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NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States

March 1999

Authors: Patricia L. Donahue, Kristin E. Voelkl, Jay R. Campbell, and John Mazzeo

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Executive Summary

Photograph of a young girl reading a bookThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation's only ongoing survey of what students know and can do in various academic subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. In 1998, NAEP conducted a national reading assessment of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students, and a state-by-state reading assessment of fourth- and eighth-grade students.

This report presents the results of the 1998 NAEP reading assessment for the nation and for participating states or jurisdictions. Results in 1998 are compared to those in 1994 and 1992. Students' performance on the assessment is described in terms of their average score on a 0-to-500 scale, and in terms of the percentage of students attaining three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.

The achievement levels are performance standards, adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board as part of its statutory responsibilities. The levels are collective judgments of what students should know and be able to do for each grade tested. They are based on recommendations by broadly representative panels of classroom teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public.

As provided by law, the Commissioner of Education Statistics, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, has determined that the achievement levels are to be considered developmental and should be interpreted and used with caution. However, both the Commissioner and the Board believe these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials, including the National Education Goals Panel, as a common yardstick of academic performance.

In addition to providing average scores and achievement level performance for the nation and states or jurisdictions, this report provides results for subgroups of students defined by various background and contextual characteristics. A summary of major findings from the 1998 NAEP reading assessment is presented on the following pages.


Reading Scale Score and Achievement Level Results

Results for the nation

  • Average reading scores increased for students in grades 4, 8, and 12. At the fourth and twelfth grades, the national average score was higher in 1998 than in 1994. At eighth grade, the national average score was higher in 1998 than in 1994 and in 1992.

  • While the national average reading score increased at all three grades in 1998, increased scores were not observed for all students. At grade 4, score increases were observed only among lower performing students. At grade 8, score increases were observed among lower and middle performing students. At grade 12, score increases were observed among middle and upper performing students; however, the score for lower performing twelfth graders was not as high in 1998 as it had been in 1992.

  • Across the three grades (4, 8, and 12) in 1998, the percentages of students performing at or above the Basic level of reading achievement were 62, 74, and 77 percent; the percentages who performed at or above the Proficient level were 31, 33, and 40 percent; and the percentages who performed at the highest achievement level, Advanced, were 7, 3, and 6 percent.

  • At grade 4, no significant changes since 1994 or 1992 were observed in the percentages of students attaining any of the reading achievement levels.

  • At grade 8, a greater percentage of students performed at or above the Basic level and the Proficient level of reading achievement in 1998, compared to 1994 and 1992.

  • At grade 12, a greater percentage of students performed at or above the Proficient level and the Advanced level of reading achievement in 1998, compared to 1994. The percentage of students at Advanced was also greater in 1998 than in 1992. Although the 1998 percentage at or above Basic was greater than that in 1994, it remained lower than the 1992 percentage.


Results for the states and other jurisdictions

  • Of the 43 jurisdictions that participated in the 1998 state-by-state reading assessment at grade 4 and met the participation guidelines, Connecticut had the highest average score for public school students. The cluster of jurisdictions with the next highest average scores consisted of Department of Defense overseas schools, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. Colorado performed equally well as eight of the next highest performing jurisdictions but had a lower average score than New Hampshire.

  • Of the 40 jurisdictions that participated in the state-by-state reading assessment at grade 8 and met the participation guidelines, the cluster of highest-performing jurisdictions consisted of Connecticut, Department of Defense domestic schools, Maine, Massachusetts, and Montana. The Department of Defense overseas schools performed equally well as four of the high-performing jurisdictions but had a lower average score than Maine.

  • For fourth-grade students in public schools, Connecticut had the highest percentage of students performing at or above the Proficient level of reading achievement. In 1998, the cluster of jurisdictions with the next highest percentages of fourth graders at or above Proficient consisted of Colorado, Department of Defense overseas schools, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

  • For eighth-grade students attending public schools, the seven jurisdictions with the highest percentages of students at or above the Proficient level of reading achievement in 1998 were Connecticut, Department of Defense domestic schools, Department of Defense overseas schools, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Montana.


Reading Results for Student Subgroups

Gender

  • At all three grades in 1998, female students had higher average reading scale scores than their male peers, and the percentage of females attaining each of the reading achievement levels exceeded that of males.

  • At grade 4, males had a higher average reading score in 1998 than in 1994; however, the average score of female fourth graders remained unchanged. At grade 8, both male and female students had higher average scores in 1998 than in 1994 and 1992. At grade 12, an apparent increase was observed for both males and females between 1994 and 1998; however, the increase was not significant for male students. The average score for male twelfth graders in 1998 remained lower than that in 1992.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At all three grades in 1998, the average reading score for White students was higher than that for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students.

  • At grade 4, the only significant increase among racial/ethnic groups was observed for Black students, whose average reading score in 1998 was higher than in 1994. At grade 8, increases were evident for both White and Black students; their average scores in 1998 were higher than in 1994 and 1992. At grade 12, increases were evident for both White and Hispanic students since 1994.

Parents' level of education

  • Students in grades 8 and 12 were asked to indicate their parents' highest level of education. Consistent with past NAEP assessments, students in 1998 who reported higher levels of parental education had higher average reading scale scores.

  • The average reading score of eighth graders who reported the highest level of parental education, graduated from college, was higher in 1998 in comparison to both 1994 and 1992. The average score of twelfth graders who reported the lowest level of parental education, did not finish high school, was lower in 1998 than in 1992.

Regions of the country

  • The 1998 results by region indicated that fourth and eighth graders in the Northeast and Central regions outperformed their counterparts in the Southeast and West. Among twelfth graders, students in the Southeast had lower average reading scores than students in the other three regions. Also among twelfth graders, students in the Central region outperformed students in the West region.

  • An examination of results for students within four regions -- Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West -- reveals four changes across the assessment years. In the Northeast, the 1998 average reading score for eighth graders was higher than in 1992, and fourth graders showed an increase between 1994 and 1998. In the Southeast, eighth graders had a higher average score in 1998 than in 1994 and 1992. And for twelfth graders in the Central region, the 1998 average was higher than the 1994 average.

Type of location

  • In 1998, fourth and eighth graders in central city schools had lower average reading scores than their counterparts in rural/small town schools or urban fringe/large town schools. Also, eighth graders in rural/small town schools had lower average scores than their counterparts in urban fringe/large town schools. No significant differences were observed among twelfth graders by type of location.

  • Among students attending central city schools, eighth graders had a higher average reading score in 1998 than in 1992. Among students attending schools in urban fringe/large town locations, eighth and twelfth graders had a higher average score in 1998 than in 1994. In rural/small town schools, twelfth graders had a higher average score in 1998 than in 1994.

Free/reduced-price lunch program

  • The 1998 NAEP reading assessment collected information on student eligibility for the federally funded free/reduced-price lunch program that provides children near or below the poverty line with nourishing meals. At all three grades, students who were eligible for the free/reduced-price lunch program had lower average reading scores than students who were not eligible for the program.

Type of school

  • Consistent with past NAEP reading assessments, the 1998 results indicated that students attending nonpublic schools had higher average scale scores than their counterparts attending public schools.

  • At grades 8 and 12, there was an increase between 1994 and 1998 in the average reading score of students attending public schools. For eighth-grade public school students, the 1998 average was also higher than the 1992 average. While there was no significant change at any grade in the average score for all nonpublic schools, eighth graders attending nonpublic Catholic schools had an average score in 1998 that was higher than in 1992.


School and Home Factors Related to Reading Performance

Pages read for school and homework

  • In 1998, at all three grades assessed, students who reported reading more pages daily in school and for homework had higher average scale scores than students who reported reading fewer pages daily.

  • The 1998 results indicate that students in grades 8 and 12 are reading more pages each day for school and for homework than in 1994.

Explain understanding/discuss interpretations

  • Eighth- and twelfth-grade students reported on how often they were asked to explain their understanding and discuss interpretations of their reading. At both grades, a positive relationship was observed between these instructional activities and student reading performance. Students who reported being asked by their teachers to explain their understanding or discuss interpretations at least once a week had higher average scores in 1998 than their classmates who reported doing so less than weekly.

  • At grade 8, students' reports in 1998 indicated an increase in the frequency of both of these activities since 1994 and 1992. Twelfth graders' reports indicated an increase since 1994 in the frequency of being asked to explain their understanding.

Writing long answers in response to reading

  • At all three grades, a positive relationship between writing long answers to questions on tests and assignments that involved reading and student reading performance is generally supported by findings from the 1998 NAEP assessment. Students who reported engaging in this activity on a weekly or a monthly basis had higher average scores than students who reported doing so only once or twice a year, or hardly ever. At the twelfth grade, students who reported doing such writing at least once a week demonstrated the highest reading performance.

  • Increases since 1994 in the frequency of this activity were indicated in the 1998 reports of fourth and eighth graders.

Reading self-selected books in school

  • Fourth-grade students who reported that their teachers gave them time to read books of their own choosing on a daily basis had a higher average score than their peers who reported being given time to do so less often. However, at grades 8 and 12 this activity did not have a positive relationship with average reading scores.

  • Students' reports in 1998 indicated an increase since 1994 in the frequency of this activity for fourth graders, while the reports of eighth and twelfth graders indicated an increase since 1992.

Discussing studies at home

  • At all three grades in 1998, students who reported at least weekly home discussions about their studies had higher average reading scores than students who reported discussing their studies less frequently. At the eighth and twelfth grades, having such discussions almost every day was associated with the highest average score.

  • Students' reports in 1998 indicate little change across assessment years in the percentages of students discussing their studies at home more or less frequently.

Talking about reading with family or friends

  • At all three grades in 1998, students who reported talking about their reading activities with family or friends once or twice a week, or at least monthly, had higher average reading scores than students who reported doing so rarely or never.

  • At grades 8 and 12, students' reports in 1998 indicated that they are talking about their reading activities less frequently in comparison to their reports in 1992.

Television viewing

  • At all three grades in 1998, students who reported watching three or fewer hours of television each day had higher average reading scores than students who reported watching more television.

  • Results of the 1998 reading assessment are encouraging in that they indicate decreases since 1994 in the amount of time students spend watching television each day.


This Report

This report comprises five chapters, each focusing on different results of the NAEP 1998 reading assessment. The Introduction provides an overview of the assessment framework, instrument, and design. Chapter 1 presents overall national results in terms of average scores on the NAEP composite scale and in terms of the three reading achievement levels. Also included in this chapter are sample student responses to selected NAEP questions and maps of selected questions on the NAEP reading composite scale. Chapter 2 presents average scale scores for regions of the country and for demographic subgroups of the population. Achievement level results for the regions and subgroups are presented in Chapter 3. In Chapter 4, school and home contextual factors related to literacy development are the focus for presenting results of the 1998 NAEP assessment. Chapter 5 concludes this report with a look at public school results of the state-by-state assessments at grades 4 and 8.

In addition, several appendices are included that augment and support the information presented in these chapters. Appendix A provides an overview of the procedural aspects of the NAEP 1998 reading assessment. Appendix B provides the standard errors for all data presented throughout this report. Appendix C provides the sample texts for the released questions presented in the first chapter, and also includes additional questions and sample student responses. Appendix D presents 1998 state level results for additional subgroups not discussed in Chapter 5 and also provides 1992 and 1994 subgroup data for grade 4. Appendix E presents characteristics of individual states and jurisdictions that are drawn from non-NAEP sources.


PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 4,555K


NCES 1999-500 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. The NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States, NCES 1999-500, by P. L. Donahue, K. E. Voelkl, J. R. Campbell, and J. Mazzeo. Washington, DC: 1999.

Last updated 14 March 2001 (RH)

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