The Improving Literacy through School Libraries Evaluation Final Report (2005)

The Improving Literacy through School Libraries (LSL) Program was established under Title I, Part B, Subpart 4 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The purpose of the program is to improve the literacy skills and academic achievement of students by providing them with increased access to up-to-date school library materials; a well-equipped, technologically advanced school library media center; and well-trained, professionally certified school library media specialists. Included in the legislation was a requirement for an evaluation of the program to be conducted no later than three years after the enactment of NCLB. This report provides findings from the evaluation.

The first chapter of this report contains a description of the LSL program and an overview of the evaluation. Because the LSL program infers a linkage between school libraries and literacy, a brief overview of the research on this topic is presented in the second chapter of this report. Evaluation results on the implementation of the program are shown in the third chapter, which examines how districts allocate program funds to schools, how schools allocate library funds, and how other outside support is found for literacy and libraries. The fourth chapter discusses what school-level changes were associated with participation in the LSL program. The evaluation explored many dimensions of a school library that might change through participation in the program, including resources available, extended hours, services offered, staffing, professional development, and collaboration with teachers. The conclusions of the evaluation are contained in the fifth chapter of this report.

Characteristics of the Improving Literacy through School Libraries Program

The LSL Program is one of several reading skills programs in the current ESEA. It is a competitive grant award program with two eligibility requirements. The first requirement is that the applicant must be a local education agency (LEA); charter schools, regional service agencies, and state-administered schools may be designated as LEAs.  1  ] The second eligibility requirement is that at least 20 percent of the students in the LEA must be from families with incomes below the poverty line. The poverty rate is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and is a stricter measure than the free and reduced-price lunch statistic. There are no specific eligibility criteria for grantee schools.

Districts may use program funds to do the following:

  • Acquire up-to-date school library media resources, including books;
  • Acquire and use advanced technology, to be incorporated into the curricula of the school, to develop and enhance the information literacy to assist in information retrieval and to develop critical thinking skills of students;
  • Facilitate Internet links and other resource-sharing networks among schools, school library media centers, and public and academic libraries, where possible;
  • Provide professional development for school library media specialists and activities that foster increased collaboration between school library media specialists, teachers, and administrators; and
  • Provide students with access to school libraries during nonschool hours, including the hours before and after school, during weekends, and during summer vacation periods.

Grants for the LSL Program are for one year, although many projects have received time extensions. Thus far, the program has had three award cycles and grants for the fourth cycle are expected to be awarded in September 2005 (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1
Improving Literacy through School Libraries Program grant awards: 2002-05

Fiscal Year Total amount
available for
(in millions)
Number of awards Average award Smallest award Largest award
   2002.......... $12.4 94 $130,000 $24,000 $350,000
   2003.......... $12.5 73 $165,000 $20,000 $335,000
   2004.......... $19.8 92 $212,000 $30,000 $399,000
   2005.......... $19.6 85 $223,500 $30,000 $350,000

The legislation that established the LSL program specified that applications to the program must:

  • Contain a needs assessment relating to the need for school library media improvement;
  • Describe how the funds would be used;
  • Tell how school librarians, teachers, administrators, and parents would be involved in the project activities;
  • Show how the programs and materials used in the project are grounded in scientifically based research;
  • Describe how the funds and project activities will be coordinated with other federal, state, and local funds for literacy, school libraries, technology, and professional development; and
  • Show how the district will collect and analyze data on the quality and impact of project activities.

The LSL Web site contains a guidebook for assisting districts in preparing their applications. The Web site also provides poverty information so that school districts can determine if they are eligible to apply. A group of districts may submit a joint application to the program, but all districts must be individually eligible for it.

Overview of the Evaluation

The legislation establishing the LSL program required that an evaluation be conducted no later than three years after the enactment of NCLB.

The key evaluation questions  2  ] were:
  • How do districts allocate grant funds and are they targeted to schools with the greatest need for improved library resources?
  • How are funds used (e.g., to buy books, improve technology, increase library hours, or provide professional development for library and reading staff, etc.)?
  • What is the relationship between participation in this program and staff collaboration and coordination?

The two data sources used in the evaluation are described below:

  • A survey of school libraries. The survey was sent in the fall of 2004 to a sample of 400 school libraries receiving the grant in 2003-04 (grantees) and to a matched comparison sample of 400 schools in districts that were eligible for the grant in that year (nongrantees). The district-level characteristics that were used in the matching process included region, district poverty status, school district type, urbanicity, and district enrollment size. The school-level characteristics that were used in the matching process included instructional level, school type, enrollment size, type of locale, percentage of students belonging to racial or ethnic minorities, and the percentage receiving free or reduced-price lunches. Special attention was given to identifying similar comparison schools for those few grantee schools with unusual characteristics (charter school districts or single-school districts). The response rate was 91 percent for the grantees and 89 percent for the nongrantees. Detailed survey results are shown in Appendix A. Details about the methodology are shown in Appendix B, and a copy of the school library survey is shown in Appendix C.

  • The district performance reports. Each grant recipient must submit a report to the Department of Education (ED) within 90 days after the end of the grant period. Components of these reports include a description of the project, highlights of key accomplishments, a report on how the district met each of its project objectives, a project evaluation, and information on expenditures, schools served, and professional development. A copy of the report format is shown in Appendix D. Performance reports from districts receiving the grant in 2003-04 were analyzed for this evaluation.

The evaluation focused on the projects that received their grants in 2003, the second cohort of grantees. These grants were implemented in the 2003-04 school year. Of the 73 grants awarded in the target year, six went to consortia of more than one district and six went to districts that had received an LSL in the previous year as well.

In 2003-04, approximately 650 schools participated in the program. The characteristics of these schools differed from U.S. schools overall and schools in all districts that were eligible for the program in that year (Exhibit 2). A considerably greater proportion of the grantee schools (59 percent) were located in cities compared to all U.S. schools (26 percent) and all schools in eligible districts (39 percent) (Exhibit 2). Rural schools comprised 18 percent of the grantee schools, and 29 percent of schools in both all eligible districts and all U.S. schools. By region, grantee schools were more similar to all U.S. schools than they were to all schools in eligible districts. For example, 50 percent of all eligible schools were located in the west, while 31 percent of the grantee schools and 33 percent of all U.S. schools were located in the west. The proportion of small schools in the grantee schools (25 percent) was somewhat smaller than the portion among all schools in eligible districts (34 percent) and all U.S. schools (32 percent). Grantee schools also were somewhat less likely to be high schools (21 percent) than among either all schools in eligible districts (28 percent) or, to a lesser degree, all U.S. schools (25 percent).

Exhibit 2
Percent distribution of participating schools in grantee districts, all schools in all eligible districts, and all U.S. schools, by school characteristics: 2003-04 school year

School characteristic Participating schools in grantee districts All schools in eligible districts All U.S. schools
Enrollment size
1-299 25 34 32
300-599 42 36 37
600 or more 33 30 30
School level
Elementary 59 56 57
Middle/junior high 19 16 18
High school/combined/other 21 28 25
City 59 39 26
Urban fringe 14 19 34
Town 9 14 10
Rural 18 29 29
Northeast 24 9 18
Southeast 24 25 21
Central 22 15 28
West 31 50 33

Note: Percents may not add to 100 because of rounding.
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey," 2002-03. Eligibility file supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau; Grantee file supplied by the Improving Literacy through School Libraries Program.

Grantee schools also differed from nongrantee schools in another respect: 19 percent were identified for improvement, compared with 11 percent of the nongrantees (not shown in tables). Both groups of these disadvantaged schools were more likely to need improvement than schools overall (7 percent). Still, in absolute terms, about two-thirds of schools identified as needing improvement were not in districts eligible for the grants.

It should be noted that for the target year of the evaluation, the LSL program cut technology purchases from the budgets of many applications because other funding sources were available for these purposes. Similarly, districts were encouraged to seek alternative sources of funding for rewiring the school library. Finally, for the target year, professional development activities were limited to early childhood development because the legislation contained an incorrect citation. A waiver had been obtained for the first year of the program but not for the target year of the evaluation.

  1. In the rest of the report, the term district will be used rather than LEA because most grant recipients are public school districts. [ Return to text ]
  2. The original evaluation plan contained one additional evaluation question to address impact: How do reading achievement scores vary in schools that received grants for one or two years compared with matched comparison schools that have not received grants? This question was to address a congressional requirement to look at the impact of program activities on improving the reading skills of students. The intended data source for this component of the evaluation was the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) school-level assessment database (SLAD). However, this database has undergone some changes during the course of the evaluation and the data were not ready in time for analysis. Alternative sources of student achievement data were not available. [ Return to text ]

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Last Modified: 12/08/2005