Disturbing Reading Scores

By Kevin Mahnken

Scores released today from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) held bad news for American schools, with trends that are essentially flat in mathematics and down in reading. Most states saw little or no improvement in either subject, with their lowest-performing students showing the most significant declines in scores. Whether the cause lies in hangover effects from the Great Recession, missteps in federal education policy, or some combination of these and other factors, there has been little progress to be assessed for over a decade.

Overall results for eighth-grade reading — the lone, if modest, highlight in 2017’s scores, with a gain of a single point that year — provided the greatest cause for discouragement this time around, sinking by three percentage points. The percentage of fourth-graders testing “proficient” in the subject (a higher bar, by NAEP’s definition, than simply reading on grade level) dropped from 37 percent in 2017 to 35 percent today; the percentage of proficient eighth-graders sagged from 36 percent to 34 percent over the same period.