Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. EA 2.1 Reading proficiency

04/01/1997

Literacy proficiency and reading achievement are vital to educational reform efforts in the United States.16 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.17 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 U.S. students, 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).18 The following tables (Tables EA 2.1.A, EA 2.1.B, and EA 2.1.C) report the average reading proficiency scores of students in the three age groups between 1971 and 1994.

Trends in Reading Proficiency Levels. Among 9-year-olds, average reading proficiency scores improved between 1971 and 1980, declined between 1980 and 1984, and remained steady until 1994 so that the average score in 1994 (211.0) was similar to the score in 1975 (210.0) (see Table EA 2.1.A). Among 13-year-olds, average reading proficiency scores varied from year to year, and were similar in 1994 (257.9) and 1971 (255.2) (see Table EA 2.1.B). Among 17-year-olds, average scores increased between 1971 and 1990, after which they stabilized. In 1994, the average score for 17-year-olds was 288.1 (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 1994, females had an average score of 265.7, compared with an average score of 250.6 for males (see Table EA 2.1.B).

Differences by Race and Ethnicity.19 There are large and consistent differences in reading proficiency by race and ethnicity among all age groups. For example, among 17-year-olds in 1994, whites had higher average reading proficiency scores (295.7) than either blacks or Hispanics (266.2 and 263.2, respectively) (see Table EA 2.1.C). However, black and Hispanic 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 both blacks and Hispanics have narrowed since the mid-1970s among 17-year-olds (see Figure EA 2.1).

Differences by Parents Education. Average reading proficiency levels vary dramatically by parents education level.20  For example, among 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds in 1994, the lowest average reading proficiency scores were among teens whose parents did not have a high school education, while the highest scores were among teens who had a parent with posthigh school education. In fact, the average reading proficiency score among 13-year-old children of parents with posthigh school education levels (268.5) was similar to the average score among 17-year-old children of parents without a high school degree (267.9) (see Tables EA 2.1.B and EA 2.1.C).

Differences by School Type. Average reading proficiency scores have been consistently higher among students attending non-public schools than among students attending public schools. This is true for every age group and every year reported.
 

Figure EA 2.1  
Reading ProficiencyAge 17, Average Proficiency of Students, by Race/Ethnicity: 1971-1994  

EA2_1.GIF

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: U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1994 Trends in Academic Progress.
 

Table EA 2.1.A 
Reading Proficiency Age 9, Average Proficiency of Students, by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Type of School: 1971-1994 

 
 
 
 
1971 
1975 
1980 
1984 
1988 
1990 
1992 
1994 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Total
207.6 
210 
215 
210.9 
211.8 
209.2 
210.5 
211 
 
Gender
 
 
Male
201.2 
204.3 
210 
207.5 
207.5 
204 
205.9 
207.3 
 
 
Female
213.9 
215.8 
220.1 
214.2 
216.3 
214.5 
215.4 
214.7 
 
Race/Ethnicity
 
 
White, non-Hispanic
214 
216.6 
221.3 
218.2 
217.7 
217 
217.9 
218 
 
 
Black, non-Hispanic
170.1 
181.2 
189.3 
185.7 
188.5 
181.8 
184.5 
185.4 
 
 
Hispanic
 
182.7 
190.2 
187.2 
193.7 
189.4 
191.7 
185.9 
 
Type of School
 
 
Public
 
 
213.5 
209.4 
210.2 
207.5 
208.6 
209.4 
 
 
Non-Public
 
 
227 
222.8 
223.4 
228.3 
224.7 
225 
 
Note: The reading proficiency scale has a range from 0 to 500:
 
  
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
  
Level 300: Understands complicated information 
  
  
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
  
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials 
  
  
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
  
 
  
 
Source: U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),  
1994 Trends in Academic Progress.

 
 

Table EA 2.1.B 
Reading Proficiency Age 13, Average Proficiency of Students, by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Parents Education, and Type of School: 1971-1994 

 
 
 
 
1971 
1975 
1980 
1984 
1988 
1990 
1992 
1994 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Total
255.2 
255.9 
258.5 
257.1 
257.5 
256.8 
259.8 
257.9 
 
Gender
 
 
Male
249.6 
249.6 
254.3 
252.6 
251.8 
250.5 
254.1 
250.6 
 
 
Female
260.8 
262.3 
262.6 
261.7 
263 
263.1 
265.3 
265.7 
 
Race/Ethnicity
 
 
White, non-Hispanic
260.9 
262.1 
264.4 
262.6 
261.3 
262.3 
266.4 
265.1 
 
 
Black, non Hispanic
222.4 
225.7 
232.8 
236.3 
242.9 
241.5 
237.6 
234.3 
 
 
Hispanic
 
232.5 
237.2 
239.6 
240.1 
237.8 
239.2 
235.1 
 
Parents Education
 
 
Less than high school
238.4 
238.7 
238.5 
240 
246.5 
240.8 
239.2 
236.7 
 
 
Graduated high school
255.5 
254.6 
253.5 
253.4 
252.7 
251.4 
252.1 
251.4 
 
 
Post high school
270.2 
269.8 
270.9 
267.6 
265.3 
266.9 
269.9 
268.5 
 
Type of School
 
 
Public
 
 
256.9 
255.2 
256.1 
255 
257.2 
255.6 
 
 
Non-Public
 
 
270.6 
271.2 
268.3 
269.7 
276.3 
275.8 
 
Note: The reading proficiency scale has a range from 0 to 500:
 
  
Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
  
Level 300: Understands complicated information 
  
  
Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
  
Level 350: Learns from specialized reading materials 
  
  
Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
  
 
  
 
Source: U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),  
1994 Trends in Academic Progress.

 
 

Table EA 2.1.C  
Reading Proficiency Age 17, Average Proficiency of Students, by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Parents Education, and Type of School: 1971-1994 

 
 
 
 
1971 
1975 
1980 
1984 
1988 
1990 
1992 
1994 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Total 
285.2 
285.6 
285.5 
288.8 
290.1 
290.2 
289.7 
288.1 
 
Gender 
 
 
Male
278.9 
279.7 
281.8 
283.8 
286 
284 
284.2 
281.7 
 
 
Female
291.3 
291.2 
289.2 
293.9 
293.8 
296.5 
295.7 
294.7 
 
Race/Ethnicity
 
 
White, non-Hispanic
291.4 
293 
292.8 
295.2 
294.7 
296.6 
297.4 
295.7 
 
 
Black, non Hispanic
238.7 
240.6 
243.1 
264.3 
274.4 
267.3 
260.6 
266.2 
 
 
Hispanic
 
252.4 
261.4 
268.1 
270.8 
274.8 
271.2 
263.2 
 
Parents Education
 
 
Less than high school
261.3 
262.5 
262.1 
269.4 
267.4 
269.7 
270.8 
267.9 
 
 
Graduated high school
283 
281.4 
277.5 
281.2 
282 
282.9 
280.5 
276.1 
 
 
Post high school
302.2 
300.6 
298.9 
301.2 
299.5 
299.9 
298.6 
298.5 
 
Type of School 
 
 
Public
 
 
284.4 
287.2 
288.7 
288.6 
287.8 
286 
 
 
Non-Public
 
 
298.4 
303 
299.6 
311 
309.6 
306.1 
 
Note: The reading proficiency scale has a range from 0 to 500:
 
  Level 150: Simple, discrete reading tasks
  
Level 300: Understands complicated information  
  Level 200: Partial skills and understanding
  
Level 350: Learns from specialized  
reading materials
 
  Level 250: Interrelates ideas and makes generalizations
  
 
 
Source: U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),  
1994 Trends in Academic Progress. 

 

16 National Center for Education Statistics. (1994). NAEP 1992 Trends in Academic Progress. No. 23-TR01.

17 National Education Goals Panel. (1995). The National Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners 1995. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

18 NAEP has regularly been conducting assessments of U.S. students in public and private schools 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).

19 Estimates for whites and blacks exclude Hispanics of those races.

20 Parents education is not reported at age 9 because approximately a third of these students did not know their parents education level.
 

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