Spending the majority of our weekdays of the most lively years of our life cramped up in a class room doing nothing is NOT worthwhile. It just wastes our early years, when we could easily learn all that we do and more in about 1/10 of the time.

    I am never going to use math above an elementary level in my career… yet I waste hours every day doing it. It infringes on the stuff that will really help my career(journalism/writing) like reading a good book.

    Don’t think I can choose my career so young? People in other countries are set on their career path as early as age 5.

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  5. uhhhh
    i hate homework
    it takes away from my time to do things that i like to do like hang out with my friends or ride my skateboard.
    i’m in seventh grade and i just finished three hours of homework.
    what about all the things i like to do? no, i’m busy writing frequency tables for math or poems for english. and with this obesity epidemic going around what is to be expected when children my age are sitting inside doing homework. and my grades drop when i don’t do them which is not good.
    love the site
    dodge

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  6. uhhhh
    i hate homework
    it takes away from my time to do things that i like to do like hang out with my friends or ride my skateboard.
    i’m in seventh grade and i just finished three hours of homework.
    what about all the things i like to do? no, i’m busy writing frequency tables for math or poems for english. and with this obesity epidemic going around what is to be expected when children my age are sitting inside doing homework. and my grades drop when i don’t do them which is not good.
    love the site
    dodge

    Like

  7. Less reading (for fun) = lower reading scores…Wow, thanks for that stunning correlation Sara. Is it not obvious to anyone with an IQ over 70 that less reading would result is lower reading ability (and therefore lower reading scores on tests).

    And your citation of the study was misleading at best and intentionally dishonest at worst. You said “One of the reasons kids don’t read for pleasure,…is homework” First, that was the 3rd reason given by kids. Not the first, or the second, but the 3rd. Of course, you can find some kids who don’t read for pleasure is because of the amount of homework they have. Just like you could also find kids who don’t read more because they are taught that books are evil. The point is that you take this statistic to cite as conclusive proof that homework is destroying kids reading time, but this simply isn’t the case. The main reasons why kids are reading less is because they can’t find any good books and/or they aren’t interested in reading (i.e. KIDS DON’T LIKE TO READ).

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  8. Wjosh: I’m not sure why you feel the need to resort to sarcasm in your comments. In my book, I stress the importance of parents approaching the teachers with respect. Of course, I hope that teachers, you included, approach parents with respect as well.

    You’re right: it should be obvious that pleasure reading would correlate with better test scores, but I don’t design studies.

    Unfortunately, it is rare to find teachers who consider pleasure reading a worthwhile activity in and of itself. If they did, they wouldn’t ask children to log what they read, read assigned books, answer questions on their reading, look up vocabulary words, make book covers, etc. They would just encourage their students to read. (I’ve recommended this before, but you should really take a look at the Nancie Atwell books, particularly The Reading Zone. She does an excellent job of explaining how all of those activities interfere with instilling a love of reading.)

    And my link to the Scholastic report was not misleading. Parents cite homework/schoolwork as the number one reason their children don’t read for pleasure. It’s on page 34 of the report.

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  9. wjosh writes:

    The main reasons why kids are reading less is because they can’t find any good books and/or they aren’t interested in reading (i.e. KIDS DON’T LIKE TO READ).

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Kids aren’t reading becuase they can’t find good books and because they do not like to read?

    Really. This sure doesn’t describe the child I was. And it certainly doesn’t fit my daughter either.

    I’m surprised by this statement. There are certainly many factors that play into a decline of reading in young people. I’ve already stated that homework is our chief culprit. It’s also the number one reason cited by my daughter’s friends, all in demanding schools.

    But lack of good books? Surely you jest. I live practically next door to a library and if I read 24 hours every day for a year, I doubt I would consume all the great books there I wish I had more time for. The very same would be said of my daughter. And I doubt our family is so unique.

    wjosh, I’m sorry you take such a dim view of reading. I’d be curious to hear what happened in your own life journey that so turned you off.

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