Flatline: Problems teaching reading in a flat world

I recently came across National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It’s about reading, and the challenges we face in teaching our students how to read. In brief, progress teaching reading is Flatline.

The NAEP Long-Term Reading Assessment defines reading “levels” as follows:

Level 150 – readers can follow brief written directions, select words, phrases, or sentences to describe a simple picture, and interpret simple written clues to identify a common object.

Level 200 – readers can locate and identify facts from simple informational paragraphs, stories, and news articles.

Level 250 – readers can search for, locate, and organize the information they find in relatively lengthy passages and recognize paraphrases of what they have read.

Level 300 – readers can understand complicated literary and informational passages, including material about topics they study at school.

Level 350 – readers can extend and restructure the ideas presented in specialized and complex texts.

The average reading score of 9 year olds was:

* 212 in 1999,
* 212 in 1996,
* 211 in 1994, and
* 211 in 1992.

The 1999 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term reading assessment found that:

* 93% of 9 year olds were at or above performance reading level 150,
* 64% were at or above reading level 200, and
* 16% were at or above reading level 250.

In 1999, the average reading score of:

* White students age 9 was 221,
* Black students age 9 was 186, and
* Hispanic students age 9 was 193.

The ability to read and understand complicated information is important to success in college and, increasingly in the workplace. An analysis of the NAEP long-term trend reading assessments reveals that only half of all White 17 year olds, less than one-quarter of Latino 17 year olds, and less than one-fifth of African American 17 year olds can read at this level.

By age 17, only about 1 in seventeen 17 year olds can read and gain information from specialized text, for example the science section in the local newspaper. This includes:

* 1 in 12 White 17 year olds,
* 1 in 50 Latino 17 year olds, and
* 1 in 100 African American 17 year olds.

* (Campbell, p46, Figure 2.10)

NAEP National Assessment Reading Achievement Levels

When reading text appropriate for fourth-graders at the:
Basic level (up to 208) – readers should demonstrate an understanding of the overall meaning of what they read.

Proficient level (209-238) – readers should demonstrate an overall understanding of the text, providing inferential as well as literal information.

Advanced level (239-268) – readers should be able to generalize about topics in the reading selection and demonstrate an awareness of how authors compose and use literary devices.

Reading Scores

In the National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP) 2000 national assessment of fourth-graders’ reading ability:

* 37% were below the reading achievement Basic level,
* 31% were within the Basic level,
* 24% were within the Proficient level, and
* 8% were within the Advanced level

It’s clear we are not doing a good job teaching our youngsters how to read — progress is in the “flat line” state. In not doing so we are making it harder for them to survive in the “flat world” in which they will have to compete.

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