reading standards
No US state posted a statistically significant increase in eighth-grade reading scores except for the District of Columbia. Source: Shutterstock

Two out of three fourth- and eighth-graders don’t meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national yardstick to measure students’ academic performance in the US.

In most states, the average eighth-grade reading score declined significantly compared to 2017, according to the Nation’s Report Card, a test administered every two years by the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Education Department. Among fourth-graders, the average reading score declined in 17 states.

It’s a “student achievement crisis”, said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the release of the scores last week.

“Think about the mom or dad who cannot read, and so does not read to their own children at bedtime…Think about what that portends for their lifelong learning.”

For the 2019 assessment, close to 300,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students enrolled in public schools and Catholic schools across 50 US states took part. To measure reading comprehension, students were tasked with reading select grade-appropriate materials and answering questions based on what they had read. Results were compared to 2017 and previous assessments back to the 1990s, to present a broad view of students’ reading knowledge, skills and performance over time.

On average, reading scores declined for fourth- and  eighth- graders by one and three points respectively, compared to 2017. Among fourth-graders, only 35 percent were proficient in reading, a decrease from 37 percent in 2017. The number of eighth-graders proficient in reading also fell from 36 to 34 percent.

Peggy Carr, Associate Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, explains why this decline is worrying: “A 3-point decline for the country is substantial in as much as 31 states are driving it, large states, small states – and it’s a very meaningful decline.

The dismal results this year show that overall student progress in reading over the last decade has stalled, a result some analysts had predicted given the failure to enact effective policies and practices for improvement. Worsening performance in reading was seen at all levels of achievement, with the highest performers stagnating and the lowest-achieving students doing worse. Among eighth-graders, students in the bottom 10 percent lost six points compared to test-takers in 2017, whereas students in the middle and top 10 percent lost three points and one point respectively.

reading standards

Source: Shutterstock

“The fact that students who need to make the most academic progress are instead making no progress or are falling further behind is extremely troubling,” said Tonya Matthews, Vice Chairwoman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP. “We need to see all students make progress.”

Matthew M. Chingos also wrote in Education Next that results rarely budged more than a point or two in the two years between test administrations, but this year’s eighth-grade reading results dropped by four points.

Peter Afflerbach, an expert on reading and testing at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times the declines are “troubling” and “precipitous,” especially for the lowest-achieving students.

The new eighth-grade results show that “the students haven’t developed the reading comprehension to deal with text complexity,” he said.

Students overall fared slightly better in maths. Fourth-graders improved in maths, scoring a one-point increase in average scores although eighth-graders performed one-point worse than two years ago.

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