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Reading Proficiency and Home Support for Literacy

Vol. 2, No. 1, NCES 96-814

Ordering Information

The number of different types of literacy materials in the home, the amount of home reading and the opportunity to discuss reading are all related to reading proficiency. As compared to the 1992 NAEP survey, 12th-grade students in 1994 reported reading fewer pages at home, having fewer types of literacy materials at home, and fewer opportunities to discuss their studies or reading experiences with other people. Fourth- and 8th- graders did not report a change in these variables since 1992. These activities, the data show, are associated with higher reading scores at all grade levels.

Purpose and Background

To help children and adolescents develop reading skills is a responsibility shared by the family and the school. Often, however, it is the school's role, or its failure that is paramount in our national discussions about education. National reports, like A Nation at Risk and Becoming a Nation of Readers, play up the shortcomings of American schools, but the successes and failures of American students have multiple origins.

Students' exposure to various reading materials at home and family support for students' school and literacy efforts can play a critical role in students' growth as readers (Morrow, 1995). Given the importance of the home for literacy development, this NAEPfacts examines the relationship between home factors and 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students' performance on the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading, as well as the changes in home support since 1992. (For a fuller discussion, see Campbell et al. 1996.)

The 1994 NAEP reading assessment was administered to approximately 27,400 public and non-public school students at fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. Across the three grades assessed, there were a total of 96 multiple- choice, 144 short constructed-response, and 33 extended constructed-response questions. Results are reported on a 500-point scale. Results are also reported according to reading achievement levels-Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Information concerning home support for reading was collected from students at all three grades.

Students' Home Support for Literacy

NAEP background data provide information about patterns of students' reading proficiency and home support for literacy-available literacy materials, reading for fun, literacy discussions with family and friends, and television viewing habits. Two patterns deserve attention. One is the relationship between home support and student proficiency level. The other pattern is the change in home support from the 1992 assessment to the 1994 assessment. When reviewed in light of current research, these findings contribute to understanding and interpreting reading proficiency results.

Literacy materials in the home. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of increasing students' exposure to literacy materials in their homes, especially for lower-achieving students (e.g., Goldenbery et al. 1992; Koskinen et al. 1995). A relationship between students' access to home literacy materials and their reading achievement is consistent with findings from the NAEP 1994 reading assessment. Students were asked about the presence of four types of literacy materials in their home-magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, and at least 25 books. As shown in table 1, on average, students who reported having more types of literacy materials in their homes also had higher average reading proficiencies. Significantly fewer 12th-graders in 1994 than in 1992 reported having all four types of literacy material in their homes. Fourth- and eighth- graders do not report a change from 1992 to 1994 in the number of different kinds of reading materials in their homes. Since 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-graders were sampled using the same techniques, the data do not suggest an overall trend in the amount of literacy materials in the home.

Reading for fun. The connection between leisure reading activities and reading achievement has been established by numerous studies (e.g., Watkins and Ewards, 1992). Part of the reason for this connection may be that students who frequently read for fun not only gain practice in the process of reading, but also are likely to be exposed to a broad scope of topics and situations in their reading that can provide a base from which future reading experiences are enriched and made more meaningful. A clear connection between frequent reading for fun and higher average reading scores is suggested by the NAEP 1994 (and 1992) results. At all three grades, students who more frequently read for fun on their own time had higher average proficiencies. While it may be that students who read for fun gain more practice and background knowledge, it may also be that students with better reading achievement are more likely to read for fun in the first place. Twelfth-grade students reported reading for fun less in 1994 than in 1992, as shown in table 2. This change is not reported for 4th- and 8th- grade students, who read for fun in 1994 as often as they reported reading for fun in 1992.

Literacy discussions with family and friends. When students discuss their schoolwork at home, they establish an important link between home and school. Several recent studies have documented the increased achievement of students whose parents have become more involved in their schooling (Heller and Fantuzzo, 1993; Christenson, 1992). As with the 1992 NAEP reading results, more frequent discussions about studies were associated with higher average proficiency. Similarly, more frequently talking about reading was associated with higher reading proficiency (table 3). There was a significant decline in the percentage of 12th-grade students who reported discussing studies at home once or twice a month. Significantly more 12th-graders in 1994 than in 1992 reported never having these discussions. Such a decline was not reported for 4th- and 8th-graders.

Television viewing habits. Many studies, including NAEP reports, have indicated a negative relationship between television viewing and reading achievement (Mullis, et al. 1993; Beentjes and Van der Voort, 1988). One major concern has been that time spent watching television may be displacing time that students could spend on literacy-related activities. In 1994, students who reported watching at least four hours of television daily displayed lower average reading scores than their peers who watched less television each day (table 4). The data do not show any changes in television watching from 1992 to 1994.

Summary and Conclusions

The current NAEP results show declines in home factors including literacy materials in the home, reading for fun, and literacy discussion with family and friends at grade 12 between 1992 and 1994. Fourth- and 8th-graders did not report a change in these variables since 1992. These activities, the data indicate, are associated with higher reading scores at all three grade levels.

Some researchers have argued that home factors influence reading achievement. While NAEP data are consistent with such an interpretation, NAEP does not provide direct evidence of causality between home factors and reading scores. Other factors, such as the students' initial ability prior to entering the instructional program, the instructional program itself, and the school environment could have brought about changes in home support for literacy. In addition, the two data points from 1992 and 1994 for 12th-graders may not be adequate to demonstrate a pattern of declining home factors.

The recent NAEP reading assessment and its accompanying information on home involvement raise important concerns about the sources of literacy problems among our students. Becoming literate is a responsibility shared by the school, the home, and the student. In 1985, the national report Becoming a Nation of Readers called upon parents to "monitor their children's progress in school, become involved in school programs, support homework, buy their children books or take them to libraries, encourage reading as a free time activity, and place reasonable limits on such activities as "TV viewing" (Anderson et al, 1985, 117).

The school and the home do not exist as independent influences on students' reading development. Each supports and reinforces the other. The classroom teacher has a considerable influence on students' outside reading habits (Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, l988) through modeling, sharing of books and authors, and providing time for sustained silent reading. When a classroom teacher sets high expectations for outside reading or when school administrators seek parental involvement, parents can support the school by expressing genuine interest in their children's reading and studying, and by helping students set aside time to read. Conversely, when parents stress literacy in socially significant ways (Auerbach, 1995), they give to their children and their children's teachers a base upon which higher learning is built.

Notes

Anderson, R.C., Heibert, E. H., Scott, J. A. & Wilkinson, I. A. G. (l985). Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading. Washington, D.C.: The National Institute of Education.

Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P. T. & Fielding, L. G., (l988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 285-303.

Auerbach, E. R. (l995). Which Way for Family Literacy: Intervention or Empowerment? In L. M. Morrow (Ed.) Family Literacy: Connections in Schools and Communities. Newark, Del: International Reading Association.

Beentjes, J.W. J., & Van der Voort, T.H.A. (1988). Television's impact on children's reading skills: A review of the research. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 389-413. Campbell, J.R., Donahue, P.L., Reese, C.M., Phillips, G.W., (1996).NAEP 1994 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Government Printing Office.

Christenson, S.L. (1992). Family factors and student achievement: An avenue to increase students' success. School Psychology Quarterly, 7(3), 178-206. Goldenbery, C., Reese, L., & Gallimore, R. (1992). Effects of literacy materials from school on Latino children's home experiences and early reading achievement. American Journal of Education 100, 497-536.

Heller, L.R., & Fantuzzo, J.W. (1993). Reciprocal peer tutoring and parent partnership: Does parent involvement make a difference? School Psychology Review, 22(3), 517-34. Koskinen, P.S., Blum, I.H., Tennant, N., Parker, E.M., Straub, M.W., & Curry, C. (1995). Have you heard any good books lately?: Encouraging shared reading at home with books and audiotapes. In Morrow, L.M. (Ed.), Family Literacy: Connections in schools and communities (pp. 87-103). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Morrow, L. M. (1995). Family Literacy: Connections in Schools and Communities. Newark, Del: International Reading Association.

Mullis, I.V.S., Campbell, J.R., & Farstrup, A.E. (1993). NAEP 1992 reading report card for the nation and the states. National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Watkins, M.W., & Ewards, V.A. (1992). Extracurricular reading and reading achievement: The rich stay rich and the poor don't read. Reading Improvement, 29(4), 236-242.

All differences reported are statistically significant at the .05 level with adjustments for multiple comparisons. For further information on Standard errors or on estimating variance, see Campbell et al.

The NAEPfacts series briefly summarizes findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The series is a product of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Gary W. Phillips serves as the Associate Commissioner for Education Assessment. This issue was written by Sheida White from NCES and Peter Dewitz from the University of Virginia.

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Table 1.-Students' reports on number of different types of literacy 
         materials in their homes: 1992, 1994
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                     Grade 4             Grade 8             Grade 12
Number of Types   Percentage and      Percentage and      Percentage and
of Literature       Scale Score         Scale Score         Scale Score
Materials           1992   1994         1992   1994         1992   1994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     37     38           51     50           60     55 <
Four                226    227          268    270          298    295 <
 
                     32     34           29     29           26     28 
Three               219    216          259    258          290    286 <

                     31     29           20     21           14     17 >
Two or Fewer        204    197 <        241    239          274    269 <
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<The value for the 1994 assessment was significiantly lower (>higher) than the value for 1992 at or about the 95 percent confidence level.
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992 and 1994 Reading Assessments.

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Table 2.-Students' reports on the frequency with which they read for fun on 
         their own time: 1992, 1994
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                        Grade 4             Grade 8             Grade 12
Frequency            Percentage and      Percentage and      Percentage and
of Reading             Scale Score         Scale Score         Scale Score
                       1992   1994         1992   1994         1992   1994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        44     45           22     21           23     24 
Almost every day       223    223          277    277          304    302 
 
                        32     32           28     26           28     24 <
Once or twice a week   218    213 <        263    264          296    294 

                        12     12           25     25           26     24 
Once or twice a month  210    208          258    257          290    285 <

                        13     12           25     27           24     27 >
Never or hardly ever   199    197          246    246          279    273 <
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

<The value for the 1994 assessment was significiantly lower (>higher) than the value for 1992 at or about the 95 percent confidence level.
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992 and 1994 Reading Assessments.

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Table 3.-Students' reports on the frequency with which they discuss their
         studies at home and talk about their reading with family or
         friends: 1992, 1994
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                        Grade 4             Grade 8             Grade 12
Discuess Studies     Percentage and      Percentage and      Percentage and
at Home                Scale Score         Scale Score         Scale Score
                       1992   1994         1992   1994         1992   1994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        54     55           37     38           30     30 
Almost every day       221    219          269    269          298    296 
 
                        22     22           30     29           34     33 
Once or twice a week   220    215          263    264          295    292 

                         6      6           11     12           16     14 <
Once or twice a month  215    208          257    257          292    287 <

                        17     17           21     21           20     23 >
Never or hardly ever   202    199          247    250          280    274 <
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Talk About Their Reading
with Family or Friends
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        26     28           13     12           17     16 
Almost every day       215    213          263    262          298    296 
 
                        36     36           28     28           37     34 <
Once or twice a week   224    223          269    269          299    296 

                        15     15           26     26           27     28 
Once or twice a month  219    214          263    264          291    288 

                        23     21           32     34           19     22 >
Never or hardly ever   209    207          249    249          278    270 <
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<The value for the 1994 assessment was significiantly lower (>higher) than the value for 1992 at or about the 95 percent confidence level.
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992 and 1994 Reading Assessments.

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Table 4.-Students' reports on amount of time spent watching television each
         day: 1992, 1994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     Grade 4             Grade 8             Grade 12
Television        Percentage and      Percentage and     Percentage and
Watching            Scale Score         Scale Score         Scale Score
                    1992   1994         1992   1994         1992   1994
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     20     21           14     14            6      7 
Six hours or more   199    194          241    239          271    264 <
 
                     22     22           27     27           20     18 
Four to five hours  216    216          258    257          284    280 <

                     40     38           46     45           47     46 
Two to three hours  224    222          265    265          293    289 <

                     19     19           13     14           27     29
One hour or less    221    220          270    270          301    297 <
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<The value for the 1994 assessment was significiantly lower (>higher) than the value for 1992 at or about the 95 percent confidence level.
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992 and 1994 Reading Assessments.

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