High school seniors are reading less, and it shows: While math scores are on the rise, national reading scores have dropped.
Only about a third of seniors were rated proficient readers in test results released Thursday, a significant decrease from the same test two years earlier.
And fourth-graders and eighth-graders were even less likely than the seniors to qualify as “good enough” readers, although their scores held steady over two years.
The results are like “a whack on the head,” said William T. Randall, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board and Colorado education commissioner.
“This tells us what we already intuitively know,” Randall said. “Our reading is slipping.”
The test was given in early 1994. No specific explanation for seniors’ score drop was offered, but members of the test’s governing board said it’s clear students don’t do enough reading - at school or at home.
A survey accompanying the 1994 test found that, compared to seniors who took the 1992 test, students were less likely to read for fun on their own time, do assigned reading as homework, or be asked at school to discuss something they had read. Only 39 percent said they read 11 or more pages daily.
The decrease in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores comes just two months after Education Secretary Richard W. Riley pointed to slight increases in some test results and declared that U.S. education was “at long last, turning the corner.”
In a statement Thursday, Riley expressed disappointment with the 1994 reading scores. “We have a long way to go to equip our students with the tools they will need for success in the next century,” he said.
A national sample of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders was asked to read and analyze articles and stories and to follow written instructions. It was only the second time the updated reading test has been used. Students were judged to be at the advanced, proficient or basic reading levels, or below.
“Proficient is what we think to be good enough,” said governing board member Mark D. Musick. “And in very few states did we get more than 30 percent in that category.”
Worse, about 30 percent of the seniors failed to reach even basic, which denotes “partial mastery” of the reading skills they should have. Two years ago, all but 25 percent reached the basic level.
Forty-two percent of fourth-graders failed to reach the basic level, and 75 percent fell short of proficient. Thirty-one percent of eighth-grades had less than basic skills, and 72 percent were less than proficient.
Fewer than 5 percent of any grade reached the advanced level.
The national test was given to 27,400 students in 40 states. Only Washington in the Northwest was included. The Education Department plans to include more detailed results in its “Reading Report Card” in September.