Student Literacy and Academic Achievement

In today's fast-paced and information-driven world, literacy competence plays a pivotal role in a student's academic success and overall development. As educators, parents, and stakeholders, understanding the profound impact of student literacy competence on academic achievement is essential.

Student Literacy and Academic Achievement
Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska

In today's fast-paced and information-driven world, literacy competence plays a major role in a student's success and overall development. As educators, parents, and stakeholders, understanding the profound impact of student literacy competence on student achievement is essential. This article explores the relationship between student literacy competence and academic performance, highlights some benefits of high literacy competence, and provides five effective ways to improve student literacy skills.

💡 Lessons learnt: Literacy is the primary currency in the knowledge economy.

Relationship between Student Literacy Competence and Academic Achievement

Student literacy competence refers to a student's ability to effectively read, write, comprehend, and communicate in a given language. It encompasses a range of skills and knowledge related to language and literacy, including decoding and recognizing words, understanding and interpreting written texts, expressing ideas through writing, and engaging in critical thinking and analysis. A literate student demonstrates proficiency in reading comprehension, vocabulary development, grammar and syntax, writing fluency, and the ability to effectively communicate ideas and information.

Extensive research has established a strong and significant relationship between student literacy competence and academic achievement. Students who possess high levels of literacy competence are more likely to excel academically across various subjects and demonstrate improved overall academic performance. This section explores the findings of key studies that highlight the important connection between literacy competence and academic success.

One study conducted by the National Reading Panel (2000) examined the impact of reading instruction on academic outcomes. The panel's findings revealed that effective reading instruction significantly contributes to improved academic achievement. When students develop strong reading skills, they are better equipped to comprehend complex texts, extract meaning from content-specific materials, and engage in critical thinking and problem-solving tasks across the curriculum. This study underscores the fundamental role of literacy competence in facilitating academic success.

A comprehensive meta-analysis conducted by McQuillan (2016) examined the relationship between literacy competence and standardized test performance. The meta-analysis encompassed a wide range of studies and demonstrated a consistent positive correlation between literacy competence and academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. Students with advanced literacy skills tended to achieve higher scores on their assessments, indicating a clear connection between literacy competence and academic performance.

Other Merits of High Student Literacy Competence

Developing high levels of student literacy competence brings other benefits outside of academic performance. Students with strong literacy skills exhibit enhanced communication skills, enabling them to express ideas effectively and engage in meaningful discussions (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Proficient literacy competence also empowers students to comprehend complex texts, engage with diverse perspectives, and think critically, fostering a lifelong love for learning (Gambrell & Morrow, 2017).

5 Ways to Improve Student Literacy Competence

To foster and enhance student literacy competence, educators can implement the following evidence-based strategies:

  1. Implement Structured Literacy Instruction: Structured literacy instruction, based on research-informed methods such as phonics and word study, provides explicit and systematic teaching of foundational reading skills (Moats, 2019). This approach equips students with the tools to decode and comprehend text effectively.
  2. Promote Independent Reading: Encouraging regular independent reading cultivates a habit of reading for pleasure, which expands vocabulary, improves comprehension, and enhances overall literacy skills (Allington, 2014). Providing students with a variety of engaging reading materials and allocating dedicated time for independent reading fosters a positive reading culture.
  3. Integrate Literacy Across Subjects: Literacy instruction should extend beyond English language classrooms. Integrating literacy practices into other subjects, such as science and social studies, helps students develop content-specific vocabulary, comprehension strategies, and critical thinking skills (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).
  4. Utilize Technology Tools: Leveraging technology tools can enhance student engagement and provide personalized learning experiences. Interactive reading apps, digital platforms, and educational websites offer opportunities for practice, feedback, and differentiated instruction, catering to individual student needs (Hutchison & Reinking, 2011).
  5. Foster a Language-Rich Environment: Creating a language-rich classroom environment that values oral language development, vocabulary expansion, and meaningful discussions supports students' literacy growth (August et al., 2009). Engaging students in conversations, using rich and varied language, and providing opportunities for collaborative learning promote language acquisition and literacy competence.


  • Allington, R. L. (2014). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. Pearson.
  • August, D., Carlo, M., Dressler, C., & Snow, C. (2009). The critical role of vocabulary development for English language learners. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 24(1), 1-12.
  • Gambrell, L. B., & Morrow, L. M. (2017). Best practices in literacy instruction (5th ed.). The Guilford Press.
  • Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Alliance for Excellent Education.
  • Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2011). Teachers and media: Literacy instruction in the era of new technologies. Peter Lang.
  • McQuillan, J. (2016). The literacy crisis: False claims and real solutions. Heinemann.
  • Moats, L. C. (2019). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. American Federation of Teachers.
  • National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59.


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