Acting Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics
National Assessment of Educational Progress
The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2009
March 24, 2010
Today I am releasing the results of the 2009 reading assessment from the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the Nation's Report Card.
This assessment was given from late January through early March one year ago to fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country. Close to 179,000 fourth-graders and 161,000 eighth-graders participated in the reading assessment. Mathematics and science were also assessed during the same time period as reading. The mathematics report card for grades 4 and 8 was released late last year, while the science report card and the twelfth-grade reading and mathematics results will be released later this year.
The National Assessment Governing Board developed a new framework for the 2009 reading assessment, one that required students to read a broader range of literary and informational texts. Students answered questions based on these texts that reflected three distinct reading processes, also known as "cognitive targets." This term refers to the mental processes or kinds of thinking that underlie reading comprehension. After reading each passage, students were asked questions about the passage that required them to locate and recall, to integrate and interpret, or to critique and evaluate.
The use of a new framework raised the issue of whether the 2009 results could be compared with the results from earlier NAEP reading assessments. NCES developed a series of studies that compared the 2009 framework and assessment with the prior framework and the 2007 assessment and determined that trends in student performance could be continued from past assessments.
NAEP Reading Results
We are reporting results for the nation and for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense school system. To simplify matters, we'll refer to all 52 as "states." We report student performance in two ways: scale scores and achievement levels. NAEP scale scores indicate what students know and can do, and are reported on a scale ranging from zero to five hundred for reading. Achievement levels, developed by the National Assessment Governing Board, set standards for what students should know and be able to do. For each subject and for each grade, the Governing Board has established standards for Basic, Proficient, and Advanced performance. Ultimately, the goal is to have all students performing at or above the Proficient level.
For the most part, I will be comparing students' performance in 2009 with scores from the last assessment, in 2007, and the first reading assessment, given in 1992. When comparing scores and other NAEP results I only discuss differences that are statistically significant.
Grade 4 Results
At grade 4, the average score for students in 2009 was unchanged from 2007, but was higher than in any of the other earlier assessments. The national average score was 4 points higher in 2009 than in 1992. In terms of achievement levels, there was no significant change from 2007 to 2009 in the percentages of students at or above Basic and those at or above Proficient. At the same time, the percentages in 2009 were higher than in any other earlier assessment. Since 1992, the percentage at or above Basic has risen 5 points, while the percentage at or above Proficient has risen 4 points.
Looking at the performance of racial/ethnic groups for grade 4, there was no significant change in reading performance since 2007. There were increases for all groups since 1992, however, except for American Indian/Alaska Native students, as their sample in 1992 was not large enough to produce meaningful results.
Since 1992 we have seen an overall increase of 4 points for all students, as well as a 6-point increase for White students, a 13-point increase for Black students, an 8-point increase for Hispanic students, and a 19-point increase for Asian/Pacific Islander students.
One may wonder why the overall national increase was only 4 points when each of the racial/ethnic groups increased by more than that. The reason is that the composition of the student population in America has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. For example, the percentage of Hispanic students has increased from about 7 percent in 1992 to about 20 percent in 2009, while the percentage of White students has fallen from about 73 percent to about 56 percent. Since scores of Hispanic students on average tend to be lower than the scores of White students, overall scores for fourth-graders have improved by only 4 points.
As with scale scores, the grade 4 White-Black score gap did not change significantly from 2007 to 2009. The gap in 2009 was smaller, however, than any gap prior to 2007, going back to 1992, while scores for both White and Black students were higher.
The grade 4 White-Hispanic score gap also did not change significantly from 2007 to 2009. Nor was the gap in 2009 significantly different from the gap in 1992. However, scores for Hispanic students were higher in 2009 than in any prior assessment except 2007.
The female-male reading gap, which favored female students by 7 points in 2009, was unchanged from 2007. In addition, it was not significantly different from the 8-point gap in 1992. In 2009, the average scores for both female and male students were unchanged from 2007 but higher than their average scores in 1992.
NAEP reports results according to student eligibility for the National School Lunch program, used as a measure of family income. This gives us three groups: those students eligible for free lunches, those eligible for reduced price lunches, and those whose family income is too high to make them eligible for this program.
For all three groups, scores have not changed significantly since 2007, but are higher than they were in 2003, the first year data on eligibility for the National School Lunch program was collected. In 2009, about 38 percent of fourth-graders were eligible for free lunches, while about 6 percent were eligible for reduced-price lunches and about 50 percent were not eligible. Information on eligibility status was not available for about 7 percent of students.
Comparing private and public school performance, in 2009 the average score for private school students was 15 points higher than the score for public school students. The only score change was an increase for public school students when comparing 2009 to 1992. In 2009, Catholic school students (a subset of private school students) scored higher than public school students. Their score in 2009 was higher than in 1992 only.
At the state level, since 2007 grade 4 reading scores increased in 3 states, (Kentucky, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island), and decreased in 4 (Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Iowa). In all the other states, there was no significant change.
An article on bees, reproduced in the Report Card, provides an example of the reading passages on the 4th-grade assessment. The article gives particular attention to the role of bees in the pollination of flowering plants. Illustrations within the reading passage provide important information and are a necessary part of the article. One of the questions about the article relates to the "locate and recall" reading process, in this case asking students to locate or recall the way the article described animals of the same species. About 63 percent of fourth-graders answered this question correctly.
Grade 8 Results
At grade 8, unlike at grade 4, there was some improvement from 2007 to 2009. At grade 8, the average scale score for students in 2009 was 1 point higher than in 2007 and 4 points higher than in 1992. We see the same pattern in achievement-level results—the percentages of students at or above both the Basic and the Proficient levels were higher in 2009 than in either 2007 or 1992. Compared to 1992, the percentage at or above Basic rose by 6 points, and the percentage at or above Proficient rose by 3 points.
Looking at the performance of the five major racial/ethnic groups for grade 8, we see increases for all groups since 2007. Since 1992, scores increased except for Asian/Pacific Islander students, where there was no significant change, and for American Indian/Alaska Native students, where our sample in 1992 was not large enough to give meaningful results.
Since 2007, scores were up by 1 point for White students, 2 points for both Black and Hispanic students, and 4 points for both Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students. From 1992, scores increased overall by 4 points, while the increases for the individual racial/ethnic groups ranged from 6 to 9 points.
Increases in scores for both White and Black students did not affect the gap between the scores of these students. The gap in 2009 was not significantly different from the gap in 2007 or the gap in 1992. Scores were up 6 points for White students since the first assessment and up 9 points for Black students.
The grade 8 White-Hispanic score gap also did not change significantly from 2007 or 1992 to 2009, although scores for both groups have increased. Scores for Hispanic students have increased by 8 points since the first assessment.
The gender gap in 2009 was not significantly different from the gap in 2007 but was smaller than the gap in 1992. The average score for female eighth-graders in 2009 was not significantly different from either 2007 or 1992. The score for male students, however, was up by about 1 point since 2007 and by about 5 points since 1992.
When we look at results by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, we see that the score for students who were eligible for free lunches was higher in 2009 than in either 2007 or 2003. The same is true for the "not eligible" students. At grade 8, about 33 percent of students were eligible for free lunches, while about 6 percent were eligible for reduced-price lunches and about 54 percent were not eligible. Information on the eligibility status of about 7 percent of students was not available.
Viewed by type of school, the score for public school students in 2009 was higher than in 1992 or 2007. There was no change in average scores of private school students overall, but the average score for Catholic school students increased by 6 points as compared to 1992.
At the state level, grade 8 reading scores increased since 2007 in 9 states, while no state saw a decrease. Scores increased for Hawaii, New Mexico, Utah, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Kentucky was the only state with increases at both grades.
An example of a reading passage from the grade 8 assessment, shown in the Report Card, is "Alligator Poem" by Mary Oliver. The poem describes an unpleasant encounter with one of America's largest reptiles. One of the questions that followed "Alligator Poem" asked students to "describe what happens to the speaker of the poem and explain what this experience makes the speaker realize." This two-part constructed-response question required them to both integrate and interpret the information given in the poem.
Student responses to this question could receive one of four ratings—"extensive," "essential," "partial," and "unsatisfactory." An "extensive" answer would give a complete description of what happened to the speaker and a complete description of what the speaker realized on the basis of her experience. About 16 percent of students received an "extensive" rating. An "essential" answer would give one complete and one incomplete description. About 20 percent of eighth-graders received this rating. An example of an "extensive" answer as well as an "essential" response is shown in the report. A "partial" answer would either describe something that happened in the poem or provide text-based generalizations about the speaker. An "unsatisfactory" answer would give only incorrect information or irrelevant details. About half the students received a "partial" rating, while 7 percent received an "unsatisfactory" rating.
For More Information
There is much more information in the 2009 Reading Report Card. In addition, the website http://nationsreportcard.gov contains extensive information on the performance of students in each state, access to released assessment questions through NAEP's enhanced Questions Center, as well as access to the NAEP Data Explorer, our online data analysis tool. There is also a link to the 2009 Reading Framework.
In closing, I would like to thank all the students and schools who participated in these assessments.