School Library Monthly/Volume XXVI, Number 9/May 2010
The Impact of School Libraries on Academic Achievement: A Research Study Based on Responses from Administrators in Idaho
by Keith Curry Lance, Marcia J. Rodney, and Bill Schwarz
Keith Curry Lance, Marcia J. Rodney, and Bill Schwarz are with the RSL Research Group out of Louisville, Colorado. Web site: http://www.rslresearch.com/contact.html
Where administrators value strong library programs and can see them doing their part for student success, students are more likely to thrive academically. This is the over-arching conclusion that can be drawn from the latest study of the impact of school libraries—this one in Idaho. This study, conducted by the RSL Research Group, was contracted for by the Idaho Commission for Libraries and endorsed by the Idaho Department of Education.
The study included survey responses from 176 principals and other administrators. Their responses included:
- How much they value selected practices characteristic of strong library programs,
- How highly they evaluate the teaching of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) standards in their schools, and
- How these beliefs relate to the performance of their students on the state test, the Idaho Student Achievement Tests (ISAT).
This article discusses data from the survey respondents as well as recommendations for action based on the study findings and sample success stories from those respondents.
Library-Related Practices Valued by Principals and Other Administrators
Principals and other administrators were asked to assess the value they place on various library-related practices rating them as essential, desirable, acceptable, or unnecessary (see Table 1).
Table 1. Library-Related Practices Valued by Principals and Other Administrators
More than half of administrators (56.9%) valued appointing the librarian to school committees as essential. Almost half (48.9%) placed a similar value on library access being scheduled based on instructional needs rather than a fixed schedule.
Almost two out of five administrators (38.5%) considered regular meetings between librarians and their principals as essential.
More than a quarter of administrators considered it essential for librarians to provide professional development opportunities to faculty (29.9%), and for librarians and teachers to design instructional units together (27.6%).
Only about one out of five administrators considered it essential for the librarian's role in the school to be addressed in teacher hiring interviews.
Administrator Self-Assessment of ICT Standards Teaching
Principals and other administrators were asked for self-assessments of how ICT standards were taught across their schools or districts (see Table 2). See ICT Standards (below) for an explanation of this body of standards.
Table 2. Administrator Self-Assessment of ICT Standards Teaching
The three ICT standards referenced in the surveys, ICT literacy, independent learning, and social responsibility, were defined as follows:
- ICT literacy: Students are taught to identify information needs and to access, evaluate, manage, integrate, create, and communicate information.
- Independent learning: Students are taught to pursue information related to their personal interests, to appreciate literature and other creative expression, and to generate knowledge.
- Social responsibility: Students are taught to recognize the importance of information in a democratic society, practice ethical behavior in regard to information and technology, and to share information and collaborate in its use in groups.
Responding principals and other administrators thought that their schools and districts did the best job teaching independent learning (40.1% rated excellent) followed by ICT literacy (30.8%) and social responsibility (24.3%).
When administrators highly valued a variety of library-related practices, they were often at least twice as likely to rate the teaching of ICT standards highly. Where administrators considered it essential or desirable for librarians and teachers to collaborate in the design and delivery of instruction, they were twice as likely to rate as excellent or good the teaching of ICT literacy and social responsibility. They were also more than half again as likely to rate the teaching of independent learning highly (see Chart 1).
Chart 1. Administrator Assessments of ICT Standards Teaching as Excellent or Good by Value of Librarian/Teacher Collaboration
Similarly, administrators were consistently more likely to rate ICT standards teaching as excellent if they valued as essential several additional library-related practices including:
- Librarians providing in-service professional development opportunities to teachers,
- Librarians and principals meeting regularly,
- Librarians serving on key school committees, and
- Library access being scheduled flexibly (see Chart 2).
Chart 2. Percent of Administrators Assessing Teaching of ICT Standards as Excellent by Value Placed on Selected Library-Related Practices
In addition, where administrators considered it essential or desirable to address the librarian’s role in teacher interviews, they were more than twice as likely to rate as excellent the teaching of ICT literacy and social responsibility, and more than half again as likely to rate as excellent the teaching of independent learning (see Chart 3).
Chart 3. Percent of Administrators Assessing Teaching of ICT Standards as Excellent by Value on Addressing Librarian's Role in Teacher Interviews
Where principals and other administrators rated the teaching of ICT standards as excellent, students at all three grade levels—elementary, middle, and high school (represented by grades 3, 4 and 5; grades 7 and 8; and grade 10, respectively)—were consistently more likely to earn advanced scores on the ISAT reading and language arts tests (see Chart 4).
Chart 4. Percent of Students with Advanced ISAT Scores by Grade Level and Subject by Administrator's Assessment of ICT Literacy Teaching
Notably, while the absolute differences between groups in Chart 4 are usually single-digit percentages, the proportional differences between groups are consistently into double digits—as well as being higher at high school than elementary level. For instance, at the elementary level, 48.6% of students in schools rated excellent at ICT literacy teaching scored advanced on reading, compared to only 40.1% of students where ICT literacy teaching was rated lower. That is an absolute difference of more than 8%; but, a proportional difference of more than 21% (48.6 / 40.1 = 1.21). Similarly, at the high school level, 18.7% of students in schools rated excellent at ICT literacy teaching scored advanced on language arts, compared to only 13.8% of students where ICT literacy teaching was rated lower. That is an absolute difference of less than 5%; but, a proportional difference of more than 35% (18.7 / 13.8 = 1.355).
Support of Administrators
These findings underscore the importance of administrative support for strong school library programs. Administrators tended to assess the teaching of ICT standards more highly where they considered certain practices to be essential (or, in one case, at least desirable). Such practices include: flexibly scheduling access to the school library, instructional collaborating between librarians and teachers, librarians providing in-service opportunities to teachers, librarians serving on school committees, librarians and principals meeting regularly, and the librarian’s role being addressed in teacher hiring interviews. In turn, where administrators self-assessed the teaching of ICT literacy as excellent, students were consistently more likely to earn advanced scores on the ISAT reading and language arts tests.
On the basis of the results for principals and other administrators, three major sets of recommendations can be offered:
- To encourage collaboration between librarians, teachers, and administrators, principals and other administrators should: 1) set the stage for effective collaborations by making it known that they expect it to be the norm; 2) meet regularly with the librarian; and 3) address the librarian’s role with prospective new teachers during hiring interviews.
- To improve access to instructional resources, principals and other administrators should: 1) make it school policy to schedule library access as flexibly as possible, and 2) appoint librarians to school committees that will enable them to understand as fully as possible the instructional resource needs of their schools.
- To improve the skills of teachers, principals and other administrators should foster the creation of schedules, facilities, and librarian-teacher relationships that enable librarians to be "resident" providers of in-service professional development to teachers.
The Bottom Line
These recommendations are demonstrably easier to fulfill when the library is staffed by a school librarian. The full study report can be accessed for detailed findings supporting this claim (http://libraries.idaho.gov/doc/idaho-school-library-impact-study-2009). School librarians are encouraged to continue their professional development so they can best fulfill these recommendations. Non-professionals working in school libraries, as well as the teachers and the administrators of the school, are also encouraged to pursue academic courses and/or professional development opportunities that will better equip them to ensure that their school libraries do as much as possible to foster student success.
Idaho Success Stories
(Our) high school has a new librarian… who is inspiring to the staff there. She has used the library as a study, technology, and research resource for students. She has brought teachers in and encouraged them to partner with her in working with writing, technology, and subject exploration. Students are using the library before and after school for technology access. This story is important in two ways. One, (our) free and reduced lunch count is the highest of the… district high schools, so having access to a computer at home is very limited. Two, our high school is one of the highest in refugee populations, so the students' entry into school has been challenging. —Administrator, a district office
Our librarian reads each class a short story or chapter every week, as well as helping our student to choose… books for them to read independently during that week. She sits on our school advisory committee, and she opens our library to families and students after hours several times each year in a night we call "Read with a Parent Night." …She is a great asset to our school. —Principal, an elementary school
Since our new librarian has taken over, the library is a place where students hang out and read. The circulation numbers have increased dramatically each year and, for a small school, the choice of books is outstanding. I think it no coincidence that as the circulation numbers have increased so have the scores on the reading ISAT. —Principal, a high school
Idaho School Library Impact Study - 2009: How Idaho Librarians, Teachers, and Administrators Collaborate for Student Success. Idaho Commission For Libraries, 2010. http://libraries.idaho.gov/doc/idaho-school-library-impact-study-2009 (accessed March 19, 2010).