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Annual Reports and Information Staff (Annual Reports)
Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education

Reading Performance

(Last Updated: May 2020)

At grade 4, the average reading score in 2019 (220) was lower than the score in 2017 (222), when the assessment was last administered, but it was higher than the score in 1992 (217). Similarly, at grade 8 the average reading score in 2019 (263) was lower than the score in 2017 (267), but it was higher than the score in 1992 (260).

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses student performance in reading at grades 4, 8, and 12 in both public and private schools across the nation. NAEP reading scale scores range from 0 to 500 for all grade levels.1 NAEP achievement levels define what students should know and be able to do: NAEP Basic indicates partial mastery of fundamental skills, NAEP Proficient indicates solid academic performance and demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, and NAEP Advanced indicates superior performance beyond proficient.2 NAEP reading assessments have been administered periodically since 1992. Beginning in 2003, assessments have been administered every four years at grade 12 and every two years at grades 4 and 8. The grade 4 and grade 8 assessments are also administered at the state and selected district levels.3 The most recent reading assessments were conducted in 2019 for grades 4, 8, and 12; however, data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. In this indicator, data for grade 12 comes from the 2015 assessment, the most recent NAEP assessment year with available data.4 Throughout this indicator, reading scores from the most recent assessment year with available data will be compared with scores from the immediate prior assessment year and the first assessment year.

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Figure 1. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019
Figure 1. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500. Although average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4, 8, and 12, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades. Assessment was not conducted for grade 8 in 2000 or for grade 12 in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017. Data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), selected years, 1992–2019 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 221.10.

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students, by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading achievement level: Selected years, 1992–2019
Figure 2. Percentage distribution of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students, by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading achievement level: Selected years, 1992–2019

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. Achievement levels define what students should know and be able to do: NAEP Basic indicates partial mastery of fundamental skills, NAEP Proficient indicates demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, and NAEP Advanced indicates superior performance beyond proficient. NAEP achievement levels are to be used on a trial basis and should be interpreted and used with caution. Assessment was not conducted for grade 8 in 2000 or for grade 12 in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017. Data for grade 12 in 2019 were not available in time for publication. Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), selected years, 1992–2019 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, table 221.12.

Figure 3. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2019
Figure 3. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2019

1 High-poverty schools are defined as schools where 76 to 100 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL); mid-high poverty schools are schools where 51 to 75 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; mid-low poverty schools are schools where 26 to 50 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; and low-poverty schools are schools where 25 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL. For more information on eligibility for FRPL and its relationship to poverty, see the NCES blog post “Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?” The nonresponse rate for FRPL was greater than 15 percent but not greater than 50 percent.

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500. Scale scores for American Indian/Alaska Native students were suppressed in 1992 and 1998 because reporting standards were not met (too few cases for a reliable estimate). Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), selected years, 1992–2019 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, tables 221.10 and 221.12.

Figure 4. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 8th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2019
Figure 4. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 8th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2019

1 High-poverty schools are defined as schools where 76 to 100 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL); mid-high poverty schools are schools where 51 to 75 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; mid-low poverty schools are schools where 26 to 50 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; and low-poverty schools are schools where 25 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL. For more information on eligibility for FRPL and its relationship to poverty, see the NCES blog post “Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?” The nonresponse rate for FRPL was greater than 15 percent but not greater than 50 percent.

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500. Scale scores for American Indian/Alaska Native students were suppressed in 1992 and 1998 because reporting standards were not met (too few cases for a reliable estimate). Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), selected years, 1992–2019 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, tables 221.10 and 221.12.

Figure 5. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 12th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2015
Figure 5. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 12th-grade students, by selected characteristics: Selected years, 1992–2015

‡ Reporting standards not met. There were too few cases for a reliable estimate.

1 High-poverty schools are defined as schools where 76 to 100 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL); mid-high poverty schools are schools where 51 to 75 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; mid-low poverty schools are schools where 26 to 50 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; and low-poverty schools are schools where 25 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL. For more information on eligibility for FRPL and its relationship to poverty, see the NCES blog post “Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty?”

NOTE: Includes public, private, Bureau of Indian Education, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500. Assessment was not conducted for grade 12 in 2017, and data for the 2019 assessment were not available in time for publication. Scale scores for American Indian/Alaska Native students were suppressed in 1992, 1998, and 2002 because reporting standards were not met (too few cases for a reliable estimate). Testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, small-group testing) for children with disabilities and English language learners were not permitted in 1992 and 1994. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), selected years, 1992–2015 Reading Assessments, NAEP Data Explorer. See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, tables 221.10 and 221.12.

Figure 6. Change in average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th- and 8th-grade public school students, by state: 2017 to 2019
Figure 6. Change in average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th- and 8th-grade public school students, by state: 2017 to 2019

NOTE: The reading scale scores range from 0 to 500.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2017 and 2019 Reading Assessments, The Nation’s Report Card (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/). See Digest of Education Statistics 2019, tables 221.40 and 221.60.


1 Although average scores are reported on a 0–500 scale at grades 4, 8, and 12, the scale scores were derived separately and therefore scores cannot be compared across grades. For more information on NAEP including the history of the assessment, sampling procedures, and the transition from paper-based assessments to digitally based assessments, please see https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

2 NAEP achievement-level setting is based on the judgments of a broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public. The authorizing legislation for NAEP requires that the achievement levels be used on a trial basis until the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) determines that the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative to the public (20 USC § 9622(e)(2)(C)). The NCES Commissioner’s determination is to be based on a congressionally mandated, rigorous, and independent evaluation. The latest evaluation of the achievement levels was conducted by a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2016. The evaluation concluded that further evidence should be gathered to determine whether the achievement levels are reasonable, valid, and informative. Accordingly, the NCES Commissioner determined that the trial status of the achievement levels should be maintained at this time. Read more about the NAEP reading achievement levels by grade.

3 This indicator presents data from the Main NAEP reading assessment, which is not comparable to the Long-Term Trend NAEP reading assessment. The Main NAEP reading assessment was first administered in 1992 and assesses student performance at grades 4, 8, and 12, while the Long-Term Trend NAEP reading assessment was first administered in 1971 and assesses student performance at ages 9, 13, and 17. In addition, the two assessments differ in the content assessed, how often the assessment is administered, and how the results are reported.

4 NAEP reading scores for 4th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 220 and a standard deviation (SD) of 39. NAEP reading scores for 8th-grade students in 2019 had a mean of 263 and an SD of 38. NAEP reading scores for 12th-grade students in 2015 had a mean of 287 and an SD of 41 (retrieved December 10, 2019, from the Main NAEP Data Explorer).

5 While NAEP reported some data on students of Two or more races for earlier years, the reporting standards changed in 2011.

6 High-poverty schools are defined as schools where 76 to 100 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL); mid-high poverty schools are schools where 51 to 75 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; mid-low poverty schools are schools where 26 to 50 percent of the students are eligible for FRPL; and low-poverty schools are schools where 25 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL.

7 Nonresponse for this variable was greater than 15 percent but not greater than 50 percent.

8 Nonresponse for this variable was greater than 15 percent but not greater than 50 percent.

9 NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and are not comparable to results from assessments administered by state education agencies.

Supplemental Information

Table 221.10 (Digest 2019): Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score, by sex, race/ethnicity, and grade: Selected years, 1992 through 2019;
Table 221.12 (Digest 2019): Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score and percentage of students attaining NAEP reading achievement levels, by selected school and student characteristics and grade: Selected years, 1992 through 2019;
Table 221.40 (Digest 2019): Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score of 4th-grade public school students, by state: Selected years, 1992 through 2019;
Table 221.60 (Digest 2019): Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score of 8th-grade public school students, by state: Selected years, 1998 through 2019;
Table 221.75 (Digest 2019): Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale score and standard deviation, by selected student characteristics, percentile, and grade: Selected years, 1992 through 2019
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