Does practice make perfect? independent reading quantity, quality and student achievement

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Learning and Instruction 17 (2007) 253e264 www.elsevier.com/locate/learninstruc

Does practice make perfect? Independent reading quantity, quality and student achievement
K.J. Topping a,*, J. Samuels b, T. Paul c,1
b a School of Education, University of Dundee, Gardyne Road, Dundee DD5 1NY, Scotland, UK Departments of Educational Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction, University ofMinnesota, MN, USA c Renaissance Learning, Inc., Madison, WI, USA

Abstract Does reading practice make perfect? Or is reading achievement related to the quality of practice as well as the quantity? To answer these questions, data on 45,670 students in grades 1e12 who read over 3 million books were analyzed. Measures largely of quantity (engaged reading volume) and purely of quality (success in readingcomprehension) showed a positive relationship with achievement gain at all levels of achievement. However, both high quantity and high quality in combination were necessary for high achievement gains, especially for older students. Both were weakly associated with student initial reading achievement, but more strongly associated with the classroom in which the student was enrolled, possiblysuggesting the properties of teacher intervention in guiding independent reading were important. Implications for theory-building, research and practice are explored. Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Reading; Practice; Comprehension; Achievement; Teacher intervention; Computer assessment

‘‘Practice makes perfect’’. This well known saying has some theoretical and empirical supportin the research literature. However, it might be a considerable simplification of reality, and potentially misleading. The current study explores this issue in the important area of reading skills. Many studies have found a positive correlation between the amount of reading practice and reading achievement. However, more able readers might tend to read more, or more reading practice might enhancereading achievement, or both might happen. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that one causal direction is from practice to achievement (e.g., Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). However, simply increasing reading practice time might not consistently improve student reading achievement. Other mediating variables might include actual student engagement during practice time (Berliner, 1990) and purequality (rather than largely quantity) of reading practice (Topping & Sanders, 2000). Quality of reading practice can be assessed by indicators of successful comprehension at an appropriate level of challenge. It has been argued that better curriculum-based formative assessment data of this type are needed to inform
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ44 (0)1382 464000; fax: þ44 (0)1382 464900. E-mailaddress: k.j.topping@dundee.ac.uk (K.J. Topping). URL: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/eswce/staff/kjtopping.php. 1 Terry Paul is co-chairman of Renaissance Learning, Inc., an international company that researches the formative impact of computerized progress monitoring. 0959-4752/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2007.02.002

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student and teacher judgments (e.g., Visscher & Coe, 2002). Computerized progress-monitoring systems can provide such data, informing and potentially enhancing student self-management or teacher intervention or both. Within the context of such a system, the current study investigated the relationships between largely quantity of readingpractice, pure quality of comprehension, classroom placement, and reading achievement. Theories assuming that reading practice is homogeneous and proposing that reading practice necessarily leads to automaticity and consequently reading achievement gain are challenged by this study. 1. Previous research 1.1. Reading practice Stanovich, West, and Harrison (1995) suggested that reading practice was a...
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