Best Practice: Two Quizzes a Week for High Reading Gains

Best Practice: Two Quizzes a Week for High Reading Gains

Teachers often ask us “How should I use Newsela?”  This is often followed up by:

  • How many Newsela articles should my students read?
  • How long should my students spend reading a Newsela article?
  • What can I do to help my students on Newsela?
  • What activities should my students engage in while reading articles on Newsela?

Each of these is in itself a complex question. From our class visits, webinars and conversations with teachers, we observed a variety of motivations for using Newsela. Whatever the reason, one thing remains constant: a desire for students to improve their overall reading comprehension.


So with the goal of improving student reading in mind, how should students use Newsela? To answer this, we looked at the reading behaviors of more than 60,000 students. We looked at various patterns of Newsela usage, including students who take as few as 1 quiz a month to students who take 10 or more quizzes a month.  To measure Newsela gains, we used the Newsela percentile.

The Newsela percentile compares students to their grade-level peers. For example, let’s take Charlotte (a fictitious student).  Charlotte is in the sixth grade and has completed 24 quizzes. For each of the 96 quiz questions Charlotte has answered, her performance is compared to all other Newsela sixth-graders who took the same item. If the item was very difficult and had a low pass rate, yet Charlotte got the item correct, she will move up in the rankings versus her peers since she got this difficult item correct. Conversely, if the item was very easy and had a high pass rate, but Charlotte struggled, she will move down in the rankings versus her peers since she got this easy item incorrect. The Newsela percentile begins to calibrate after a student has taken approximately 5 quizzes and can be viewed in the binder for PRO subscribers. For more information on the Newsela percentile algorithm, please see our Learning and Support page here.

The Recommended Newsela Frequency

So, we know teachers have different goals for Newsela and this leads to different ways of using the site. With that in mind, we looked at various rates of usage to understand which one leads to the highest student success. We began by looking at all students who have used Newsela for 2 to 4 months in a row. From there, we looked at various “dosages” of Newsela. Specifically,  we looked at performance when students took  quizzes:

  • 2-4 times a month,
  • 5-7 times a month, and
  • 8-10 times a month.

We found that on average, regardless of the student’s starting percentile, when students take between 6 and 10 quizzes a month, students tend to improve between 5 and 10 percentile points over the course of 3 months. Even more exciting, students who take between 6 and 10 quizzes a month tend to improve between 7 and 12 percentile points over the course of 4 months.

We wondered: Were these gains evenly distributed across all different types of readers? Would weaker readers benefit as much as stronger readers? It turns out that when we looked more closely at students in the bottom 50th percentile, we discovered that they saw the largest gains.

Consistency is paramount to success with Newsela. As shown in the diagram below, Newsela students in the bottom 50th percentile gained an average of 11 percentile points when they took at least  2 quizzes a week for 3 consecutive months (for at least 8 quizzes a month). To say that another way, if struggling readers read 24 articles and take the associated quizzes for 3 straight months, they are likely to see HUGE gains.

You might be wondering … is that really so meaningful? Students are in school, they’re supposed to be improving and learning, even without Newsela. And, you’re right. Based upon Newsela research, we expect students to improve by 3 percent over 3 months, and 4 percent over 4 months, because of your teaching and their innate learning. These expected values are detailed below on the chart. You can see that with consistent Newsela usage, students outperform the expected growth over 3- and 4-month periods.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.11.17 AM
Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.11.17 AM

We’re still gathering data on usage beyond 4 consecutive months and as as we get that data, we will certainly share it. But we couldn’t wait. We’re very excited to show the gains of Newsela students.

Student Engagement

Knowing that students achieve high gains when they take 2 quizzes a week for 3 consecutive months,  we wanted to take a deeper look at the successful students. What other behaviors are shared by the top performing Newsela readers? To answer this, we looked at the following attributes.

Overwhelmingly, we found commonalities within our successful students.

Reading Time

To understand how reading time was affecting student performance on quizzes, we looked at more than 160,000 Newsela quizzes. Of these quizzes, we looked at the reading times for students across their scores.

We found that the students with the highest scores tend to spend between 3 and 7 minutes on an article.

Number of Articles to Read

When we looked at students who used Newsela for 3 consecutive months, we saw students improved when they read non-quizzed articles in a month. Students in the bottom 50th percentile improved their scores by an additional 1.5 percentile points when they read 2-3 non-quizzed articles a month, compared to those who did not.

Annotating While Reading

When we looked at students who annotated articles, we saw students improved more when they annotated articles than when they did not. Students who annotated an article improved their percentile by 2 additional points, compared to students who did not annotate articles.

Great ... Now How Can I Help my Students?

Teachers, you may be asking yourself … great -- now what should I do?

Here’s the takeaway. We recommend the following prescription for great readers:

  • Have your students take 2 quizzes a week for 3 consecutive months. Consistency helps build students’ fluency in nonfiction text. That really just means keeping up with the news, doesn’t it?
  • Ask your students to spend at least 3 minutes on a quiz. When students read too quickly, they are more likely to skip over portions of the article, which then leads to a gap in their comprehension of the text.
  • Have your students read at least 2 articles a month without having to take the quiz. Reading more helps improve reading comprehension.
  • Annotate articles with your students. Our annotation feature is a simple way to cultivate active reading skills. Many of our teachers share their own annotations with their students. This article explains the profound impact your annotations can have on your students.

Lastly, in honor of our latest content partner, please check out some great reading tips from The Washington Post.

As we learn more about what’s working well for students, we will continue to share our insights with you, so that together we can unlock the written word for everyone.

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