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Audiobooks Aren’t Cheating. Let's Talk Equality vs. Equity and Bust This Myth!

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Education & Teaching, General, Learning Disabilities, Students

By Dr. Terrie Noland, Ph.D., CALP, Vice President of Educator Initiatives at Learning Ally


“I hate school!" These are the words of a 4th grader who walked into my office for tutoring recently. My heart sank. I never like to hear those words, and more kids are saying it.  I asked his mom. "Is your son’s school providing reading support, like audiobooks?” Her response was "No, everyone says audiobooks are cheating." 

That’s another phrase I’ve heard a lot and wish I had not, because this statement is just not true! We’ve got to bust the myth that providing struggling readers with audiobooks is cheating. It is not. This is a myth. 

Cheating implies taking someone else's work and claiming it for yours. Providing audiobooks to support a struggling reader is like putting on glasses to see  clearly. I’m writing this blog, so more of us can better understand this concept, “education equality vs. education equity.” 

Education Equality Isn't the Same as Education Equity 

Education equality is an overarching attempt to treat every student the same, but lots of students learn differently. To reach the ultimate goal of education equality, each student must receive the strategies and tools they need to address their individual challenges...in other words equity. 

Let me reiterate this difference.  

-- Education equality is an attempt to treat every student the same.

-- Education equity is addressing each student's individual needs. 

While the evolution to strive for educational equity is a vigilant goal, millions of students are still not able to read on grade-level. Take Brooklyn’s learning journey for example. 

Brooklyn's Story

Brooklyn is an eighth grader who loves to bake, cook, and connect to her Mexican American heritage, but there is one major difference between her and other eighth-graders. Booklyn’s reading scores are very low. Her word identification and comprehension level are 5.4, about a fifth grade level. Her independent reading level is 2.3, about a second grade level.

As an eighth grader, Brooklyn wants her independence. She doesn’t want to be read to by a teacher or reading specialist. She wants to read on her own. She wants to read books that her friends are reading. Brooklyn needs equitable access to educational content that is on her grade and intellectual level -- preferably human-read audiobooks -- that will increase her skills in vocabulary, comprehension, decoding, phonics, fluency and critical thinking. Brooklyn may have a 504 plan or IEP, and she may receive some "Response to Intervention" (RTI) services. Whatever her legal or procedural classification is - it doesn't matter, because Brooklyn spends the majority of her day, up to 80%, sitting in a grade level class. 

Having the Conversation About Audiobooks

I like to advise parents to have an open conversation about their child’s needs with teachers. If your child is struggling to read print, then request access to reading materials via the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. You may hear these concerns and will want to have replies. 

That’s not fair. 

Your response: There is a difference between equal and equitable. Audiobooks provide equity to grade level content - we are not trying to make things equal. You can send them a link to this blog and my podcasts.

They can’t understand higher level books. 

Your Response: Cognitive ability has no correlation to decoding ability. Research shows that students' ability to listen and comprehend outweighs their ability to decode up until the middle grades. 

They should be reading. 

Your Response: The term reading has many meanings. It is important for parents and educators to understand what the learning goal is. If the goal is practicing the skill of decoding, then a student needs decodable or leveled books. If the goal is comprehension, then an audiobook will enable a student to read at grade level and participate in class. 

I’ll curve their points. 

Your Response: Please don’t! Give struggling readers access to content using audiobooks and there is no need to curve their points.

Word Drought

Another term I’d like us to learn more about is “word drought,” coined by literacy expert, Dr. Maryanne Wolf. Students who are not meeting reading proficiency levels may not be reading at all because of a deficit in vocabulary - thus “word drought.” In her talks, Dr. Wolf discusses the importance of word exposure and access to words. Human-read audiobooks provide the reader a ‘word feast,’ with words that are accurately pronounced, not like computers.    

Addressing the Educational Divide

Working with U.S. schools and districts, Learning Ally has research about students who use audiobooks. In a large school system in Denver, students doubled their reading growth on the STAR assessment (standardized test) of reading in just a single year. This is an outcome every teacher wants. Request the case study

Please bust the myth that reading with audiobooks is cheating. Far from it. Audiobooks are a simple and scalable solution to address an individual student's needs. By providing equitable access to audiobooks, you can close the achievement gap for students who are not meeting reading proficiency, and reach the ultimate goal -- education equality for all. 

Thousands of educators today have chosen to provide equitable access to educational books via audiobooks. These are the literacy champions making a difference for students like Brooklyn. Busting this cheating myth will take us one step closer to having more educators become literacy leaders in their schools and more students on a much better learning track. 

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