NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Latest National Reading Scores

March 5, 1999

Although students in some states made significant gains in reading, test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders across the nation basically held steady in National Assessment of Educational Progress tests conducted last year. The results were released by the Department of Education yesterday. Thirty-nine states and four territories volunteered to take part in the tests.

  • Nationally, 39 percent of fourth-graders tested below the basic level in reading, 31 percent were deemed to read at a basic level, 23 percent were judged proficient and 6 percent were ranked above proficient.
  • The tests were graded on a scale of one to 500, with the national average for fourth-grade public school students at 215 -- a three point gain from 1994, but the same as in 1992.
  • For eighth-graders, the average was 261 -- but no comparison for previous years is available because this is the first year results were computed state-by-state.
  • Connecticut students outperformed all other states which participated, while Hawaii ranked last -- with 55 percent of fourth-graders reading below basic level.

The hour-long test, comprised of a combination of multiple choice and written responses was administered to 18,680 student in February 1998.

Despite $8 billion a year in federal spending under Title I educational programs -- designed to narrow the gap between whites on one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other -- the gap has increased between white and Hispanic students. The proportion of white fourth-graders reading at or above proficient levels has risen from 35 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 1998. Over the same period, Hispanic students reading at or above proficient levels declined from 16 percent to 13 percent. Scores for blacks have gone from 8 percent to 10 percent.

Source: Randal C. Archibold, "Scores on Reading Hold Steady As Connecticut Leads Gainers," New York Times, and Editorial, "$8 Billion Program Fails to Close Education's Race Gap," USA Today, both March 5, 1999.


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