Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. EA 2.1 Reading Proficiency for Children Ages 9, 13, and 17

01/01/2000

Literacy proficiency and reading achievement are vital to educational reform efforts in the United States.21 One of the National Education Goals for the year 2000, adopted by Congress, is for adult literacy and lifelong learning, with objectives of having all students demonstrate competency in English and having all adults be literate.22 Levels of reading achievement will help measure the extent to which these goals are being met.

In order to monitor progress in the reading achievement of students in the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has conducted national assessments of the reading performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds. There are five levels of reading proficiency reported by NAEP, ranging from Level 150 (completing simple, discrete reading tasks) to Level 350 (learning from specialized reading materials).23 The following tables report the average reading proficiency scores of students in the three age groups between 1971 and 1996.

Trends in Reading Proficiency Scores. Among 9-year-olds, average reading proficiency scores improved between 1971 and 1980, declined between 1980 and 1984, and remained steady until 1996, so that the average score in 1996 (212) was similar to the score in 1975 (210) (see Table EA 2.1.A). Among 13-year-olds, average reading proficiency scores varied from year to year and were similar in 1996 (259) and 1971 (255) (see Table EA 2.1.B). Among 17-year-olds, average scores increased between 1971 and 1988, remained stable between 1988 and 1992, and then showed a slight decline through 1996, so that the average score in 1996 (287) was similar to the score in 1975 (286) (see Table EA 2.1.C).

Differences by Gender. Females have scored consistently higher than males over time and for all ages. For example, among 13-year-olds in 1996, females had an average score of 265, compared with an average score of 253 for males (see Table EA 2.1.B).

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin.24 There are large and consistent differences in reading proficiency by race and Hispanic origin among all age groups; for example, among 17-year-olds in 1996, whites had higher average reading proficiency scores (294) than either blacks (265) or Hispanics (265) (see Table EA 2.1.C). However, black 17-year-olds had especially high gains in achievement relative to whites in the 1980s; thus, the gaps in reading proficiency scores between whites and blacks have narrowed since the mid-1970s among 17-year-olds (see Figure EA 2.1). The gap has also narrowed between white and Hispanic 17-year-olds (see Figure EA 2.1).

Differences by Parents’ Education Level.25 Average reading proficiency levels vary dramatically by parents’ education level;26 for example, among 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds in 1996, the lowest average reading proficiency scores were among teens whose better-educated parent did not have a high school education, while the highest scores were among teens who had a parent with post-high school education. In fact, the average reading proficiency score among 13-year-old children of parents with post-high school education levels (270) was similar to the average score among 17-year-old children of parents without a high school degree (267) (see Tables EA 2.1.B and EA 2.1.C).

Differences by Type of School. Average reading proficiency scores have been consistently higher among students attending nonpublic schools than among students attending public schools. This is true for every age group and every year reported (see Tables EA 2.1.A, EA 2.1.B, and EA 2.1.C).

 

21 Campbell, J.R., Voelkl, K.E., & Donahue, P.L. 1997. NAEP 1996 Trends in Academic Progress. NCES 97-985. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics.
22 National Education Goals Panel. 1999. The National Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners, 1999 (Goal 6). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
23 NAEP has regularly been conducting assessments of students in public and private schools in the United States in order to monitor trends in academic achievement in core curriculum areas since the 1970s. NAEP uses proficiency scales that range from 0 to 500. To give meaning to the results, students’ performance is characterized at five levels along the proficiency scales (150, 200, 250, 300, 350).
24 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.
25 Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
26 Parents’ education level is not reported at age 9 because approximately one-third of these students did not know their parents’ education level.

 

Table EA 2.1.A Average reading proficiency for children age 9 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a and type of school: Selected years, 1971-1996

  1971 1975 1980 1984 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 208 210 215 211 212 209 211 211 212
Gender
Male 201 204 210 208 208 204 206 207 207
Female 214 216 220 214 216 215 215 215 218
Race and Hispanic origin a
White, non-Hispanic 214 217 221 218 218 217 218 218 220
Black, non-Hispanic 170 181 189 186 189 182 185 185 190
Hispanic 183 190 187 194 189 192 186 194
Type of school
Public 214 209 210 208 209 209 210
Nonpublic 227 223 223 228 225 225 227

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The reading proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 500:
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
Level 300: Understands complicated information
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table C.16.

 

Table EA 2.1.B Average reading proficiency for children age 13 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a parents’ education level,b and type of school: Selected years, 1971-1996

  1971 1975 1980 1984 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 255 256 259 257 258 257 260 258 259
Gender
Male 250 250 254 253 252 251 254 251 253
Female 261 262 263 262 263 263 265 266 265
Race and Hispanic origin a
White, non-Hispanic 261 262 264 263 261 262 266 265 267
Black, non-Hispanic 222 226 233 236 243 242 238 234 236
Hispanic 232 237 240 240 238 239 235 240
Parents’ education level b
Less than high school 238 239 239 240 247 241 239 237 241
Graduated high school 256 255 254 253 253 251 252 251 252
Some education after high school 270 270 271 268 265 267 270 269 270
Type of school
Public 257 255 256 255 257 256 257
Nonpublic 271 271 268 270 276 276 274

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
b Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The reading proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 500:
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
Level 300: Understands complicated information
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table C.17.

 

Table EA 2.1.C Average reading proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by gender, race and Hispanic origin,a parents’ education level,b and type of school: Selected years, 1971-1996

  1971 1975 1980 1984 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996
Total 285 286 286 289 290 290 290 288 287
Gender
Male 279 280 282 284 286 284 284 282 280
Female 291 291 289 294 294 297 296 295 294
Race and Hispanic origin a
White, non-Hispanic 291 293 293 295 295 297 297 296 294
Black, non-Hispanic 239 241 243 264 274 267 261 266 265
Hispanic 252 261 268 271 275 271 263 265
Parents’ education level b
Less than high school 261 263 262 269 267 270 271 268 267
Graduated high school 283 281 278 281 282 283 281 276 273
Some education after high school 302 301 299 301 300 300 299 299 297
Type of school
Public 284 287 289 289 288 286 286
Nonpublic 298 303 300 311 310 306 294

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
b Parents’ education level refers to the highest level of education completed by either parent.
Note: The reading proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 500:
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
Level 300: Understands complicated information
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials
Source: Campbell, Voelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table C.18.

 

Figure EA 2.1 Average reading proficiency for children age 17 in the United States, by race and Hispanic origin: a Selected years, 1971-1996

a Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Note: The reading proficiency scale ranges from 0 to 500.
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
Level 300: Understands complicated information
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials
Source: Campbell, JVoelkl, & Donahue, 1997, Table C.18.

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