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Independent Reading in Rural China’s Elementary Schools: A Mixed-Methods Analysis
Working Paper


There is consensus in the international literature that independent reading leads to improvements in both traditional and nontraditional academic outcomes. Countries throughout the world invest heavily in independent reading programs. However, little research has been done about independent reading in rural China, where students are falling behind their urban counterparts in academic subjects at alarming rates. This article seeks to explore the prevalence of independent reading and its correlation with test scores. It brings together data from a survey of 13,232 students and findings from 745 interviews with students, teachers, principals, and heads of household. Although independent reading is correlated with higher test scores, only 16% of students read for more than 60 minutes per day. Furthermore, school libraries are not correlated with student performance. Quotations from extensive qualitative interviews provide possible explanations for the data.
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