Despite gains by low-scoring students, fourth-grade reading scores stayed the same in 2009 and eighth-grade scores rose very slightly, according to the Nation’s Report Card on reading. All racial and ethnic groups improved, but the rising number of low-scoring Hispanic students kept overall scores down. Racial achievement gaps narrowed, but not significantly. Overall, about one third of students reached the proficient level. Two thirds showed basic or better skills, which is an improvement.
No Child Left Behind focused on low achievers, pointed out Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. That’s who gained. Average scores for the lowest 10 percent of fourth-grade readers improved 16 percent from 2000 to 2009, compared to 2 percent for the best readers.
Math scores have improved much more, notes the New York Times. Why is it so hard to improve reading?
In seeking to explain the lagging reading scores, some experts point to declines in the amount of reading children do for pleasure as they devote more free time to surfing the Internet, texting on cellphones or watching television. Others say undemanding curriculums in reading may be to blame.
For example, Susan Pimentel, an expert on English and reading standards who is a member of the governing board that oversees the test, said that American schools were fairly efficient at teaching basic reading skills in the early grades, but that as students matured they need to be consistently challenged to broaden those skills by reading not only complex literature but also sophisticated nonfiction in subjects like history and science.
“We’re not asking them to read nearly enough, and we’re especially not asking them to read enough complex materials,” Ms. Pimentel said.
Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and Massachusetts showed the most progress at moving students to the proficient level, while Iowa, Maine, New Mexico and Oklahoma showed declines in reading proficiency.
Florida aced the test, writes Matthew Ladner. The state’s Hispanic fourth graders did as well or better as all students in 30 states; Florida’s black fourth graders outscored or tied eight statewide averages. The state’s eighth graders also did well, “led by big improvements for all the disadvantaged student subgroups.” Ladner credits Florida’s “try everything” strategy, which includes “parental choice, good standards and assessment, accountability, alternative certification, virtual schooling and social promotion curtailment.”
Big-city students are doing better in reading and math, concludes a report by the Council of the Great City Schools, which uses state and NAEP exams.
Update: States vary greatly on how many disabled and English Learner students take the NAEP exams without accommodations, with accommodations or not at all, writes Curriculum Matters.