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Results From the NAEP 1994 Reading Assessment -- At A Glance

May 1996

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The ability to read and understand is essential to each citizen's informed and full participation in a democratic society. Interpreting the meaning of current events, learning the skills necessary for workplace success, evaluating the ideas expressed in various publications, or finding enjoyment in a book are examples of how reading affects what we do and who we are.

The importance of reading as a lifelong activity underlies the need to monitor the progress of students' reading achievement. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has fulfilled this need on a regular basis for more than a quarter of a century. As a project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), NAEP collects valuable information about what students know and can do, and regularly reports these findings to educators, parents, policymakers, and the general public.

The NAEP 1994 Reading Assessment was administered to national samples of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. National reading proficiency results are reported for students at each grade and within various subgroups of the population. State-level results are presented for individual states or jurisdictions that chose to participate in the 1994 Trial State Assessment. Trends in reading performance since 1992 are also reported for the nation and for jurisdictions that participated in both assessments.

Students' reading performance is summarized on the NAEP reading proficiency scale, which ranges from 0 to 500. In addition, results for each grade are reported according to three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The achievement levels are based on collective judgments about what students should know and be able to do in reading. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. The Proficient level represents solid academic performance and demonstrated competence over challenging subject matter. The Advanced level signifies superior performance.

Major Findings for the Nation, Regions, and States

  • The most striking finding from the 1994 assessment is that the average reading proficiency of twelfth-grade students declined significantly from 1992 to 1994. This decline was observed across a broad range of subgroups. Significant changes in average proficiency were not observed in the national population of fourth or eighth graders. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Average Reading Proficiency for the Nation
  • In 1994, twelfth graders in the Northeast, Central, and West regions displayed lower average reading proficiencies than their 1992 counterparts.

  • The decline in average proficiency among twelfth graders between 1992 and 1994 was concentrated among lower performing students -- those scoring at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles. No significant declines were observed among twelfth graders at the 75th or 90th percentiles.

  • The decline in overall reading proficiency at the twelfth grade was evident in all three assessed purposes for reading: reading for literary experience, reading to gain information, and reading to perform a task.

  • The eight states with the highest average reading proficiencies in 1994 for fourth graders in public schools were Maine, North Dakota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, and Montana. (See Table 1.)

  • Between 1992 and 1994, the average reading proficiencies of fourth graders declined in eight states: California, Delaware, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

  • The percentage of twelfth-grade students who reached the Proficient level in reading declined from 1992 to 1994. There also was a decrease in the percentage of twelfth graders at or above the Basic level. (See Figure 2.)

  • In 1994, 30 percent of fourth graders, 30 percent of eighth graders, and 36 percent of twelfth graders attained the Proficient level in reading. Across the three grades, 3 to 7 percent reached the Advanced level.

Figure 2. Percent of Students At or Above the Reading Achievement Levels for the Nation

Table 1. Average Grade 4 Reading Proficiency NAEP Trial State Assessments in Reading - Public Schools Only

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Major Findings for Student Subgroups

  • Across the nation, there were declines in average reading proficiency from 1992 to 1994 for Hispanic students in grade 4 as well as for White, Black, and Hispanic students in grade 12.

  • Consistent with previous NAEP reports, reading proficiency at all three grades was higher on average for students whose parents had more education. Among twelfth graders, the decline in average reading proficiency since 1992 was evident for students reporting all levels of parental education.

  • At all three grades, female students had higher average reading proficiencies than male students. At twelfth grade, the performance of both male and female students declined between 1992 and 1994.

  • In 1994, fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students attending nonpublic schools displayed higher average reading proficiencies than their counterparts attending public schools. The performance of twelfth graders in public and nonpublic schools declined since 1992.

Contextual Factors Related to Reading Proficiency

Home and school factors can play important roles in the development of students' literacy abilities. Fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders who participated in the NAEP reading assessment were asked to complete questionnaires about their home and school experiences related to reading achievement and literacy development. Also, questionnaires about students' instructional experiences were completed by their teachers and school administrators. These instruments provide valuable information about students' literacy-related experiences at home and school.

  • In 1994, students who reported having a greater array of literacy materials in their homes displayed higher average reading achievement. Among twelfth graders, there was a decline between 1992 and 1994 in the presence of these materials at home.

  • At all three grades, students who more frequently read for fun on their own time had higher average proficiencies. Twelfth-grade students in 1994 reported reading for fun less frequently than their 1992 counterparts.

  • At all three grades, students who reported more frequent home discussions about their studies demonstrated higher reading proficiencies. There was a decline in the frequency of this activity among twelfth graders between the 1992 and 1994 assessments.

  • In 1994, students who reported watching less than four hours of television daily displayed higher average reading proficiencies than their peers who watched more television.

  • At each grade in 1994, students who read five or fewer pages each day for school and homework had the lowest average reading proficiencies. Since 1992, there was an increase in the percentage of twelfth graders who reported reading five or fewer pages each day, and a decline in the percentage who reported reading 11 or more pages.

  • Eighth and twelfth graders who reported being asked by their teachers at least once a week to explain or support their understanding of what they read had higher average reading proficiencies than students who were asked to do so less often. The reports of twelfth-grade students in 1994 indicated that they were not asked to do this as frequently as their counterparts in 1992.

  • Eighth and twelfth graders who reported being asked by their teachers at least once a week to discuss various interpretations of what they read displayed higher average reading proficiencies than students who were asked to do so less often. According to eighth- and twelfth-grade students' reports, these discussions were less frequent in 1994 than in 1992.

For More Information . . .

More complete results of the NAEP 1994 Reading Assessment are available in two NCES publications:

NAEP 1994 Reading: A First Look (Revised Edition)

NAEP 1994 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States

The First Look highlights the overall and demographic results while the Report Card is a more extensive treatment of the findings and includes discussions of contextual factors that are related to reading proficiency.

For ordering information on these reports, write:

National Library of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement
U.S. Department of Education
555 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20208-5641

or call 1-800-424-1616 (in Washington, DC metropolitan area call 202-219-1651).


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Last updated 26 March 2001 (RH)

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