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U.S. Pupils Hold Their Own In World Literacy Report But Cautious American Educators Are Reading Between The Lines

Tue., June 18, 1996

American students are reading more proficiently than their counterparts in other countries, but reports of this success might draw attention away from problems that continue to pervade the nation’s classrooms, according to a report released Monday by the Department of Education.

“The United States is second in the world, behind Finland … when it comes to literacy,” said Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. For years, U.S. students have not fared favorably in similar, international comparisons of math and science scores.

The study was intended to measure literacy levels based on reading comprehension questions on tests in 32 countries that comprise what the Education Department considers a “world average.” They include industrialized nations such as France, Germany and Switzerland and non-industrialized ones such as Botswana, Slovenia and Zimbabwe.

But despite the upbeat findings overall, many U.S. students are not doing as well as they ought to be, said Jeanne E. Griffith, acting commissioner at the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, which wrote the report.

For instance, children who are white, affluent or raised in two-parent homes continue to score better than those who are black, Latino, poor or raised by a single parent.

“This report tells us that there is a substantial gap in the reading scores between schools that involve parents and schools that don’t,” Riley said. “Parental involvement is the No. 1 factor.”

The report was based on data compiled in 1991 and originally released in 1992. It was reissued Monday, with new analysis, largely in response to a 1995 report that found reading scores were too low nationwide.

The 1995 report, “A First Look - Findings From the the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” concentrated exclusively on U.S. students.

While high literacy scores in the United States are a laudable achievement, some academic experts said the Department of Education should not gloss over the disparities that exist among different groups.

Ruth Graves, president of Reading is Fundamental, a national organization that has 3.8 million children in its literary programs, cautions that while many experts are encouraged by the report, “we still have a lot more to do.”


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