In early October, test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP – or the “Nation’s Report Card”) were released and analyzed. According to The Washington Post, when Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, viewed the scores, in shock, she instructed her employees to go back and make sure they were correct. Her concern? Alarmingly, scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year olds; in fact these scores registered the first actual drop (not just stagnation) in 50 years! (Reading scores dropped from 263 to 260, a statistically significant decline). Of even more concern is the fact these scores reveal pre-Covid results!
Immediately, educators chimed in, with Carissa Moffat Miller, CEO of the Council of Chief State School Officers stating: “We are disappointed to see that scores have stagnated or dropped since 2012, and we are particularly concerned to see that results among the lowest-performing students have dropped.”
Any indication as to causation? Yes! As Peggy Carr also stated: “Something different is happening from the side of the students and what they are actually doing to build their skill level in reading. Students who say they don’t read for fun score lower on the tests.”
As proof, consider these additional statistics from NAEP:
1). In 1984, 9 percent of 9-year-olds said reading for fun was rare. That rose to 11 percent in 2012 and to 16 percent in 2020.
2). Among 13-year-olds, in 1984, 8 percent said they never or hardly ever read for fun, rising to 22 percent in 2012 and 29 percent in 2020.
We have a crisis on our hands! Once these 13-year-olds are out of school, nearly 1/3rd of them will not have developed healthy reading habits. Think of the consequences: 33% of the population remaining ill-informed and unable to comprehend literature needed for one’s life work, major decisions (such as voting, major purchases, medical care), and/or relating with others (empathy developed from reading fictional works). One can only imagine the “Dark Ages” that will result (significant increases in poverty, crime, political unrest, environmental devastation, and even more medical crises).
Certainly, it remains PAST-TIME to train, recruit, and staff professional positions which encourage reading for fun! Perhaps state and local governments should fund this effort before all other social programs! Perhaps universities should now place their focus on school library and reading programs, rather than new media or game design! Perhaps as a society, we should pay all heed to READING TIME, rather than half-time!