Math Scores Up, Reading Scores Down

Elementary and middle school students have improved greatly in math but their reading skills have stagnated over the last two decades, according to David Driscoll, the chairman of the governing board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Department of Education’s standardized testing program.

Mr. Driscoll and other officials and experts put forward several hypotheses to explain the trends. Children learn most of their math in school, and it has improved over the past two decades. Reading achievement, in contrast, reflects not only the quality of reading instruction in school classrooms, but factors like whether parents read to children and how much time students read on their own outside school, they said. And many children in the United States are spending less time reading on their own.

The scores on the latest federal math and reading tests, administered this year to fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide, showed only minor changes. In math, the average fourth-grade score was 241 on a scale of 500, up from 240 in 2009, when the last federal math and reading results were released.

The average eighth-grade math score on the latest test was 284, up from 283 two years ago. In reading, the average eighth-grade score this year was 265, compared with 264 in 2009. Average fourth-grade reading scores were unchanged from 2009, at 221.

In 1990, 13 percent of fourth graders scored at the proficient level in math; this year, 40 percent were proficient, a gain of 27 percentage points.

Reading performance, in contrast, has seen only much smaller improvements. In 1992, 29 percent of fourth-grade students were proficient in reading; this year, 34 percent of fourth-grade students scored at the proficient level, a gain of 5 percentage points.

Sharon Darling, founder of the National Center for Family Literacy, a Kentucky-based group that works to help parents support their children’s educational efforts at home, stated  “Children spend five times as much time outside the classroom as they do in school, and our country has 30 million parents or caregivers who are not good readers themselves, so they pass illiteracy down to their children.”

The evidence now points to parents not doing their job in getting their children reading.  Many parents are busy working one or two or even three jobs.  Many children live in single parent homes were parents are not at home when children come home and are supposed to be doing homework.  But the evidence also indicate that children are spending an increasing amount of time dealing with social networking sites and the internet.  Parents, who can encourage their children to read, need to be actively involved in this process.  The real question, is how to put this into practice.