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Reading

Question:
How are American students performing in reading?

Response:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses student performance in reading at grades 4, 8, and 12 in both public and private schools across the nation. NAEP reading scale scores range from 0 to 500 for all grade levels.1 NAEP achievement levels define what students should know and be able to do: NAEP Basic indicates partial mastery of fundamental skills, NAEP Proficient indicates solid academic performance and demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, and NAEP Advanced indicates superior performance beyond proficient.2 NAEP reading assessments have been administered periodically since 1992. Beginning in 2003, assessments have been administered every four years at grade 12 and every two years at grades 4 and 8. The grade 4 and grade 8 assessments are also administered at the state and selected district levels.3 The most recent reading assessments were conducted in 2019 for grades 4, 8, and 12; however, data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. In this Fast Fact, data for grade 12 comes from the 2015 assessment, the most recent NAEP assessment year with available data.4 Throughout this Fast Fact, reading scores from the most recent assessment year with available data will be compared with scores from the immediate prior assessment year and the first assessment year.

The average reading score for 4th-grade students in 2019 (220) was lower than the score in 2017 (222), but it was higher than the score in 1992 (217). For 8th-grade students, the reading score in 2019 (263) was lower than the score in 2017 (267), but it was higher than the score in 1992 (260). The reading score for 12th-grade students in 2015 (287) was not measurably different from the score in 2013, but it was lower than the score in 1992 (292).


Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500. Although average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4, 8, and 12, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades. Assessment was not conducted for grade 8 in 2000 or for grade 12 in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017. Data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


In 2019, some 66 percent of 4th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in reading, 35 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 9 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. The percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2019 was lower than the percentage in 2017 (68 percent), but it was higher than the percentage in 1992 (62 percent). In addition, the percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Proficient in 2019 was lower than the percentage in 2017 (37 percent), but it was higher than the percentage in 1992 (29 percent). The percentage of 4th-grade students who performed at NAEP Advanced in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2017, but it was higher than the percentage in 1992 (6 percent).

In 2019, some 73 percent of 8th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in reading, 34 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 4 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. The percentage of 8th-grade students who performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2019 was lower than the percentage in 2017 (76 percent), but it was higher than the percentage in 1992 (69 percent). Similarly, a lower percentage of 8th-grade students performed at or above NAEP Proficient in 2019 than in 2017 (36 percent), but the percentage in 2019 was higher than the percentage in 1992 (29 percent). The percentage of 8th-grade students who performed at NAEP Advanced was higher in 2019 than in 1992 (3 percent), but the percentage in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2017.

In 2015, some 72 percent of 12th-grade students performed at or above the NAEP Basic achievement level in reading, 37 percent performed at or above NAEP Proficient, and 6 percent performed at NAEP Advanced. A lower percentage of 12th-grade students performed at or above NAEP Basic in 2015 than in 2013 (75 percent) and 1992 (80 percent). The percentage of 12th-graders who performed at or above NAEP Proficient in 2015 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2013, but it was lower than the percentage in 1992 (40 percent). A higher percentage of 12th-grade students performed at NAEP Advanced in 2015 than in 2013 (5 percent) and 1992 (4 percent).


1 Although average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4, 8, and 12, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades. For more information on NAEP including the history of the assessment, sampling procedures, and the transition from paper-based assessments to digitally based assessments, please see https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

2 NAEP achievement-level setting is based on the judgments of a broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public. The authorizing legislation for NAEP requires that the achievement levels be used on a trial basis until the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) determines that the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative to the public (20 USC § 9622(e)(2)(C)). The NCES Commissioner’s determination is to be based on a congressionally mandated, rigorous, and independent evaluation. The latest evaluation of the achievement levels was conducted by a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2016. The evaluation concluded that further evidence should be gathered to determine whether the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative. Accordingly, the NCES Commissioner determined that the trial status of the achievement levels should be maintained at this time. Read more about the NAEP reading achievement levels by grade.

3 This Fast Fact presents data from the Main NAEP reading assessment, which is not comparable to the Long-Term Trend NAEP reading assessment. The Main NAEP reading assessment was first administered in 1992 and assesses student performance at grades 4, 8, and 12, while the Long-Term Trend NAEP reading assessment was first administered in 1971 and assesses student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17. In addition, the two assessments differ in the content assessed, how often the assessment is administered, and how the results are reported.

4 NAEP reading scores for 4th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 220 and a standard deviation (SD) of 39. NAEP reading scores for 8th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 263 and an SD of 38. NAEP reading scores for 12th-grade students in 2015 had a mean of 287 and an SD of 41 (retrieved December 10, 2019, from the Main NAEP Data Explorer).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). The Condition of Education 2020 (2020-144), Reading Performance.

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