Friday, November 30, 2007

Reading is So 20th Century

In our Nov. 20 issue of Tuesday Tidbits, we blogged about the fate of some school libraries, and the push by some parents and librarians to reclaim them. Now, coincidentally, comes a study indicating that U.S. student reading skills are stagnating or declining in comparison to their international peers.

Test results on the Progress in International Reading Literacy showed that U.S. fourth-graders are losing ground compared to other kids around the world. The test, which was administered last year, indicated that students scored at the same levels as they did in 2001, the last time the test was given. Students in 10 countries and three Canadian provinces scored higher than U.S. students. In 2001, only three countries were ahead of the U.S.

According to the Associated Press, the results also showed:
  • Among jurisdictions that took the test in 2001 and 2006, scores improved in Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Singapore, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.

  • Average test scores declined in England, Lithuania, Morocco, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden. England, the Netherlands and Sweden were the top three performers in 2001. Sweden still outperformed the United States this time, but average scores in England and the Netherlands were not measurably different from the U.S. average.

  • Girls scored higher than boys in the United States and all other countries except for Luxembourg and Spain, where the boy-girl scores were the same.

  • The average U.S. score was above the average score in 22 countries or jurisdictions and about the same as the score in 12 others. The U.S. average fell toward the high end of a level called "intermediate." At that level, a student can identify central events, plot sequences and relevant story details in texts. The student also can make straightforward inferences from what is read and begin to make connections across parts of the text.
Tracy Warner, the editorial page editor for The Wenatchee World, wrote this interesting piece ("Reading we mostly don't") about what the scores might say about our students and our culture in America. In it, he references a telling analysis of reading habits completed by the National Endowment for the Arts. "To Read or Not To Read" looked at 40 studies on the reading habits and skills of children, teens and adults. Among their key findings:
  • Americans are reading less - teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.
  • Americans are reading less well – reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.
  • The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.
What do you think about the results? Are students in your schools less interested in reading for pleasure these days?

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