Reading Scores on National Exam Decline in Half the States
“If the task you’re engaged in is researching lizards’ reproductive cycle or discussing who Harry Potter’s best friend was and why, those are intrinsically motivating tasks,” Ms. Snow said. “They drive you back to texts to find information.”
This year, eighth-grade reading scores in 31 states dropped two to seven points — which the federal government deemed significant — compared with their performances in 2017. Indiana, New Hampshire and Virginia had the largest declines. Fourth-grade reading scores dropped in 17 states, with New Jersey’s six-point drop the largest. Only one state, Mississippi, improved, the data showed.
James F. Lane, the superintendent of public instruction in Virginia, said that while grade-level proficiency was a goal, the school system “must also recognize that Virginia’s schools are enrolling increasing numbers of students whose learning is impacted by poverty and trauma.” He said the school system needed to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and equip them to meet the needs of a “changing student population.”
Average math scores fared considerably better, particularly among fourth graders. Nine states had significant increases in fourth-grade math, compared with 2017. Again, Mississippi led the pack. The eighth-grade score in three states improved, while those in six states declined.
American students have made large gains in math and small gains in reading since 1990. But those improvements began to level out around 2009. There is no consensus on why that happened.
The Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large urban school systems, said it saw a hopeful story in the new data. Over the past two decades, city students, who are more likely to be poor or not fluent in English, have moved closer to national achievement averages in both math and reading.
Some researchers consider the National Assessment of Educational Progress test to be the gold-standard measure of learning nationwide, but others argue it is unfair to judge schools using an exam that may have little connection to the material teachers cover in the classroom. In many cases, the federal exam is more challenging than state-level standardized tests.
“Someone has got to hold states accountable,” said Jim Cowen, the executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, a group that defends the roles of standards and testing in public schools.
Erica Green reported from Washington, and Dana Goldstein from New York.
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