Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  National Measures of Achievement
 
Trends in Basic Reading Skills among School-Age Children
(Updated January 2016)

Reading competency—a fundamental humanities skill—is closely associated with educational and career success. Given their value, skills in reading are among the most tested and closely examined in the schools, with the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend assessment (LTT) providing a useful measure of the changes in student performance from 1971 to 2012.

Please note: While the share of students scoring at a particular LTT performance level may change from year to year, this change is not necessarily statistically significant (i.e., the possibility that the observed change is due to differences in the samples of students tested and not to differences in student ability cannot be ruled out). The supporting table that accompanies each indicator (accessible via the MS Excel icons below the graphs) indicates whether the 2012 percentages are statistically significantly different from those for earlier assessment years.

Findings and Trends

  • Of the three age groups assessed, the youngest students experienced the greatest gains from 1971 to 2012. In the latter year, 74% of nine-year-olds—up 15 percentage points from 1971—demonstrated at least partially developed reading skills (Indicator I-1a).
  • In 2012, 96% of nine-year-old students demonstrated the ability to perform simple, discrete reading tasks associated with the most basic performance level—the same as in 2008. This percentage is the highest recorded over the time period beginning in 1971 and reflects an increase of five percentage points above the 1971 share of basic-level performers. After remaining static for approximately three decades, the percentage of students scoring at the highest performance level (demonstrating the ability to interrelate ideas and make generalizations), began to rise after 1999, with the share increasing six percentage points to 22%.
  • From 1971 to 2004, scores among 13-year-olds changed relatively little, with the exception of a four percentage point uptick in the share of high performers (those demonstrating the ability to understand complicated information) from 1990 to 1992 (Indicator I-1b). But more recent years have seen gains in reading performance for early adolescents. From 2004 to 2012, the percentage of 13-year-old students scoring at each of the performance levels increased, although the increase was statistically significant from 2008 to 2012 only at the intermediate level (the ability to interrelate ideas and make generalizations), where the percentage increased from 63% to 66%.
  • In the most recent assessment year, 94% of 13-year-olds displayed at least partially developed reading skills and understanding (the basic performance level for this age). (The percentage demonstrating this achievement level has fluctuated by only three percentage points over the 40 years of testing.) Only 15% demonstrated the ability to understand complicated information.
  • For 17-year-olds, the percentage of students demonstrating the ability to interrelate ideas and make generalizations (the basic performance level for this age) rose from 79% in 1971 to a high of 86% in 1988. Subsequently, however, this trend reversed, with scores falling back to the 1971 level by the early 2000s and remaining there through 2012 (Indicator I-1c).
  • The trend in midlevel performance among 17-year-olds (demonstrated by an ability to understand complicated literary and informational passages) was similar: an increase followed by reversion to the original level of 39% in 2008 and 2012. The share of students leaving high school with the ability to extend and restructure ideas drawn from specialized or complex texts (competencies associated with the highest performance level) was 6% in 2012, having not changed by a statistically significant amount since the assessment was first administered in 1971.
I-1a: Reading Performance of Nine-Year-Olds as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trend Assessment, 1971–2012*

* See this indicator’s supporting table for information as to which year-to-year changes are statistically significant.
** Data for years 2004 and later are based on a revised assessment. See https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/howdevelop.aspx for an overview of the differences between the original and revised assessments.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, NCES 2012-456 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012), 15 fig. 6.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indI-1a.xls../cmsData/ppt/indI-1a.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indI-1a.pdf
I-1b: Reading Performance of 13-Year-Olds as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trend Assessment, 1971–2012*

* See this indicator’s supporting table for information as to which year-to-year changes are statistically significant.
** Data for years 2004 and later are based on a revised assessment. See https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/howdevelop.aspx for an overview of the differences between the original and revised assessments.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, NCES 2012-456 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012), 15 fig. 6.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indI-1b.xls../cmsData/ppt/indI-1b.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indI-1b.pdf
I-1c: Reading Performance of 17-Year-Olds as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trend Assessment, 1971–2012*

* See this indicator’s supporting table for information as to which year-to-year changes are statistically significant.
** Data for years 2004 and later are based on a revised assessment. See https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/howdevelop.aspx for an overview of the differences between the original and revised assessments.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, NCES 2012-456 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012), 15 fig. 6.

About this DataRelated Indicators
../cmsData/xls/indI-1c.xls../cmsData/ppt/indI-1c.ppt../cmsData/pdf/indI-1c.pdf