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Not too good.

The reading assessments at grades 4 and 8 were administered on tablet computers between January and March 2019. Representative samples of 150,600 fourth-graders from 8,300 schools and 143,100 eighth-graders from 6,950 schools participated.

Results are reported as average scores on a 0 to 500 scale and as percentages of students performing at or above the NAEP achievement levels: NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced.

If I understand the data correctly, then the student corps are from a mixture of public and private schools. The private schools score slightly better than the public in almost all categories, reading included, mainly by pulling the two lower quintiles up a little higher. Considering just the public schools, the overall averages are a hair lower. As is, in toto, there was a small dropoff from 2017 to 2019 for grades 4 and 8. Precisely one state, MS, saw averages rise by any appreciable measure. Yay?


Screenshot 2020-02-01 at 3.06.07 PM

The five crooked blue lines are the quintile averages. They’re broken before 1998 to indicate that is when major “accommodations” began. The total period is from 1992 until 2019 – this is the era of major overhauls, fads, and money spending – the era when all the stops were pulled out. The result – virtually no change at all. And note, the top quintile has never averaged at the “advanced” level, which is a ridiculously low 270 of 500 (54%). 3/5ths of students fall below the vaunted “proficient” rating, which is a mere 240- of 500 (48%). What’s considered “basic” is only 210- of 500 (42%). 2/5ths are below that level. It looks like all the fads were able to do was temporarily cause a microscopic boost across all levels which now erodes. These stellar trends continue through the high school grades. All of this nothing for the low price of about $12,000 per student per year.

This is a partial explanation of why many or most high school students read at an elementary level – if that. Assuming that the average English speaker has an active vocabulary of 20,000 words and a passive (rarely used) vocabulary of maybe another 20,000, then most of these measured students (if this correlation holds) effectively have their vocabularies cut in half or worse. The lowest quintile has mastered perhaps something like 6-7,000 words in the active range, on par with most eight years olds. Add another 1,000 words or so for the 2nd quintile; another 1,000 or so for the 3rd quintile. Three quintiles below what’s considered the fluency threshold for learning any language (10,000 words).

This does not bode well. Look for more of the same results in 2020, 2021, 2025, 2033, etc. until the bottom falls out. Perhaps the ghost of Rudolf Flesch could write up Johnny Ain’t Gonna Read. Maybe, just maybe all the fads and the money were not as promised. Maybe go old school again?