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Education Reporter

NAEP Shows More Reading Woes 
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WASHINGTON, DC - The Nation's Report Card released June 20 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows a significant decline in 12th graders' basic reading skills. The average reading scores of high school seniors have dropped in virtually every level of expertise since 1998. Only one in four 12th graders reads at a "basic" level. Other 12th-grade test results reveal failing scores in math and science.

The NAEP report also showed that high school boys performed significantly worse on the test than girls. Nationwide, only about 28% of 12th-grade boys could read at a proficient level, compared to 44% of girls. "Over the past decade, the reading achievement of male high school seniors had fallen more steeply than among female students," announced Mark R. Musick, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and president of the South Regional Educational Board.

To score as proficient, students must exhibit an overall understanding of the text, providing inferential as well as unvarnished information. This level was only attained by 36% of the nation's high school seniors, a four-percentage point plunge from 1998.

U.S Education Secretary Rod Paige stated "there is no scientific answer to why our high school seniors have performed so poorly on this reading assessment." Yet education experts stressed the pitiful foundation in the basics. "Because high schools are not well equipped to shore up those kinds of weaknesses, they show up on tests like this," commented Tom Loveless, a director at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Educational Policy.

Students in ome states, including California and Washington, D.C., ranked only slightly better than non-English speaking students in the U.S. territories of Guam, Virgin Islands and American Samoa. More than two-thirds of students tested in the District of Columbia could not demonstrate an overall understanding of what they read, despite the district's $9,650 annual per-pupil expenditure and an average teacher salary of $48,651.

Last month's announcement of declining test scores also revealed that 36% of 4th graders cannot read at a basic level. The figure is 25% for whites, 56% for Latinos, and 60% for blacks.

(See related article, Redefining Literacy.)

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