by Anne Riccio, Senior Supervising Editor, Literacy & Humanities
Between January and March 2019, 150,600 fourth-graders from 8,300 schools and 143,100 eighth-graders from 6,950 schools participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment — and the results were not good.
Approximately 35% of the 4th graders and 34% of the 8th graders who took the test performed at or above proficiency in the assessment, leaving roughly two-thirds of students reading below level. These percentages represent a decline since 2017, the last time the assessment was administered.
According to Mike Magee, chief executive of Chiefs for Change, an organization that represents states and district leaders, declining scores amongst our nation’s lowest-performing students is “a disturbing pattern, one that is consistent with our nation’s growing economic inequality and history of structural discrimination in education, housing, and access to opportunity.”
However, others say the decline is not strictly the result of economic inequities and poverty, but rather the way reading is taught. The previous emphasis on whole language and the failure to teach phonics has led to children being unable to build the skills they need to become proficient readers.
“What a child must do to become a reader is to figure out how the word she hears and knows how to say connects to letters on the page. Writing is a code humans invented to represent speech sounds. Kids have to crack that code to become readers.” (“Hard words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?”, APM Reports)
Still others point to a few bright spots. The state of Mississippi saw an increase in 4th grade reading scores on the test, and Washington D.C. saw an increase in 8th grade scores. The state of Texas has mandated that all Kindergarten, first, second, and third grade teachers and school principals begin Texas Reading Academies training before the 2022-2023 school year. These academies will focus on the Science of Teaching Reading and the application of evidence-based reading methods, the use of assessment data to inform instruction, and an increased emphasis on phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension.
What lessons can be learned from Washington, D.C., Texas, and Mississippi? In the words of Carey Wright, the Superintendent of Schools in Mississippi, “’A laser-like focus on literacy’ and increased professional development” is critical.