Evidence of change: the just read project

By Gabrielle Mace, Merrilyn Lean

The third in our series of follow-ups of Queenwood school for Girls' silent reading program. This article charts progress of the program after 2 years.

Queenwood is an independent, non-denominational Kindergarten to Year 12 girls school.

In 2020 we introduced the Just Read program, aiming to  build a reading culture within our school and improve the literacy skills of our students. The Just Read project reflects best practice, its design stemming from peer-reviewed educational research. We received an AIS school-based research grant to measure its effectiveness.

Two previous SCIS Connections articles (‘The Time to Read’ and ‘Embracing Change’) explored the steps we took to change the reading culture at Queenwood. This article will present the data collected as evidence of this change.

We measured quantitative data in three ways: Library circulation, PAT Vocabulary Test and PAT Reading Comprehension Test.

Library data

Queenwood’s Junior and Senior school libraries represent just one source of fiction for our students. They also access books from home, bookshops, municipal libraries, classroom libraries and from their peers. Despite this, within six months of Junior School commencing Just Read, library borrowing rates increased by 300%. Given that Queenwood Junior School already had regular library lessons and a DEAR program in place, these statistics are telling. There was a 30% increase in library borrowing data in the Senior School for the first two months of the year, when comparing pre-Just Read data with the first year of the program. The bookmarks were also more likely to be at the end of the books, indicating completion.

A growth in reading has also been observed outside the designated 20 minutes of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR). This  is evident through an increase in student library use, access to Reader Advisory services and the number of book requests,  often through peer recommendations. Some students are enjoying reading fiction for the first time, while others have rekindled a love of reading. We have observed a steady increase in the number of incidental conversations between peers about books and reading. We are well on our way to embedding a strong reading culture at Queenwood.

PAT tests

ACER PAT tests were used in years 4–10 prior to Just Read commencing and again a year after implementation to measure effects on vocabulary development and reading comprehension. These allowed us to compare gains to an Australian-normed sample.

PAT Vocabulary

Research shows that reading frequently brings a variety of literacy benefits including comprehension, speed and vocabulary (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding; 1988). Research by Merga (2019) shows that significant advantages result from a rich vocabulary, including academic outcomes.

As shown in Figure 1, vocabulary testing identified improvements for students in all year levels, except Year 8. Some individual student improvements were as high as 23%. 

Chart showing improvements in vocabulary

As expected, the greatest improvement in vocabulary was found for the lowest quartile of students. Improvement was smallest for the top quartile of students, possibly due to the ceiling effect of the PAT tests. 

Figure 2 (see next page) shows the greatest improvements in vocabulary in the younger years, as this is when vocabulary growth increases most rapidly. The smallest improvements occurred in the oldest students.

PAT Reading Comprehension

Research shows that the amount of time students spend independently reading is the best predictor of reading achievement (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding; 1988). Comparing pre- and post-Just Read data, individual improvements in reading comprehension were as great as 22%, with average improvements occurring in some years (Year 5, 7, 9 and 11) but not others. Of the 503 students tested, there was no evidence of differing improvements across the various quartiles. 

Factors that impact reading comprehension include background knowledge, vocabulary, fluency, active reading and critical thinking (Auld 2022). This makes reading comprehension data much more difficult to interpret as shown by Figure 3.

Student motivation  

Student reading habits were measured qualitatively using an anonymous online survey. Results pre- and post-Just Read measured changes in motivation to read. 

When asked whether they liked reading in their free time at home, the vast majority of students answered definitely or probably yes. Before Just Read, 10% of students answered definitely not and this decreased to 7% after the program.

For those students who indicated that they do not like reading at home, the most common reason given was ‘I would rather do other things with my free time’. Those who indicated that ‘reading books is boring’ reduced by 2.6% after the intervention. We predict that this proportion would be further reduced had we surveyed the students after the second year of Just Read. Students also identified being unable to find an interesting book and also not having any good books available as reasons why they did not like reading at home.


These modest improvements do show that the initial phase of Just Read has led to increases in literacy skills and reading for enjoyment. An unexpected additional benefit has been the increase in wellbeing for students and staff through daily SSR. Just Read has been the stimulus for the development of a culture of reading at Queenwood and is highly valued by the students, staff and parents. Our project has stimulated professional discussion and interest from a number of schools, both nationally and internationally. We are very proud to have led this cultural change in our school. 

Rank prior to Just Read Rank after Just Read
It's relaxing (16.0%) It's relaxing (17.6%)
I like imagining things (12.3%) It puts me in a better mood (12.4%)
I like reading books (11.8%) I like reading books (11.8%)
It puts me in a better mood (10.5%) I like imagining things (11.1%)
It's better than working (9.7%) It's better than working (9.3%)


Grateful acknowledgement to Saiyidi Mat Roni for assistance with the statistical analysis of this data.


Anderson, R.C., Wilson, P.T., & Fielding, L.G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(3) 285-303

Auld, S. (2022, n.d.). Reading daily improves comprehension and student performanceAustralian Christian College Blog. https://www.acc.edu.au/blog/reading-comprehension-student-performance/

Merga, M. K. (2019, February 12). ‘Read aloud to children to boost their vocabulary’. The Sector. https://thesector.com.au/2019/02/12/read-aloud-to-children-to-boost-their-vocabulary/

Gabrielle Mace

Head of Library and Information Services, Rennie and Medway Libraries & Head of QLiteracy Committee

Queenwood School for Girls

Merrilyn Lean

Science Teacher, QLiteracy Committee Member

Queenwood School for Girls