NAEP: Vocabulary gap is wide

A wide vocabulary gap separates low-income and middle-class students (and blacks and Hispanics from whites and Asians), according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report. Vocabulary is closely linked to reading comprehension.

The word “permeated” was a trouble spot for a lot of 8th graders, with nearly half failing to correctly identify its meaning in a nostalgic passage about eating a “mint snowball” at a small-town drugstore. And “puzzled” was apparently puzzling for 49 percent of 4th graders, who misidentified its meaning in a passage from the story “Ducklings Come Home to Boston.”

Fewer than half of fourth-grade readers recognized “barren,” “detected,” “eerie,” “flourish” or “prestigious” when used in a reading passage.

The sample questions include this one aimed at eighth graders:

On page 1, the author says that her great-grandfather concocted something on the stove. This means that he

A. mixed things together in a new way
B. cooked ingredients at a high heat
C. kept his cooking methods secret
D. preferred to work in the kitchen

Between half and three quarters of students knew the meaning of “concocted.”

“Urbane” stumped most students in eighth and 12th grade. Most 12th graders also didn’t know the meaning of “delusion.”

About Joanne


  1. Thunderbottom says:

    “Most 12th graders also didn’t know the meaning of “delusion.” as in “most 12th graders are under a cruel delusion that they’re getting a useful education at their government-run schools.”

  2. I agree that this is all a symptom of a sick educational system, but it’s an even more explicit symptom of parents who themselves have poor vocabularies.

    This problem is quite urbane.

  3. Well, I would have to agree that many students simply don’t get the education they need at the elementary school level, and that in large parts, the lack of education in the parental units has a lot to do with this, esp. in environments where the primary language in the home is not english, and the family as a whole makes no attempt to actually learn english.

    Sad indeed

    • How do you explain the fact that new Asian immigrant kids, who speak Mandarin/Cantonese at home and who arrived here speaking no English, do so well? The valedictorians of both my older sons’ classes (at a very good HS with a deservedly-strong reputation) were in this category. Admittedly, their parents were college grads (in China), but how does one explain the fact that such kids do so well and black kids whose ancestors have been here for hundreds of years do so poorly?

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Do kids still use those Jerome Shostak Sadlier Vocab books? I remember that we complained about them, but that they did their job and taught us a lot of vocab…..

  5. Fred the Fourth says:

    Hmm… Various online dictionaries agree with my offhand recollection: “concocted” does not necessarily have anything to do with “a new way”. Is there a clue here?

    • To continue that thought, is it my imagination, or is the 4th Grade reading passage the only one (of the three) that’s well-written? The 12th Grade passage could use a bit of polishing, but it’s not horrible. 8th Grade, on the other hand…wow! I may not be a teacher, but that could be used as a case study in bad writing.