Why reading test scores flatten out in 12th grade

Oct 10, 2013 by

ed hirschBy E. D. Hirsch, Jr. –

The strong protests against constant testing are a reaction mainly against the mindless test-prep associated with reading tests, and the resulting neglect of substantive education. Math tests, which are based on an actual curriculum, aren’t the main issue. Prepping for them usually helps improve math proficiency. But prepping for reading tests has had only a short-term effect, and hasn’t helped reading ability in the long run.

If you look at recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,which is sometimes referred to as the “nation’s report card,” you will see that there’s a gentle boost in reading scores for grades 4 and 8, but not for 17 year olds. That’s the age when verbal ability counts for ultimate life chance — “career and college readiness,” as it’s currently put. The reading proficiency of high school seniors has not budged since the great verbal decline of the 1970s, which was well documented by drops in scores on the SAT, ACT, and Iowa Tests of Educational Development.

So, why haven’t the short-term early boosts in grades 4 and 8 translated into better verbal scores in grade 12? Reading tests in later grades are more knowledge-intensive than the tests in the early grades. Emphasis on phonics (which has improved early reading) plus test-prep aren’t enough to do well on these later tests, which require broad knowledge and vocabulary. Scholars of the subject (including the late great reading researcher Jeanne Chall) showed that 12th-grade scores declined in the 1970s and stayed flat, because of a narrowing of the school curriculum.

via Why reading test scores flatten out in 12th grade.

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