Study shows decrease in reading skills among high school seniors

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (U-WIRE) – The National Center for Education Statistics recently released a study that shows a nationwide decrease in high school seniors’ reading proficiency since 1992.

The study, titled “The Nation’s Report Card,” examined transcripts from a sample of 21,000 high school seniors from 900 schools across the country and compared them to students’ performances on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The NAEP test is “a broad-stroke snapshot based on what experts believe students should know and do in a particular subject,” said Stephanie Germeraad, National Assessment Governing Board public affairs specialist.

The study shows that the percentage of high school seniors reading at or above the level designated “proficient” has fallen from 40 percent in 1992 to 35 percent in 2005.

“The bottom line that we found was that while it appears that high school students seem to be doing all the right things in school, (such as) taking tougher courses, getting better grades and earning more credits during their time in high school, there is not a corollary increase in NAEP scores for 12th-graders,” Germeraad said.

The study also observed what Germeraad called “lackluster” mathematics scores. Germeraad added, however, that the NAEP only recently began measuring mathematics proficiency and has no data from previous years with which to compare current scores.

University of Virginia Dean of Admissions John Blackburn said the study’s findings were not apparent among students at the university.

“I would say that we have certainly not seen a decline in reading ability and in math skills at U.Va.,” Blackburn said. “If you believe in measurable standards with test scores and GPAs in high school and the number of AP courses taken, all those factors have improved here.”

Blackburn added that in looking at SAT scores since 1993, the university has seen an increase in SAT verbal and math scores among entering first-year students, as well as an increase in the percentage of students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Judy Heiman, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education for grades K-12, said the Commonwealth is consistently striving for improved academic performance, citing measures such as the Standards of Learning and Governor’s School programs as evidence of Virginia’s strong educational system.

“One project we have going right now is Commonwealth Scholars, which is a grant we received to work with 11 school divisions to encourage students to take a rigorous high school curriculum that will prepare them for college and the workplace,” Heiman said.