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The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2003

Cover date: July 2005
Print release: September 15, 2005
Web release: September 15, 2005

Authors: Patricia L. Donahue, Mary C. Daane, and Ying Jin

Download sections of the report (or the complete report) in a PDF file for viewing and printing.


Executive Summary

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is an ongoing, nationally representative sample survey of student achievement in core subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of
the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students.

This report presents results of the NAEP 2003 fourth- and eighth-grade reading assessments for the nation, for regions of the country, for participating states and other jurisdictions, and for participating urban districts. Assessment results are described in terms of students’ average reading score on a
0–500 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels:
Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. National and district-level scores at different percentiles on the scale (indicating the percentage of students whose scores fell below a particular point) are also discussed.

The achievement levels are performance standards adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) as part of its statutory responsibilities. The achievement levels are a collective judgment
of what students should know and be able to do for each grade tested. As provided by law, NCES, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, determined that the achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted with caution. However, both NCES and NAGB believe these performance standards are useful for understanding trends in student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials and others as a common yardstick of academic performance.

Approximately 188,000 fourth-graders from 7,500 schools and 155,000 eighth-graders from 6,100 schools were assessed. The national results reflect the performance of students attending both public and nonpublic schools, while the results for participating states and other jurisdictions, and for urban districts, reflect the performance of students attending public schools. In addition to providing average scores and achievement-level percentages in reading for the nation, states and other jurisdictions, and urban districts, this report provides results for subgroups of students defined by various background characteristics.

A summary of major findings from the NAEP 2003 Reading Assessment is presented on the following pages. Comparisons are made to results from previous years in which the assessment was administered. In addition to the 2003 results, national results are reported from the 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000 (fourth grade only), and 2002 assessments. Results for participating states and other jurisdictions are also reported from the 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2002 assessments at grade 4 and from the 1998 and 2002 assessments at grade 8. Results for participating urban districts are reported for 2002 and 2003. The more recent results (those from 1998 or later) are based on administration procedures in which testing accommodations were permitted for students with disabilities and limited-English-proficient students. Accommodations were not permitted in earlier assessments. Comparisons between results from 2003 and those from assessment years in which both types of administration procedures were used (1998 at both grades and 2000 at grade 4 only) are discussed in this executive summary based on the results when accommodations were permitted. Changes in student performance across years or differences between groups of students in 2003 are discussed only if they have been determined to be statistically significant at the .05 level.

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Overall Reading Results for the Nation, Regions of the Country, and States and Other Jurisdictions

Reading Results for the Nation

At grade 4

  • No measurable difference was detected between the fourth-grade average score in 2003 and the score in 1992.
  • The score at the 75th percentile for fourth-graders was higher in 2003 than in 1992, indicating improvement among higher-performing students.
  • The percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Proficient was higher in 2003 than in 1992.

At grade 8

  • The average eighth-grade reading score decreased by one point between 2002 and 2003; however, the score in 2003 was higher than that in 1992.
  • Scores decreased from 2002 to 2003 among lower-performing eighth-graders at the 10th and 25th percentiles; however, scores at the 10th, 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles were higher in 2003 than in 1992.
  • The percentage of eighth-graders at or above Proficient was higher in 2003 than in 1992. The percentage of students at or above Basic decreased by one point between 2002 and 2003, but was higher in 2003 than in 1992.

Reading Results for Regions of the Country

Prior to 2003, NAEP results were reported for four NAEP-defined regions of the nation: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West. As of 2003, to align NAEP with other federal data collections, NAEP analysis and reports have used the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “region.”  The four regions defined by the U.S. Census Bureau are Northeast, South, Midwest, and West.

At grade 4

  • The average fourth-grade reading score in 2003 was higher for students in the Northeast than in the Midwest, South, and West. In the Midwest, the average score was higher than in the South and West, and the average score was higher for students in the South than for students in the West.
  • The percentages of fourth-graders performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels in 2003 were higher in the Northeast than in the Midwest, South, and West. Higher percentages of students performed at or above the Basic and Proficient levels in the Midwest than in the South and the West, and higher percentages of students performed at or above the Basic and Proficient levels in the South than in the West.

At grade 8

  • In 2003, the average eighth-grade reading scores were higher in the Northeast and Midwest than in the South and West, and the average score was higher in the South than in the West.
  • Higher percentages of eighth-graders performed at or above the Basic and Proficient levels in 2003 in the Northeast and Midwest than in the South and West. In the South, a higher percentage of students performed at or above the Basic level than in the West.

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Reading Results for the States and Other Jurisdictions

Results from the 2003 assessment are reported for fourth- and eighth-grade students attending public schools in 50 states and 3 other jurisdictions that participated in the assessment. (Throughout this summary, the term “jurisdiction” is used to refer to the states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense schools that participated in the NAEP reading assessments.)

At grade 4

  • Of the 42 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 2003 fourth-grade assessments,
    13 showed increases and 5 showed declines in average scores.
  • The percentage of fourth-graders at or above Proficient increased in 17 of the 42 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 2003 assessments.
  • Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont were among the jurisdictions with the highest average reading scores at grade 4.

At grade 8

  • Of the 39 jurisdictions that participated in the eighth-grade assessment in 1998 (when accommodations were permitted) and 2003, 8 showed increases and 7 showed declines in average scores.
  • Between 1998 (when accommodations were permitted) and 2003, the percentage of eighth-graders performing at or above Proficient increased in 5 of the 39 jurisdictions that participated in both years, and declined in one.
  • Department of Defense overseas schools, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont were among the jurisdictions with the highest average reading scores at grade 8.

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Reading Results for Student Subgroups in the Nation and in the States and Other Jurisdictions

In addition to reporting overall results, NAEP reports on the performance of various subgroups of students. In interpreting these data, readers are reminded that the relationship between contextual variables and student performance is not necessarily causal. There are many other educational, cultural, and social factors that play a role in student achievement in a particular subject area.

National Results

Gender

  • At grade 4, there was no measurable difference detected in the average reading scores for male
    or female students from 1992 to 2003. At grade 8, the average score for male students in 2003 was higher than in 1992, and lower than in 2002. 
  • In 2003, female students outperformed male students by 7 points on average at grade 4 and by
    11 points on average at grade 8. The fourth- and eighth-grade reading score gaps between male and female students showed no measurable change from 1992 to 2003.
  • The percentages of male and female fourth-graders performing at or above Proficient showed no measurable change from 1992 to 2003. The percentage of male eighth-graders at or above Proficient was higher in 2003 than in 1992.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grade 4, White students and Asian/Pacific Islander students scored higher on average in 2003 than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. White students also scored higher on average than Asian/Pacific Islander students, and Hispanic students scored higher on average than Black students. At grade 8, White and Asian/Pacific Islander students had higher average scores in 2003 than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students.
  • The average scores for White, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders were higher in 2003 than in 1992. The average scores for White, Black, and Hispanic eighth-graders were higher in 2003 than in 1992.
  • At both grades 4 and 8, the average score gap between White students and Black students and between White students and Hispanic students showed no measurable change from 1992 to 2003.
  • The percentages of White, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders performing at or above Proficient were higher in 2003 than in 1992. At grade 8, the percentages of White students and Black students performing at or above Proficient were higher in 2003 than in 1992.

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Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch

NAEP collects data on students’ eligibility for free/reduced-price lunch as an indicator of family economic status. Eligibility for free/reduced-price lunch is determined by students’ family income in relation to the federally established poverty level. The reading results are reported for students classified by their eligibility from 1998 on.

  • In 2003, both fourth- and eighth-grade students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch scored lower on average than students who were not eligible.
  • The average reading score for fourth-graders was higher in 2003 than in 1998 both for students who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch and for those who were not eligible. The average score for eighth-graders who were eligible showed a decrease between 2002 and 2003 but showed no measurable difference between 1998 and 2003.
  • For fourth-graders who were eligible for free/reduced-price lunch, the percentage at or above Proficient was higher in 2003 than in 1998.

Parents’ Level of Education

Eighth-grade students who participated in the NAEP reading assessment were asked to indicate the highest level of education completed by each parent. Results are reported based on the highest level of education for either parent. Information about parental education was not collected at grade 4.

  • Overall, in 2003 there was a positive relationship between student-reported parental education and student achievement: the higher the parental education level, the higher the average reading score.
  • The average score for eighth-grade students was lower in 2003 than in 2002 for students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from high school. The average score increased between 1992 and 2003 for students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from high school, and for students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from college. 

Type of School

The schools that participate in the NAEP assessment are classified as either public or nonpublic. A further distinction is then made between nonpublic schools that are Catholic schools and those that are some other type of nonpublic school.

  • Performance results in 2003 show that, at both grades 4 and 8, students who attended nonpublic schools had a higher average reading score than students who attended public schools.
  • The average fourth-grade reading score for Catholic school students increased between 1992 and 2003. The average eighth-grade score was also higher in 2003 than in 1992 for Catholic school students. The average score for students in public schools declined between 2002 and 2003; however, the average public school score was higher in 2003 than that in 1992. 
  • The percentage of fourth-grade Catholic school students performing at or above Proficient was higher in 2003 than in 1992.

Type of Location

The schools from which NAEP draws its samples of students are classified according to their type of location (central city, rural/small town, or urban fringe/large town). The methods used to identify the type of school location in 2000 (at grade 4), 2002, and 2003 were different from those used for prior assessment years; therefore, only the data from the 2000, 2002, and 2003 assessments are reported.

  • In 2003, fourth- and eighth-graders in urban fringe/large town and rural/small town locations had higher average scores than students in central city locations, and students in urban fringe/large town locations scored higher on average than those in rural/small town locations.
  • The average reading scores for fourth-graders in central city and urban fringe/large town locations were higher in 2003 than in 2000. The average score for eighth-graders in rural/small town locations declined between 2002 and 2003.
  • In 2003, higher percentages of fourth- and eighth-graders performed at or above Proficient in urban fringe/large town and rural/small town locations than in central city locations.

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State and Other Jurisdiction Results

Gender

  • In 2003, female students scored higher on average than male students in all 53 of the jurisdictions that participated at grades 4 and 8.
  • Among the 42 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1992 and 2003 fourth-grade reading assessments, 10 showed increases in the average score for both male and female students. New Mexico and Oklahoma showed decreases for both male and female students.
  • Among the 39 jurisdictions that participated in both the 1998 and 2003 eighth-grade reading assessments, Delaware and Missouri showed average score increases for both male and female students, and Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico showed decreases for both male and female students.

Race/Ethnicity

  • The average fourth-grade reading score was higher in 2003 than in 1992 for White students in 19 jurisdictions, for Black students in 8 jurisdictions, for Hispanic students in 5 jurisdictions, and for Asian/Pacific Islander students in 4 jurisdictions. The average score declined between 1992 and 2003 for Black students in Iowa and for American Indian/Alaska Native students in New Mexico. Average score increases were observed between 1992 and 2003 for three or more racial/ethnic subgroups in California, Florida, Maryland, and New York.
  • The average eighth-grade reading score was higher in 2003 than in 1998 for White students in six jurisdictions, Black students in Delaware, and Asian/Pacific Islander students in Hawaii and Minnesota. A decrease in the average score was detected between 1998 and 2003 for White students in Maine, Black students in Oklahoma, and Hispanic students in New Mexico.

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch

  • The average fourth-grade reading score was higher in 2003 than in 1998 both for students who were eligible and students who were not eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch in 11 jurisdictions, for eligible students in 5 jurisdictions, and for students who were not eligible in 5 jurisdictions. In the District of Columbia, the average score increased for eligible students and decreased for students who were not eligible.
  • The average eighth-grade reading score was higher in 2003 than in 1998 both for students who were eligible and students who were not eligible in Delaware and Missouri. Average scores were lower in 2003 than in 1998 for eligible students in New Mexico and Oklahoma, and for students who were not eligible in Nevada.

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Urban District Results

The 2002 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) included five urban public school districts (Atlanta City School District, City of Chicago School District 299, Houston Independent School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, and New York City Public Schools) plus the District of Columbia. The same districts, plus four more (Boston Public School District, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Cleveland Municipal School District, and San Diego City Unified School District), participated in the 2003 TUDA.

Overall Reading Results for the Urban Districts

At grade 4

  • The average fourth-grade reading score in 9 of the 10 districts participating in 2003 was lower than the national public school score. Average fourth-grade reading scores in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles were lower than the average score for large central cities. Average scores in Charlotte and New York were higher than the large central city score.
  • When compared to fourth-grade public school students in large central cities, scores at the 10th percentile were higher in Boston, Charlotte, Houston, and New York; scores at the 25th percentile were higher in Charlotte, Houston, and New York; scores at the 50th percentile were higher in Charlotte and New York; and scores at the 75th and 90th percentiles were higher in Charlotte. 
  • The percentage of fourth-graders at or above Proficient in 2003 was lower in 9 of the 10 districts when compared to the nation. In Charlotte, the percentage of students at or above Proficient was higher than the percentage for large central cities. 

At grade 8

  • Average eighth-grade reading scores in 9 of the 10 districts that participated in 2003 were lower than the national average score. Students in Atlanta, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Houston, and Los Angeles scored lower on average than students in large central cities. Students in Boston and Charlotte had higher average scores than students in large central cities. 
  • In comparison to the scores for eighth-grade public school students in large central cities, scores at the 10th and 25th percentiles were higher in Charlotte, scores at the 50th percentile were higher in Charlotte and New York, and scores at the 75th and 90th percentiles were higher in Boston and Charlotte.
  • In 2003, the percentage of eighth-graders at or above Proficient was lower in 9 of the 10 districts as compared to the nation. The percentages at or above Proficient were higher in Boston and Charlotte than in large central cities. 

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Results for Student Subgroups in Urban Districts

Gender

  • At grade 4, the average score for female students in Charlotte was higher than that in the nation. Reading scores for male and female students in Charlotte were both higher on average than for male and female students in large central cities. Female students in New York had higher average scores than female students in large central cities. 
  • At grade 8, male and female students in all the districts that participated in 2003, except Charlotte, had lower average scores than their counterparts in the nation. Average scores for both male and female students in Charlotte were higher than for their counterparts in large central cities.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grade 4, the average scores in 2003 for White students in Atlanta, Charlotte, the District of Columbia, and Houston; Black students in Charlotte and Houston; and Hispanic students in New York were higher than the corresponding scores in the nation and large central cities. The average scores for White students in Cleveland and Los Angeles; Black students in the District of Columbia; and Hispanic students in the District of Columbia and Los Angeles were lower than the corresponding scores in the nation and large central cities. 
  • In 2003 at grade 8, average reading scores for both White and Black students in Charlotte, and Hispanic students in Chicago were higher than comparable scores in the nation and large central cities. The average scores for White students in Cleveland; Black students in Atlanta, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles; and Hispanic students in Los Angeles were lower than the scores in the nation and large central cities. 

Eligibility for Free/Reduced-Price Lunch

  • At grade 4, average scores in 2003 were higher for eligible students in New York and for students who were not eligible in Charlotte and New York compared to the corresponding scores in the nation and large central cities.  Eligible students in Atlanta, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles, and students who were not eligible in the District of Columbia, scored lower on average than comparable groups of students in the nation and large central cities.
  • At grade 8, eligible students in Boston, Chicago, and New York, and students who were not eligible in Charlotte and New York scored higher on average than their counterparts in large central cities. Eligible students in Atlanta, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles, and students who were not eligible in Atlanta, the District of Columbia, Houston, and Los Angeles, scored lower on average than their counterparts in the nation and large central cities.

Parents’ Level of Education

  • In 2003, the average score for eighth-grade students who indicated that a parent had graduated from college was lower in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles than the average score for students in the same parental education category in public schools in the nation and large central cities.  The average score for students who reported that a parent graduated from college was higher in Charlotte than for comparable students in large central cities. 

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Download sections of the report (or the complete report) in a PDF file for viewing and printing:

  • PDF PDF 1 of 4 contains:
    Table of Contents
    Executive Summary
    Chapter 1: Introduction
    -also includes front matter
    (316K PDF)

  • PDF PDF 2 of 4 contains:
    Chapter 2: Average Reading Scale Score and Achievement-Level Results for the Nation and
       States
    (861K PDF)

  • PDF PDF 3 of 4 contains:
    Chapter 3: Subgroup Results for the Nation and States
    Chapter 4: Avg Reading Scale Scores & Ach-Level Results for Districts Participating in the Trial
       Urban District Assessment
    Chapter 5: Sample Assessment Questions and Student Responses
    (610K PDF)

  • PDF PDF 4 of 4 contains:
    Appendix A: Overview of Procedures Used for the NAEP 2003 Reading Assessment
    Appendix B: Subgroup Percentage Appendix
    Appendix C: State and Urban District Subgroup Appendix
    Appendix D: State- and District-Level Contextual Variables
    Appendix E: Sample Text from the NAEP 2003 Reading Assessment
    Acknowledgments
    (745K PDF)

  • PDF The complete The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2003 PDF (2363K PDF)

NCES 2005-453 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
Donahue, P.L., Daane, M.C., and Jin, Y. (2005). The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2003
(NCES 2005–453). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences,
National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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Last updated 16 September 2005 (HM)