Language Arts

Report: Increasing Student Reading Time Improves Comprehension

The majority of students spend fewer than 15 minutes per day reading, but increasing their daily reading time to 30 minutes can improve comprehension and boost student achievement, according to a new report from Renaissance Learning.

The ninth-annual What Kids Are Reading report examines students' overall reading, nonfiction reading and reading across the curriculum, and it analyses the data to identify reading habits that can support student achievement. The report's data comes from Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader 360 (AR 360) software for managing and monitoring student reading. The report analyzes AR 360 data from 9.9 million K–12 students at 30,863 schools during the 2015–2016 school year.

The report found that 54 percent of students read for less than 15 minutes per day, and between kindergarten and grade 12 those students will be exposed to approximately 1.5 million words. On the other end of the spectrum, 18 percent of students read for more than 30 minutes per day, and consequently are exposed to approximately 13.7 million words throughout their K–12 schooling. Accelerated Reader 360 data shows that difference of more than 12 million words can affect student achievement. However, when students increase the number of minutes they read per day, their comprehension improves, and they increase their chances of meeting benchmarks.

According to the report, "high-performing students read a lot. Our data show, however, that students who struggle initially but then begin to dedicate significant time to reading with high understanding can experience accelerated growth during the school year, and thus start to narrow achievement gaps."

The report also found that by the time students finish high school, they typically read books with an ATOS level of 5 to 6, and "high school book reading rarely surpasses the 9.0 reading level." (ATOS is a readability scale designed by Renaissance Learning.) However, first year college textbooks have an average reading level of 13.8, presenting a significant jump in difficulty when students move on to higher education. The report recommends gently encouraging students to read at more difficult levels, while providing instructional supports to help them improve their reading comprehension at higher reading levels.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Girls read an average of 3.7 million words between kindergarten and grade 12;
  • Boys read just over 3 million words on average — 23 percent less than girls;
  • Since the introduction of new academic standards, nonfiction reading has increased by less than 10 percent in the majority of states;
  • Nationwide, nonfiction materials represent less than one third of kids' overall reading, despite recommendations that elementary and middle school students read 50 percent to 55 percent nonfiction, increasing to 70 percent by the end of high school;
  • STEM books represent less than 10 percent of all book reading; and
  • Only 19 percent of grade 12 students read books that surpass a grade 9 reading level.

Because the data are limited to students' reading within the Accelerated Reader 360 program, it does not account for other books or materials students may be reading outside of the classroom or from textbooks.

In addition to analysis about student reading habits, the report includes top 25 fiction and nonfiction reading lists for each grade, as well as essays from several prominent children's authors.

The full report is available as a free, downloadable PDF from Renaissance Learning's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at

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