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The Nation's Report Card: Reading Highlights 2003

November 2003

Authors: Patricia L. Donahue, Mary C. Daane, and Wendy S. Grigg


Fourth- and Eighth-Grade Reading Scores Show Little Change

No significant change was detected between 2002 and 2003 in the average score for fourth-graders. The average fourth-grade score in 2003 was not found to differ significantly from that in 1992. The average reading score for eighth-graders decreased by 1 point between 2002 and 2003; however, the score in 2003 was higher than that in 1992. (Differences are discussed in this report only if they were found to be statistically significant.)


Line graph of average Reading scores for 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003, respectively: for grade 4 in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2000 scores were 217, 214*, 217, and 217 without accommodations and in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 scores were 215*, 213*, 219 and 218 with accommodations; for grade 8 in 1992, 1994, and 1998 scores were 260*, 260* and 264 without accommodations and in 1998, 2002, and 2003 scores were 263, 264* and 263 with accommodations.

* Significantly different from 2003.

NOTE: Average reading scores are reported on a 0–500 scale. Data were not collected at grade 8 in 2000. In addition to allowing for accommodations, the accommodations-permitted results at grade 4 (1998–2003) differ slightly from previous years' results, and from previously reported results for 1998 and 2000, due to changes in sample weighting procedures. Significance tests were performed using unrounded numbers.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 Reading Assessments.


Average test scores have a standard error—a range of up to a few points above or below the score—due to sampling error and measurement error. Statistical tests are used to determine whether the differences between average scores are significant; therefore, not all apparent differences may be found to be statistically significant. All the differences discussed in this report were tested for statistical significance at the .05 level.

Beginning in 2002, the NAEP national sample was obtained by aggregating the samples from each state, rather than by obtaining an independently selected national sample. As a consequence, the size of the national sample increased, and smaller differences between years or between types of students were found to be statistically significant than would have been detected in previous assessments. In keeping with past practice, all statistically significant differences are indicated in the current report.

The results presented in the figures and tables throughout this report distinguish between two different reporting samples that reflect a change in administration procedures. The more recent results are based on administration procedures in which testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small group testing) were permitted for students with disabilities and limited-English-proficient students. Accommodations were not permitted in 1992 or 1994. Comparisons between results from 2003 and those from assessment years in which both types of administration procedures were used (in 1998 and 2000 at grade 4 and in 1998 at grade 8) are discussed based on the results when accommodations were permitted, even though significant differences in results when accommodations were not permitted may be noted in the figures and tables.



NCES 2004-452 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences. National Center for Education Statistics. The Nation's Report Card: Reading Highlights 2003, NCES 2004-452, by P. L. Donahue, M. C. Daane, and W. S. Grigg. Washington, DC: 2003.

Last updated 29 October 2003 (RH)

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