The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Closing the Reading Gap

As education leaders, but also as parents, I think we can all agree that reading is at the heart of all learning. So I found it encouraging that, since 2018, the results of KS2 SATs have shown a small but promising increase in the number of students leaving primary schools at the Expected Standards – but yet the most recent figures tell us that around a quarter of Year 7 students still enter secondary education without the required skills in reading to be ‘secondary-ready’.

At Renaissance, we work with thousands of schools from across the country and this article draws on some of the feedback we have received from them, and the best practice use of regular formative assessment.

As the teacher workload debate looks set to continue in the new year, it is important that any student progress analysis reflects a seamless integration of every day teaching – and not a complex and onerous task

Sarah Haythornthwaite

Data-driven insights

Based on evidence drawn from billions of data points, we encourage schools to administer regular online formative assessments. Amongst other measures, these report a student’s Scaled Score that can help show incremental gains and progress towards a set target or standard. This is particularly useful when tracking the progress of specific groups, such as ‘catch-up’ students. A large-scale correlation study looking at the KS2 SATs’ outcomes of more than 12,000 students from almost 550 schools, undertaken by Renaissance two years ago, revealed that a Scaled Score of 510 is a strong indicator that a student is capable of passing the SATs reading paper.

What does ‘typical progress’ look like?

As the teacher workload debate looks set to continue in the new year, it is important that any student progress analysis reflects a seamless integration of every day teaching – and not a complex and onerous task: what is typical progress for one student may not be an outstanding accomplishment for another.

It is therefore vital to consider each student’s academic history when reviewing progress. One particularly helpful measure is the little-known Student Growth Percentile (SGP), developed by Dr Damian Betebenner. The SGP compares each student to their academic peers – those with a similar academic history, showing clearly who is making low, typical and high rates of progress.

“Practice makes perfect”

This commonly heard phrase certainly holds true for reading. Research into the reading habits of over 2.2 million students shows that they need to read for a minimum of 15 minutes each day in order to improve their reading age. However, practice alone is not enough to ensure success. It’s missing a vital ingredient – challenge. It is not just a matter of time spent reading, but also the complexity and appropriateness of the text – and the success with which these books are read – that makes a difference.

Students need to be choosing books that stretch comprehension skills, reading books that are neither too easy nor too difficult. Many schools use online quizzes as a way of assessing the level of accuracy of how the books are being read. Failure to pass the quiz can indicate that the book was perhaps too difficult or read in haste. So perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “perfect practice makes perfect”?

Celebrating success

For students with a reading age below 7.6 years, then phonics intervention may be required, whilst others may benefit from joining an intervention group. Equally important is building reading confidence by supporting book selection and offering a wide variety of texts, including ‘hi-lo’ books, to cater for all abilities.

In schools that have developed a reading culture, the focus on celebrating success in terms of the number of words or books read, or quizzes passed, is incredibly beneficial – especially for struggling or reluctant readers.

In conclusion, I believe that from the top down – whether gaining insights from school trust level assessment data or using research to inform intervention strategies – we can all play a role in closing the reading gap.

Renaissance Learning is a CST Platinum Partner.