Pennsylvania school pupils perform better on state reading and writing tests when their schools have full-time librarians and library support staff, according to a new report from the Education Law Center.
The study looked at results from the 2010-11 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in reading and writing for students in grades three through 11.
Sandra Zelno, school reform associate with the Education Law Center, says the improvements were more significant for kids who often don't do well on those tests.
"Economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black: in fact, they benefit more proportionately than the general student population. I think that's a significant finding."
Zelno says there is a vulnerability associated with school libraries that a lot of Pennsylvanians may not be aware of.
"School libraries are not mandated in Pennsylvania. Neither is there any dedicated line item that exists in the state budget for school libraries. Of course, this results in school districts making decisions locally on school library programs, many times based solely on finances, which is not a good way to make decisions."
Larry Feinberg, legislative liaison for the Haverford School District, says libraries serve a vital role in how children learn, yet they can be sacrificed in schools where test scores are regarded as all-important.
"We are literally turning them into test-prep factories. We're taking away libraries, we're taking away counselors, social workers, safety officers: you know, anything that's not direct test-score-related can be a casualty, and that's a pretty unfortunate turn of events."
The report is the first to take a comprehensive look at school libraries in Pennsylvania in more than a decade. The Education Law Center says the data are especially important in light of huge education cuts that can strip school libraries of much-needed resources.
See the full report at paschoollibraryproject.org.