Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

It’s report card time again, and U.S. reading achievement shows no improvement. National reading scores dipped for fourth and eighth graders this year, according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. Only one third of U.S. 4th and 8th graders are proficient readers. Not excellent or strong, mind you. Just competent, able to get by.

Mississippi was the only state in the union to post reading gains. We should applaud its improved literacy training for K-3 teachers, increased funding for literacy coaches, and raised academic standards. Still, the state’s not exactly excelling. A 2013 Mississippi law that holds children in the third grade until they meet end-of-the year reading standards helped fourth-grade scores by keeping struggling readers out of the test pool. And even with that, its reading scores remain below the national average.

Administered since 1969, the NAEP is the largest ongoing and nationally representative measure of student knowledge and skill that we have. Unfortunately, the reading assessment, launched in 1992, shows (decade after decade) that a minority of students meet grade-level reading expectations.

This year, two-thirds of the nearly 294,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students who took the test couldn’t locate information that’s stated in a text, infer the main ideas of an article, explain the theme of a story, or evaluate a text from multiple perspectives. Wow.

We, as a nation, have made no progress in improving literacy over the last few decades. The majority of U.S. students have limited reading skill. Worse still, the latest scores reveal that our lowest-performing students—those with scores in the 10th and 25th percentiles—are worse readers than the lowest performers ten years ago.

The bottom line for parents? Don’t assume that your child will get the reading instruction they need to thrive in school. Most children don’t.

Had you heard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress before? Were you surprised by the latest findings? What do you think we need to do to improve reading scores?

Parents Beware Instruction In The US Still Fails Most Kids

Sources and Further Reading







Seidenberg, Mark, “Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t And What Can Be Done About It,” (New York: Basic Books, 2017). Chapter 10: How Well Does America Read? offers a clear and compelling analysis of the assessment, its research methods, the validity of its results, and implications for teaching.