skip to main content skip to footer


ETS News & Insights


Young girl sitting on steps reading

Reading for the Future

March 20, 2020

Reading is a fundamental life skill. Literacy skills help open our lives to opportunity and can assist us in refining other skills necessary for success in work, school and life.

Reading allows us to hear the voices of past authors and times, remember what we might otherwise forget and explore what we don’t understand, “said Tenaha O’Reilly, principal research scientist in ETS’s Center for Research on Human Capital and Education.  “Text can be shared across time, evaluated, and combined in new ways. In short, reading can expand our reach of and around the world.”

As reading relates to education, the ability to comprehend and learn is a prerequisite for success in every subject. How can you learn about history if you can’t read primary source documents?  How can you critically evaluate an experiment, if you can’t read a procedure? There are also connections between both literacy and numeracy skills that are measured as part of international large-scale assessments, including the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

“Beyond schooling, reading is also intrinsic to navigating through life,” said Tenaha. “From a day-to-day perspective, reading gives us the power to unlock the vast amounts of information available to us today in books and online. On a larger scale, reading ability is associated with a wide range of life outcomes, from educational attainment to wage earnings. To put it simply, the ability to read is associated with successful life outcomes.” It is important to note that technology has also opened up information sharing and acquisition for blind and low vision readers as well through the use of audio recordings, text readers, etc.

Reading allows us to hear the voices of past authors and times, remember what we might otherwise forget and explore what we don’t understand.

Tenaha O’Reilly, Principal Research Scientist at ETS

So, how do we foster this critical building block to success?

According to Senior Research Scientist Beata Beigman Klebanov one way we can set kids on the path to becoming proficient readers is by reading to them when they are young. Choosing stories with rhyme or rhythm that read out loud well, have some humor and can hold their interest or have potential for being “acted out” can be effective in attracting, and keeping, their attention.

“In the beginning, reading is about repetition and recognition. Set young readers up for success by reading the same book to them multiple times and then have them ‘read’ it out loud. They will remember many of the words and also the emphasis you place on important points of the book, and may enjoy ‘reading’ — reading and reciting from memory — fluently and with expression,” said Beigman Klebanov.

As students transition from guided to independent to fluent reading, Beigman Klebanov suggests the use of a reading-assistance tool as a complement to in-class reading instruction. The tool should make it possible for readers to toggle between reading passages on their own and listening as passages are read to them via a narrator in the tool. The digital tool should involve readers in an engaging, full-length book rather than shorter passages. A long story with an intriguing plot and well-developed characters makes it possible for children to read for the sake of the story and reading enjoyment rather than as an exercise in reading mechanics. It also encourages consistent reading because the child wants to know what happens next. Longer books also allow the students to be exposed to a wider range of vocabulary and structures that are necessary for growth in reading development.

Studies we conducted (PDF) with a tool like this showed that kids liked the reading experience being delivered on a mobile device. They also shared that taking turns reading and listening to the narration was helpful in addition to be being able to read on their own,” said Beigman Klebanov.

Reading is a building block of thinking. It’s an essential skill that allows you to learn and amass knowledge, which is necessary to understand the world, make good decisions, be creative, or just to enjoy a good book. Reading is important to academic success, jobs, quality of life and our democracy. It’s our responsibility to engage the next generation in the joy and opportunity that reading brings as we help to prepare them for the future.