Improvements in Math, but Reading is Another Story

With the dramatic changes that have occurred in education over the past two decades, the US might expect huge improvements in children’s academic achievement. And when looking at math scores, this is exactly what we see: the percentage of proficient fourth graders rose from 13% in 1990 to 40% this year.

However, the November 1st release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores revealed that, as a nation, we have made little progress in the past 20 years in helping our fourth graders read on grade level. Twenty-nine percent of fourth graders were proficient readers in 1992, but by the new millennium this number had only risen three percentage points, and since then it’s only risen two. Reading achievement has remained stagnant since many of the parents of today’s kids were in school.

Why haven’t reading scores improved as they have with math?

According to a New York Times article, one explanation for the slow progress in children’s literacy compared to math is in how reading and math are learned. Math is primarily learned in the classroom, but many of the skills required to become a good reader are generally acquired at home through parent education, time spent reading alone and with parents, communication with parents and caregivers, and more. In the Future of Children’s School Readiness volume, researchers indicate that racial and ethnic gaps in reading can largely be explained by factors like socioeconomic status, the number of books in the home, and parenting.

Last month, the Future of Children invited some of the nation’s top scholars and officials in education, literacy, and child development to meet for a discussion on solutions to the issue of children’s literacy in America. Their research and suggestions for programs and policy will be compiled in the Future of Children’s fall 2012 volume, Literacy of American Children.

The urgency of improving the literacy of American children was a theme throughout the conference. As Robert Slavin, Co-Director of the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk at Johns Hopkins University and Chairman of the Success for All Foundation noted at the conference and in a recent blog, “reading well is a fundamental necessity for learning in all other subjects from math to history, even art. Children who are not reading on grade level simply cannot reach their full potential in any other subject. Economically, this leads to immeasurable loss in untapped potential of our future workforce. Instead of the “keep on keepin’ on” mentality that has yielded predictably flat results for two decades, it is time to do something dramatically different in reading instruction.”

Stay tuned for the Future of Children’s fall 2012 volume on the Literacy of American Children.

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