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NAEP 1994 Reading Report Card:

Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress

January 1996

Authors: Jay R. Campbell, Patricia L. Donahue, Clyde M. Reese, and Gary W. Phillips

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 3,030K


For a quarter of a century, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has reported to policy-makers, educators, and the general public on the educational achievement of students in the United States. As the nation's only ongoing survey of students' educational progress, NAEP has become an important resource for obtaining information on what students know and can do.

The 1994 NAEP reading assessment continues the mandate to evaluate and report the educational progress of students at grades 4, 8, and 12. The national results provided herein describe students' reading achievement at each grade and within various subgroups of the general population. State-level results are presented for individual states that chose to participate in the 1994 Trial State Assessment. In addition, trends in performance since 1992 are reported for the nation and for jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 1994 state 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. These 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • In 1994, twelfth graders in the Northeast, Central, and West regions displayed lower average reading proficiencies than their 1992 counterparts.
  • 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.
  • Between 1992 and 1994, the average reading proficiencies of fourth graders declined in eight jurisdictions: California, Delaware, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.
  • 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.

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.

About This Report

As the nation's report card in reading, this report provides a broad examination of students' reading achievement. In addition, specific aspects of students' reading performance and their experiences at home and school are reviewed in some depth. As such, this report provides a portrait of what students know and can do in reading, as well as the contexts in which they have developed their reading abilities.

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the 1994 NAEP reading assessment -- its content framework, design, and administration. Also included in Chapter 1 are example questions from the 1994 reading assessment and sample student responses. Chapter 2 provides overall average proficiency results for the nation, regions, subgroups of students, and jurisdictions participating in the Trial State Assessment. Chapter 3 describes students' reading performance in terms of the achievement levels. Chapter 4 focuses on cross-state comparisons of proficiency results from the state-by-state assessment at grade 4. Chapter 5 describes contextual factors related to students' reading achievement. Finally, Chapter 6 describes specific abilities demonstrated by students in the NAEP reading assessment and reports student performance when reading for different purposes.

PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 3,030K

NCES 96-045 Ordering information

Last updated 23 March 2001 (RH)

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