Beginning in the 1990’s school library researchers began conducting “impact studies” in an effort to establish a correlation between school libraries and student achievement (Gries, 2013, p.2).
“...the studies examined the positive effect of access to books; the effects of poverty on reading achievement; the importance of staffing with certified librarians who play an important role in teaching critical thinking skills, leading the way for technology use, and inspiring literacy.”
A review of findings from 60 school library impact studies from 22 states resulted in clear findings across twelve domains and unequivocally demonstrated that “schools with a well-equipped library, staffed by a full-time, certified librarian and appropriate support staff contribute significantly to gains in student learning” (Gretes, 2013, p. 2). The analysis of findings highlights that usage (access to the school librarian, library, and resources) cannot be effectively replaced with online resources, digital tools, and classroom collections. School libraries are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between privileged and at-risk students when they can provide equal access and resources for learning (Gretes, 2013, p.3).
The Massachusetts School Library Study was tasked by the Commission established by Act S.1906 to determine the following:
Last spring the Phase I of the Mass. Study was launched, and there were 534 completed surveys, and 234 partials. 768 people took the time to provide information about their school library programs that provides a wealth of information about equity and access across the 11 domains, as established by state legislation S.1906. The MA DESE worked with the Commission to disperse the survey to every superintendent and principal in the state, establishing a new and unique partnership that has the potential for further collaboration. Later in the fall there will be a call for participants for Phase II of the study which will be comprised of focus groups across the state, and school librarians will have the opportunity to share the stories behind the Phase I data. These narratives will enrich understanding of the true state of access to school library resources and programming in Massachusetts, and will give voice to the disparity and inequity that directly affects student learning and career and college readiness.
Every Student Succeeds Act
What makes this an extraordinary opportunity is ESSA which builds upon No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB focused grant monies specifically for teachers in order to “close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). ESSA builds and expands the goals of NCLB by providing grant funding for specialized instructional support personnel, which specifically includes school librarians, for programming and professional development that is focused on developing “innovative approaches to literacy” as well as block grants, which are for locally identified priorities based on Title I Part A funding based on poverty (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.).
The high-level goals of ESSA feature library specific language that includes district/school-based needs assessments that provide access to “personalized learning experiences supported by technology” and “access to effective school library programs that provide digital learning technologies”. Also articulated is the need for students to have access to “personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology allowing equitable resources for all students” (S. Ballard, lecture, September 17, 2016).
The Massachusetts School Library Study builds upon the rich work done by the many previous impact studies, and also dovetails with the goals of ESSA at a time when the state is making decisions and developing plans for ESSA funding. The Massachusetts Study is the first to move beyond establishing the positive impact on student outcomes of effective school library programs. This study will reveal the inequities within the Commonwealth and provide us with powerful data access funding through ESSA. At this juncture we have the data, support from the state and the DESE, and federal funds through ESSA. This is where the opportunities lie for the school libraries and students of Massachusetts.
S.1906, 188th Gen. Court (Mass. 2014). Retrieved from https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S1906
Ballard, S. (Presenter). (2016, September 17). Connecting ESSA to School Libraries. Lecture presented at
Sharon High School, Sharon, MA.
Gretes, F. (2013). School library impact studies. Research Summary.
School library factsheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Education (Ed.). (n.d.). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Retrieved September 19, 2016, from U.S. Department of Education website:
U.S. Department of Education (Ed.). (2010, December 6). NCLB. Retrieved
September 19, 2016, from U. S. Department of Education website: