Reading enjoyment on the decline in Ontario schools

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January 09, 2012

There has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of Ontario students who say they "like to read." Reading for Joy, a new report from People for Education and the National Reading Campaign shines a light on the issue.

A report released in December by People for Education and the National Reading Campaign shows there has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of Ontario students who say they “like to read.”

According to surveys of over 240,000 grade 3 and 6 students administered by Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), the percentage of Ontario students in grade 3 who report they “like to read” dropped from 76% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11. The number of students in grade 6 who “like to read” fell from 65% to 50% in the same time period.

Reading enjoyment improves student success and engagement

The decline in reading enjoyment is significant because international studies show that students with a more positive attitude toward reading tend to be more successful in all subjects, more likely to read more, and more likely to seek deeper knowledge and develop deeper conceptual understandings of the subject matter. Research also shows that “engaged” readers are more likely to be socially and civically engaged as well.

There may be many reasons for the change in students’ attitudes toward reading, including an increase in the amount of time young people spend in front of TV and computer screens. But, as the report says, it is possible that the current focus on targets for test scores and the “mechanics” of literacy, coupled with declines in the percentage of schools with teacher-librarians, may also have affected students’ attitudes.

Teacher-librarians have a positive impact on students’ attitude toward reading

In 2006, People for Education and Queen’s University examined EQAO surveys from 53,000 grade 3 and 6 students and found that students in schools with teacher-librarians were more likely to report that they “liked to read.”  Schools with teacher-librarians had reading enjoyment scores that were 8 percentile points higher than average. Unfortunately, the percentage of elementary schools with teacher-librarians has dropped from 76% in 1998/99 to 56% in 2010/11. The percentage of secondary schools with teacher-librarians has fallen from 78% to 66%. 

Expanding the measures of success

Ontario currently measures the success of the education system based, for the most part, on provincial test scores in reading, writing and math. Because there is a tendency to focus policy, funding and programs on the things we measure, People for Education is suggesting that the province expand the measures of success to include things like improvements in the percentage of students who report they “like to read.”

Over the next five years, People for Education will be working with parents, educators, academics, experts and the public to develop a wider range of success indicators to include more of the factors that contribute to overall success – both in school, and in adult life.

The full report is available at


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