NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States
Authors: Patricia L. Donahue, Kristin E. Voelkl, Jay R. Campbell,
and John Mazzeo
Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing.
The 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
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,
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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
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
- 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 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.
Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing.
NCES 1999-500 Ordering information
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)