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Younger students excel in reading

Ohanian Comment: Yes, it makes much more sense to credit Harry Potter than NCLB. And note that use of moribund! Yeah! Keep up the resistance. On to the revolution!

Harry Potter, higher standards or tough-as-nails elementary school teachers, but a new federal report says the typical 9-year-old in the USA now reads more each day than a 17-year-old.

The difference shows: Statistics released Thursday show that 9-year-olds' reading skills have risen since 1971, and the biggest jump has come in the past five years.

Reading skills of high schoolers have actually dipped since 1999 and are essentially unchanged in a generation.

The results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated standardized test. They show that 17-year-olds' skills actually declined in both math and reading, while the scores of younger students improved in both.

Math scores for 13-year-olds rose sharply, but their reading scores didn't.

Part of the reason for the 9-year-olds' advances might be tucked into a survey released along with the scores. It shows that 25% of elementary schoolers now read more than 20 pages a day in school and for homework, nearly double the percentage of 1984.

Meanwhile, 17-year-olds' reading habits have barely budged. Only 23% of high schoolers read 20 pages or more a day, up from 21% in 1984.

The scores also indicate that stubborn gaps in achievement between white, black and Hispanic students are beginning to shrink, at least for younger children.

For them, the difference in both reading and math scores between white and minority students shrank, but results were mixed for older students.

"We are doing something right," said U.S. Education Secretary
Margaret Spellings.

She added that the clear improvements for younger students show that elementary school reform efforts, begun in the 1990s and joined in 2002 by
President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, are bearing fruit.

"We're getting great results, and it's not a coincidence," she said in a conference call with reporters.

Others, such as National Assessment Governing Board Chairman Darvin Winnick, urged caution. He said the scores, from the 2003-04 school year, mostly came too soon to reflect No Child Left Behind, which has been implemented slowly in many states.

Winnick said elements of earlier reforms, which No Child Left Behind adopted, deserve credit. Those include a focus on honing basic skills in early grades.

"There's a lot of good news here," he said. "The young folks are doing well."

He also said high schoolers' poor showing could be caused in part by the difficulty in getting enough high schools to give the tests and getting students to take the test seriously. The scores don't go on report cards and aren't reported to parents.

Nonetheless, the stagnant scores could add new urgency to governors' attempts to reform U.S. high schools.

They could also breathe new life into Bush's moribund push to extend the reforms of No Child Left Behind into secondary schools.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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