professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Really? Really?

The recent NAEP report on reading is out. As always, there is a ton of data to wade through. Bottom line, though, reading scores for high school kids have remained relatively flat over a long period of time: "Results from previous NAEP reading assessments show students who read for fun more frequently had higher average scores. Results from the 2012 long-term trend assessment also reflect this pattern. At all three ages, students who reported reading for fun almost daily or once or twice a week scored higher than did students who reported reading for fun a few times a year or less." The blog USED BOOKS IN CLASS ( discusses the impact of reading outside the classroom, reading for pleasure, as one way of addressing flat scores. This is nothing new. We have known for decades that reading aloud, reading for pleasure, providing time for reading, and other components of the real reading classroom have positive effects.

What is interesting here is that scores are not really increasing despite all the push, all the teaching to the test of NCLB. My guess is the same will be true of RttT and CCSS and all the other "programs" as well. Here is the chart for 13 year olds indicating the percentage who read on their own for fun. Data from the most recent test is the darkest shade, the 2008 lighter and the 1984 the lightest. Asterisks indicate significant differences.

13 yo NAEP

Note that the percentages of kids who read almost every day or a couple of times a week shrank from 35% to about 25% over the years from 1984 to 2012. At the same time, of course, the kids who reported reading seldom to never increased from under 10% in 1984 to nearly 25% by 2012. The statistics for 17 year olds is almost identical as seen here:

NAEP indep rdg

So, what have we been doing? Not creating a nation of lifelong readers, for sure. Rather we are building a nation of kids who eschew reading for fun, for pleasure, for anything that is not assigned. How is this getting them college or career reading? In an article written in 1984 (the same year as the NAEP data gathered in the charts here), Connie Epstein asked Ivy League English programs which books kids should come to college already having read (link to article here: Basically, there was little agreement about specific titles. What Epstein did hear from those surveyed was that college folks would love getting kids who still loved to read, that teachers would be better served assigning grades for reading by the pound than for reading specific canonical texts. I have lived by this "reading by the pound" precept for some time. While I think it is important that my grad students know something about evaluating literature for adolescents (and children), I do emphasize reading more than analysis.

It comes back to the engagement issue. I would rather have students who love reading than students who have read a handful of the good books. When I taught undergrad classes, I was always blown away by the number of students who either did not like to read or who were unable to list their favorite books from childhood. I still see that from time to time as students share their reading autobiography. Why become a teacher or a librarian if reading is not something you love right now.

I have an ancillary concern here as well: kids who are not reading for pleasure will eventually move on, marry, and perhaps rear families. Where are the models of literacy for the next generation if we are so concerned on college and career readiness that we lose focus on the importance of reading for pleasure? Where are the standards for being a good parent, one who reads to her kids, one who buys books for his child, one who takes her or his kids to the library, to author signings, etc? P. David Pearson said it best many years ago when he said we will be able to grow a nation of kids who can pass tests but who will not read for pleasure. Which is the greater loss? A few points on PISA or some other test that compares apples and carrots? Or losing an entire generation of readers?
Tags: naep, pleasure, reading
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