Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

A recent analysis of international data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers more evidence of the link between oral language development and reading. The new analysis finds that children whose parents regularly read aloud with them in the first year of primary school performed substantially better in reading at age 15 than children whose parents rarely, if ever, read to them. The results underscore the need for effective family engagement strategies as part of any plan to improve children’s language and literacy development.

“It does not require a PhD or unlimited hours for parents to make a difference,” notes the OECD brief (What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children Succeed in School). “In fact, many parent-child activities that are associated with better reading performance among students involve relatively little time and no specialized knowledge. What these activities do demand, though, is genuine interest and active engagement.”

Researchers examined data from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses 15-year-olds in 65 countries in reading, math and science. Students also complete a background questionnaire. OECD’s analysis of 14 countries for which data is available finds that 15-year-olds who reported their parents read to them at least once or twice a week scored, on average, 25 points higher in reading than peers whose parents read to them once or twice a month or less. The gap, OECD reports, ranged from 4 points in Lithuania to 63 points in New Zealand. The United States was not one of the countries analyzed.

“Even when comparing students of similar socio-economic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not,” OECD reports.

The PISA analysis also finds benefits for 15-year-olds whose parents engage them in conversation and other activities.

“Students whose parents discuss political or social issues with them either weekly or daily score 28 points higher, on average, than those whose parents discuss these issues less often or not at all,” the brief notes. “When socio-economic background is taken into account, the score point advantage drops, but remains important – 16 score points – and is observed in all participating countries and economies except Hungary. PISA findings also show that other parent-child activities, such as ‘discussing books, films or television programs,’ ‘discussing how well children are doing at school,’ ‘eating main meals together around the table’ and ‘spending time just talking with one’s children’ are also associated with better student reading performance in school.”

The countries included in the analysis are Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong-China, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Lithuania, Macao-China, New Zealand, Panama, Portugal and Qatar.