Research studies suggest that the more students read, the better their test scores are.  A child who reads 20 minutes a day will be exposed to nearly 2 million words in a year and scores on the 90th percentile on standardized test.  Children who read about 5 minutes a day encounter over a quarter of a million words a day and their percentile rank on standardized tests is about 50. 

If kids read for only one minute a day that amounts to approximately 8000 words a year and averages a score in the 10th percentile on standardized tests. This is one of the reasons teachers assign reading homework because reading really does matter.

Finding just right books for students can be a challenging adventure. PUSD has English Language Arts (ELA) students take an individual diagnostic test at the beginning of the year to determine the grade level range of books that should be read. This Accelerated Reading (AR) diagnostic STAR test determines this range which they call the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

When teachers take students to the library to check out books, they are supposed to choose books in their ZPD.  Like Goldilocks who wanted the porridge to be just right, students shouldn’t check out a book that’s too hard or too easy. 

Finding an appealing front cover and then reading the teaser on the back cover helps students see if they’re interested, but then they also need to check the reading level.  If it’s not noted on the book binding, a good way to check is to read the first page. If they have trouble decoding more than five words, it’s probably a little too hard. 

Once they find a book that they’re interested in at their level or in their ZPD, then they are more likely to read.   It’s important for teachers to assign reading homework and for parents to check that students are reading at home. Developing good independent reading habits makes library books more fun and educational. 

Middle school students have an interesting dilemma.  If their reading level is below grade level, the graphics and storyline of books in their ZPD might be too juvenile for them.  Advanced middle school students reading at the higher ZPD at the high school level end up with books from young adult (YA) category that may contain storylines with mature content such as sex, drugs, alcohol, and suicide. 

Common Sense Media is a website that rates books and movies based on age level appropriate material.  If as a parent you like to vet the content of the books your children want to read, but don’t have time to read them yourself, reading the reviews of this organization might help.

Regardless of the challenges with finding just the right book for readers and helping those who struggle with reading make sense of the test, the hope is that they will learn to love reading. Parents can help support the type of comprehension teachers check for by asking questions about what’s been read. 

Though narrative books are less likely to have chapter titles than nonfiction books, it’s good to ask students to generate a title.  This helps students think about the important elements of the plot structure of the chapter and concisely recount them in a title.

Beers and Probst said, “As much as we hope students will have the experience of losing themselves in a book, at the same time we hope they’ll have the experience of finding themselves in a book…Literature helps us to see our world and ourselves more clearly, to understand our lives more fully.”


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at