Story update October 26, 10:11 AM.
Access to a full-time school librarian increases student test scores, closes the achievement gap, and improves writing skills, according to a new study of Pennsylvania public schools conducted by the Colorado-based RSL Research Group.
The results of the first comprehensive study of Pennsylvania school libraries in a decade was presented at an October 25 press conference, kicking off School Library Journal’s annual Leadership Summit.
The research, focusing on students in grades 3 to 11, was also the first to examine student writing, according to a press release. Outcomes were analyzed in relation to five factors: staffing, collections, digital resources and technology infrastructure, library access, and funding.
Debra Kachel, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Legislative Chairperson, advised librarians to take the necessary steps to further the cause, making themselves visible to administrators, the chamber of commerce, the teacher’s union, school board members, and the community at large. “It’s time to stop talking to ourselves,” she said, and instead “create champions” by reaching out to state legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Dr. Mary Kay Biagini, who analyzed the data, reminded those present to utilize the language that principals will listen to: “Here’s empirical evidence that you can use. Every administrator is looking to raise those scores.”
In this struggle to get heard by school and government, persistence is key. When denied the opportunity to present the study’s finding and the project’s goals at a three separate associations of school administrators, school board and curriculum organizations, the group’s head researcher, Dr. Keith Currey Lance, suggested that PSLA be present at the event as an exhibitor, which gave them access to a large group of administrators.
Also at the press conference, Eileen Kern, PSLA’s current president, said that the state’s urban school districts are the most lacking in resources and staff. Out of the 458 school buildings in those cities, only 135 of them are equipped with a librarian. “It’s about equitable access. We have to answer to the students. They are our future and we can’t leave them behind.”
Unity within the profession and with parents and teachers was also an element emphasized by the partnership. Ludy Soderman, director of the Multilingual Family Support Office in the Philadelphia school district, stirringly stated, speaking to librarians: “You are too polite. This is too urgent. The numbers will continue to decline and the kids will continue to fall through the cracks. Time to get into the streets. We need parents’ involvement. Let’s not wait months to dialogue. We have to raise our voice together.”
Sandra Selzno from the Education Law Center, concluded the briefing with a startling observation: In the state of Pennsylvania, “access to libraries is mandated in private schools and prisons—but not in our public schools.”
The findings were part of a year-long project led by the Education Law Center, the Health Sciences Library Consortium, and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. The collaboration was established when dire budget cuts made to Pennsylvania’s school funding in 2007 spurred several organizations to form a coalition that addressed the issue. At the briefing, Selzno encouraged school media specialists to seek out and create non-traditional partnerships.
Some key points from the study:
“Students who have access to a full-time, certified librarian scored higher on the PSSA Reading Test than those students who do not have such access. This finding is true for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and/or disability status.”
“For several student groups that tend to experience achievement gaps—economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and those with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)—Reading and Writing results are markedly better when those students attend a school with a librarian and library support staff, according to the research. In fact, they benefit more proportionally than the general student population.”
“Nearly twice as many high school students who have access to a full-time, certified librarian scored Advanced on the PSSA Writing test as those students without access to a full-time, certified librarian, according to the report.”
“Considering all students, those students with access to a full-time, certified librarian are almost three times as likely to have “Advanced” scores on the PSSA Writing Test as those students without access to a full-time, certified librarian.”
More information can be found at the project website.