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New Reading Scores Flat

Latest results confirm NCLB isn’t helping


By Alain Jehlen

New fourth and eighth grade reading scores released Wednesday show essentially no progress since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002.

The scores are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only achievement test program that attempts to measure the academic skills of students throughout the country.

The new scores continue the trend lines that show reading scores essentially flat over the past decade and math scores gradually rising but no faster than in the years before NCLB.

“It’s clear that high-stakes, do-or-die testing is not the answer,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “It’s time for creative, innovative, flexible solutions.”

The latest results showed fourth grade scores in 2009 were unchanged from two years earlier. Scores for racial and ethnic groups—white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native—were also level, as were the scores for boys and girls.

In eighth grade, there was a small, one-point gain for all students and for white students. Other ethnic groups did slightly better.

“I’m afraid the news we have to present is disappointing,” said Steven Paine, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools and a member of the NAEP Governing Board at the press conference where the results were released.

Paine said reading skills depend, not just on what is learned in direct reading lessons, but on reading throughout the curriculum and outside of school.

Math skills may depend more on math class, and the multi-decade improvement in math skills could be the result of the national standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, he suggested.

NAEP tests are given periodically to samples of students in every state, but no school is branded for low performance on these tests so there is no incentive for schools to teach to the particular types of questions that NAEP uses.

Scores on high-stakes state tests, however, have generally risen under NCLB. Repeated low scores on a state test can lead to a school being closed. NEA members report many schools are putting weeks and even months of effort into preparing their students for the specific types of questions on state tests.


The complete report and related information on the NAEP web site.