Annual Book Fairs in High-Poverty Elementary Schools

Updated: Nov 20, 2017
Evidence Rating:
Near Top Tier


  • Program:

    Annual book fairs to provide summer reading to students in high-poverty elementary schools over three years, starting at the end of first or second grade.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 1,713 first and second graders in 17 high-poverty elementary schools in Florida.

  • Key Findings:

    Increase in students’ reading achievement by 35-40% of a grade level, three years after random assignment.

  • Other:

    A study limitation is that its sample was geographically concentrated in two Florida school districts. Replication of these findings in a second trial, in another setting, would be desirable to confirm the initial findings and establish that they generalize to other settings where the program might be implemented.

The Annual Book Fairs program provides students in high-poverty elementary schools with books to read over the summer for three consecutive summers starting at the end of first or second grade. The goal is to prevent summer learning loss – specifically, the well-established tendency for low-income children’s reading achievement to fall relative to their more advantaged peers during the summer break. A number of studies have found that the loss is sizable, and may help explain the substantial and persistent reading achievement gap between more and less economically-advantaged students in the United States [e.g., Cooper et. al, 1996, Alexander et. al, 2007].

In the spring of each school year, students attend the fair, located in their school building, where they can order from among 400-600 books in a variety of genres (e.g., pop culture, series books, science). At each fair, students pick 12 books to keep as their own, which are delivered to them on the final day of school.

The study does not report the exact cost of the program, but indicates it was low – the main cost being that of supplying the students with 12 free books per year (which suggests a total three-year cost of $190-$244 per student in 2017 dollars).

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Allington, Richard L., Anne McGill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta Williams, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach, and Rhonda Nowak. Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students. Reading Psychology, 2010, vol. 31, no. 5, pp. 411-427.

Alexander, Karl L., Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson. Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. American Sociological Review, 2007, vol. 72, no. 2, pp. 167–180.

Bloom, Howard S., Carolyn Hill, Alison Rebeck Black, and Mark Lipsey. Performance Trajectories and Performance Gaps as Achievement Effect-Size Benchmarks for Educational Interventions. MDRC Working Paper on Research Methodology, October 2008.

Cooper, Harris, Barbara Nye, Kelly Charlton, James Lindsay, and Scott Greathouse. The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, Fall 1996, vol. 66, no. 3, pp. 227–268.