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The Nation’s Report Card:
Vocabulary Results From the
2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments

December 2012

Author: National Center for Education Statistics

Download The Nation’s Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments PDF File (2.9 MB)

Cover image of The Nation’s Report Card: Interpreting Word Meaning Through Reading 2009 and 2011.A New Focus on Word Meaning

Beginning in 2009, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) integrated a measure of students’ understanding of word meaning with the measurement of passage comprehension in the NAEP reading assessment. The decision to focus on students’ understanding of word meaning emphasized the important role vocabulary plays in the process of reading comprehension. To understand the overall topic or theme, students need to integrate their knowledge of individual words—or a sense of these words—with the way the words are used in particular passages. For example, a reader may understand the meaning of “acute” in the context of mathematics to describe the angles of a triangle, but may not have encountered the word used to describe human emotions, as in “acute embarrassment.” Having a sense of words that is sufficiently flexible helps readers extend their understanding of the word and understand its use in a new context.

Understanding word meaning has always been essential to reading comprehension. Whether reading the printed page or a computer screen, a strong sense of word meaning provides a basis for greater comprehension in an increasingly fast-paced world.

How did students perform?
Students who scored higher on NAEP vocabulary questions also scored higher in reading comprehension. Fourth- and eighth-grade vocabulary scores did not change significantly from 2009 to 2011. There was no significant gender gap in vocabulary
at grade 12.

NAEP assesses vocabulary in a way that aims to capture students’ ability to use their understanding or sense of words to acquire meaning from the passages they read. Unlike traditional tests of vocabulary that ask students to write definitions of words in isolation, NAEP always assesses word meaning within the context of particular passages. Students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of words by recognizing what meaning the word contributes to the passage in which it appears.

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Download The Nation’s Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments PDF File (2.9 MB)

NCES 2013-452  Ordering information

Suggested Citation
National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nation’s Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments (NCES 2013–452). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

For more information, see the results of the 2011 Reading assessment on the Nation's Report Card website.

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Last updated 29 January 2013 (RH)
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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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