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Early Reading Ability and Later Literacy Skills

National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth

December 12, 200612 December 2006

Literacy, Libraries and Publishing

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This article in Statistics Canada’s Daily compares the reading ability of 8 and 9 year-olds with their literacy skills 10 years later (at age 18 or 19). The report also examines the potential influence of certain demographic, parental, school and child behavioural factors on later literacy skills. The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth tracked 1,329 children over a 10-year period beginning in 1994/95, with six surveys being completed during that time. The children represent “about 650,000 children who were aged 8 or 9 in 1994/95”.

The main finding of the report is that early reading skills have an impact on literacy skills later in life, regardless of the child’s background. In particular, children who do well in reading at school at age 8 or 9 have high literacy skills at age 18 and 19, even when factors related to socio-demographics, child behaviour, school issues and parental literacy practices are taken into account.

Various potential factors (at age 8 or 9) in literacy scores at age 18 or 19 were examined. The results are not surprising: lower levels of parental education, lower household incomes, and higher levels of child hyperactivity at age 8 or 9 each have a negative influence on literacy scores 10 years later. However, the child’s gender and mother tongue did not have a significant impact on later literacy scores.

In addition to reading levels at age 8 or 9, other factors have an influence on later literacy scores. The factors that have a negative influence on later literacy scores are:

  • repeating a grade at school by the age of 10 or 11;
  • receiving special help in school at age 10 or 11;
  • disliking school at age 10 or 11; and
  • skipping at least one day of class at the age of 12 or 13.

Parental reading of their own books (asked when the children were 12 or 13) has a significant positive influence on the children’s literacy scores at age 18 or 19. In addition, children who improved their reading skills between 8 or 9 and 12 or 13 years of age still improved their later literacy scores, showing that “all is not lost” by the time children are 8 or 9.

Higher literacy scores at age 18 or 19 are associated with higher expectations regarding post-secondary education.

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