NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reading Skills of High Schoolers Continues to Decline

June 20, 2003

In a new snapshot of the reading ability of American students, the nation's lowest performing fourth graders showed progress through much of the 1990s, while the scores of high school seniors consistently declined.

The new results are from the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). For reading:

  • The NAEP found that 31 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders could read at least at the proficient level.
  • The test also found that 36 percent of fourth-graders and 25 percent of eighth-graders performed below the basic level, meaning they did not demonstrate even partial mastery of reading.

Among fourth-graders that was an improvement over 2000, when 41 percent of test takers scored below basic on the exam. The reading scores of the lowest performing eighth graders improved since 1998, with 75 percent mastering the basics of reading, up from 73 percent when they were last tested in 1998.

  • Among high school seniors, the results were uniformly disappointing, with 26 percent scoring below basic in reading in 2002, only slightly higher than in 1998.
  • Also, 36 percent of 12th-graders scored at or above proficient on the test, down from 40 percent in 1998.

Source: Michael A. Fletcher, "Reading Scores Rise Among Fourth-Graders," Washington Post, June 20, 2003.


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