Reading Scores on National Exam Decline

Posted by Cassandra Sanchez on November 15, 2019

Distressing news about falling national reading scores is once again making waves across the country. Reading scores on The 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) fell across the nation (Camera, 2019; Green & Goldstein, 2019). This decline impacted nearly every state across the country at a middle school and elementary school level (Adely, 2019; Barshay, 2019; Green & Goldstein, 2019).

The Results

Compared to the last time the NAEP was administered in 2017, the average eighth grade reading NationalExamscore declined in over half the states, while the average fourth grade score declined across 17 states (Camera, 2019; Green & Goldstein, 2019). Declines were consistent across a variety of population subgroups (Camera, 2019). Two-thirds of students did not meet reading proficiency (Green & Goldstein, 2019). Even the scores of the top performing students have stagnated (Green & Goldstein, 2019). One cause of this decline is the students’ ability to read literary and academic texts (Green & Goldstein, 2019). Leading federal statisticians viewed these drops as substantial and concerning (Barshay, 2019). This is part of a concerning downward trend since the 1990s when the NAEP began collecting this data (Barshay, 2019).

At the fourth grade level, reading proficiency decreased from 37 percent in 2017 to 35 percent (Green & Goldstein, 2019). The national average in fourth grade reading fell to 219 (Adely, 2019). New Jersey’s six-point drop in fourth grade reading was the largest in the country (Green & Goldstein, 2019).

At the eighth grade level, reading proficiency slipped from 36 percent to 34 percent (Green & Goldstein, 2019).Eighth grade students who scored at the bottom ten percent of reading proficiency scored on average six points lower than the bottom ten percent of students in 2017 scored (Green & Goldstein, 2019). Losses were less extreme at the middle and top ten, where students only lost between one and three points than their counterparts in 2017 (Green & Goldstein, 2019). Students lost at all levels.

Why These Results Matter

The NAEP is a test administered to 600,000 fourth and eighth grade students across the country by the National Center for Education Statistics (Barshay, 2019; Green & Goldstein, 2019). Students from public and private schools from each state and Washington D. C. are included in the exam (Camera, 2019). The exam is more challenging than state-level standardized tests like the NJSLA (Green & Goldstein, 2019). It is the only national exam in the United States (Barshay, 2019).

What We Can Do About It

Parents of students of all ages need to take action to combat this decline. Literacy expert Catherine Snow of the Harvard Graduate School of Education recommends educators integrate foundational reading skills, particularly phonics, into engaging lessons (Green & Goldstein, 2019). At Reading Genie, we teach reading through phonics throughout the student’s time in the program so they are always ready to meet the challenge of a new word. Students are exposed to blends, digraphs, and vowel combinations earlier than they are in the public school system.

It goes beyond phonics skills. Students need to be intrinsically motivated to read and succeed. Math Genie’s programs are designed to help foster a student’s intrinsic motivation. Parents can help their children develop a love of learning and reading by modeling the desired behaviors and reading with their children from a young age. Engaging with stories at home can help prepare students to understand literary texts as they get older.

Parents and educators can help children improve their literacy skills. It is our obligation to help them succeed, not just to pass a test but to ensure they have the necessary skills to thrive in this world.


Adely, H. (2019). New Jersey earns top marks on 'Nation's Report Card,' despite decline in test scores. [Web]. Retrieved from

Barshay, J. (2019). U.S. education achievement slides backwards. [Web]. Retrieved from Camera, L. (2019). Across the board, scores drop in math and reading for u.s. students. [Web]. Retrieved from

Green, E. L., & Goldstein, D. (2019). Reading scores on national exam decline in half the states [Web]. Retrieved from


Topics: Reading, Motivation, Education, Standardized Testing, Reading Comprehension, Testing Dates, Better Reading, Child Improvement, Public Education, Early Education, Better Education, National Standards, Test Anxiety, New Jersey, Reading Genie, Phonics, intrinsic, exam, proficiency, decline, united states, blending, digraph

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