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School Libraries and Student Achievement in Ontario

April 20, 200620 April 2006

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This Ontario report provides the first Canadian results showing a link between trained library staff and students’ reading enjoyment and achievement. The data on school libraries and teacher-librarians (taken from People for Education’s school tracking reports) and the data on student achievement (using assessment data from Grade 3 and Grade 6 reading tests and attitudinal information) were “correlated on a school-by-school basis to examine whether a link existed between higher student achievement on provincial tests and school library staff and resources”. The data relates to about 700 schools and 27,000 students for both the Grade 3 and Grade 6 levels.

The results echo the findings of many international reports on this topic:

  • Enjoyment of reading is higher for students in schools with teacher-librarians: “schools with teacher-librarians could be expected to have reading enjoyment scores that were 8 percentile points higher than average”;
  • Schools with trained library staff tend to have higher proportions of Grade 6 students with achievement that equals or exceeds provincial reading standards: “schools with a teacher-librarian or library technician could be expected to have reading achievement scores that were approximately 5.5 percentile points higher than the average”;
  • Students in schools without trained library staff tend to have lower achievement on both Grade 3 and Grade 6 reading tests; and
  • “There is a stronger relationship between the presence of trained library staff and higher student achievement in Grade 6 than there is in Grade 3.”
  • However, statistical correlations do not prove causality. There may be another set of factors (not measured) that contribute to both school libraries and student achievement – possibly the relative richness or poverty of school areas.

    Indeed, data in the report’s Appendix does show that “fundraising” (a variable which is not explained and inconsistently labelled) has the largest impact on almost all of the results regarding reading enjoyment and achievement. Fundraising activities would be likely to be most common and most successful in schools in richer neighbourhoods.

    In the attitudinal portion of standardized tests, there has been a decline over the past five years in the percentage of students who say that they like to read. The report’s findings show that reading enjoyment is highest among students in larger schools (which are more likely to have a teacher-librarian). Anecdotal information has shown that “because of funding restraints, principals are routinely forced to choose between library staff [and] music, physical education or arts specialist teachers”.

    The report calls on the Ontario government to ensure adequate funding for school libraries and ensure access by all students to well-stocked and professionally-staffed school libraries.

    The report recommends that future research “examine the data over time, explore the involvement of socio-economic status, and assess the effects of libraries and library staffing on students at risk”. Future research could also explore the impacts of different types of library programs and staffing as well as examine possible standards for school libraries.

    The Ontario School Library Association website provides a teacher-librarian toolkit that offers strategies for documenting and sharing student success stories. The toolkit is available at

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