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SALT LAKE CITY -- The results are in on an education experiment. KSL set out last spring to see if we could help keep a few hundred students reading all summer, because data does show if students read they can stop what's called "the summer slide."
Our project was eye-opening. What sounds pretty simple turned out to be a bit more complicated.
At School A, parents got incentives for coming to hear about the importance of summer reading. Deseret Media Companies, including KSL, and the Salt Lake School District also provided hundreds of books -- a summer supply for every second- and third-grader.
At School B, second- and third-graders got books, but we didn't encourage parents.
At School C, we didn't provide anything. They were the control group.
We picked three families at each school and followed them through the summer, meeting on school stairs, in the driveways, and eventually we were invited into their homes. Over time, we learned and observed some telling trends.
First, students did read.
"A couple times a week; almost every day," Dioselina Pineda said.
"Like two days not reading and two days reading," Abdiri Zak Omar said.
"Almost every day," Katherine Gomez said.
In more than half of the families, siblings read to the kids instead of their parents. Work was a barrier for many of these parents. It's hard to read together when they're holding down multiple jobs.
"I work a lot of hours, and when I get back home there isn't any time," said mother Guillermina Gomez.
But the moment of truth came back to school, where our research teams administered the same reading test students took back in spring. Did we stop the summer slide?
"Oh, no. Students scored lower in the fall than in the spring," one researcher said.
Clearly, it was not what we'd hoped for. The scores in the fall were down by close to 20 percent from the springtime scores.
But along with that finding came some other interesting results. The students who reported receiving the fewest books dropped the most; those in the two schools that received the most books dropped less; and those who received books and read the most, and reported parents influences, dropped the least.
"Parental support is very, very important; and we've seen this in this data here," said Janice Dole, director of the University of Utah's Center for Reading and Literacy.
The data also shows parents and others should send strong messages to children about the importance of reading.
"Reading is cool! It's something for kids to do and take it seriously and not just something that geeks do. Everyone reads, and its fun to read," said Douglas Hacker, chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Utah.
The research also showed the kids read four and a half books, to be exact, but not really the books we provided. So, researchers advised possibly spending that money to keep school libraries open in the summer so kids can go there after school breakfast.