Reading scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students held mostly steady last year, continuing a trend of minimal improvement across most racial, economic and geographic groups.
Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federally funded achievement tests, rose in two states and the District of Columbia in grade four and in nine states for grade eight in 2009. Overall, the fourth-grade average remained unchanged while eighth graders rose one point.
The average score for both grades was only four points higher than it was in 1992.
"Today's results once again show that the achievement of American students isn't growing fast enough," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Like the NAEP 2009 math scores released last fall, the reading scores demonstrate that students aren't making the progress necessary to compete in the global economy."
Fourth-grade math scores flattened last year, and eighth-grade scores improved two points, scores that were considered stagnant compared to years of dramatic improvements; there has been a 27 point increase overall for fourth grade students since 1990. By contrast, those leaps have never been seen in reading.
"I really think that there are tremendous implications for the quality of teaching and the development of school leadership to make sure we have high performing schools across the country," said Steven Paine, superintendent of West Virginia schools and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests.
The test results come eight years after the enactment of the No Child Left Behind law championed by President George W. Bush, which set a goal for every student to read and do math at grade level by 2014. In 2009, just 33 percent of fourth-grade and 32 percent of eighth-grade students scored at the proficient level in reading.
President Barack Obama is urging states to turn around low performing schools with one of four intervention models and providing billions in funding through competitive grants aimed at spurring reform in education, and attempting to pass reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The proposal would dismantle No Child Left Behind, moving away from punishing schools that don't meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress.
"There's no magic bullet in all of this," said David Gordon, a governing board member and superintendent of Sacramento County schools. "I don't think any project or program is going to create improved performance. I think it's back to the basics. I think it's good teaching and good leadership in schools which produces improved student performance."
Fourth-grade students scored 221 on average out of a 500-point scale. Eighth-graders posted an average of 264.
The average score of fourth-grade students declined in four states: Alaska, Iowa, New Mexico and Wyoming.
"We should celebrate the improvements our eighth-graders made, but our seemingly stalled progress at the elementary level is discouraging," Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, said in a statement. "Our country cannot afford to fall into an academic recession while we