The latest scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress–the gold standard, no-stakes federal test–were released this morning. Only about one-third of American fourth-graders are proficient in reading, and 40 percent are proficient in math. Over the past two years, there has been no statistically significant improvement in the black-white achievement gap, and only a tiny closing of the Hispanic-white gap.
Let's look more closely at the reading scores. First, over the past two decades:
But it's important to keep an even longer view in mind when looking at these numbers. Although the picture in math is somewhat more optimistic, over the past 40 years in reading, achievement at grade 4 has improved, at grade 8 has stayed relatively stagnant, and age 17 has stayed completely stagnant–actually going down since a high in the late 1980s.
The longterm improvement in the early grades and stagnation in high school suggests that while our education system has gotten better at teaching basic skills to a diverse group of students, we haven't put the same effort into developing higher-order reading comprehension. That's why the curricular changes I outlined in my post yesterday on the Common Core are so important. In short, kids need to be reading more challenging, informational, non-fiction texts; fewer fictional stories; and should be writing more evidence-based analyses and fewer memoir-like personal essays.
Raising our overall reading achievement is incredibly important, because literacy skills are the ones most closely correlated with success in college and the professional world. Third-graders who aren't proficient in reading are four times less likely to graduate high school than proficient readers.