New reading report shows parents a major factor in student success

Our news & views

December 12, 2012

A new international study shows that students whose parents enjoy reading are better readers in grade four.

A pan-Canadian “reading literacy” test shows that parents play a major role in students’ success, and that students who say they like to read score 54 points higher than students who do not like reading.

The test, known as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), was administered to a large sample of grade 4 students in nine Canadian provinces, as well as students in 44 other countries around the world. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, published a fascinating report on the Canadian results.

Canadian students compared to the rest of the world

Overall, Canadian students scored in the top twelve internationally on their reading scores. In Canada, British Columbia students did the best, closely followed by Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Among the other international comparisons:

  • The percentage of Canadian students who say they “like to read” was higher than all but four other countries.
  • On the other hand, Canadian students are less likely to be “engaged” in reading lessons than students in 21 other countries. (Boys are much less likely to be engaged than girls.)
  • Girls do much better than boys, but the gender gap for reading success is 4 points smaller in Canada than the international average.
  • Compared to other countries, a significantly higher percentage of Canadian students (13% compared to 8%) achieve the highest level on the tests. In B.C. and Ontario, 15% of students reached the highest level.
  • Canadian students were in the top five for having the “most home resources available for learning” (parental education and occupation, number of books in the home, number of children’s books, access to the internet and students having their own room). The impact of home resources on performance was smaller in Canada than all but five other countries.
  • Internationally, 27 per cent of teachers use children’s books as a basis for instruction, while more than 61 per cent of teachers do so in Canada.

Home life and attitudes have an impact on reading scores

Surveys conducted with the tests show that things like time spent on homework, parents’ attitude toward reading and the number of children’s books at home all had an impact on students’ reading literacy.

  • Children whose parents read books to them at home before they started primary school, scored an average of 35 points higher on the tests than children who were not read to. (In Ontario, according to EQAO surveys, 55% of grade 3 students report their parents never read to them or read to them only once or twice a month.)
  • Children of parents who say they like to read, scored 36 points higher than those whose parents do not.
  • Students who like reading have an advantage of 54 points over those who do not like reading; 20% of boys report they do not like to read. Since 1998/99, the percentage of Ontario grade 3 students who report they “like to read” has declined by almost a third, from 76% in 98/99 to only 50% in 2010/11.
  • In Canada, students who had either no homework or 15 minutes or less, scored higher on the tests. This was not the case in most other countries.

People For Education Viewpoint:

These results show that we need to do more to make parents aware of how much they can influence their children’s chances for success in school and in life.

Perhaps even more importantly, the results show that it is parents’ and students’ attitudes that we should be focusing on. In Ontario, as in other jurisdictions, there has been a steep decline in the percentage of young students who say they ‘like to read.’ Their love of reading will affect their success throughout their lives, and this study shows that parents and schools could be doing more to encourage students’ positive attitudes.

According to Maureen Dockendorf, Superintendent of Reading for the B.C. Ministry of Education and member of the board of the National Reading Campaign, building student engagement in reading should be a core component of all education policy. “While Canadian students are doing well, it is easy to see that we need to do more to engage more boys and educate parents. In B.C., we are working to ensure that all students enjoy reading because we know that enjoyment will play a role in their long-term chances for success.”