Wednesday, March 24, 2010

National reading scores staying the same while math and science scores rise

Last night, my husband and I had a rather heated discussion over politics -- rare, since we usually agree about them.  He was reading Mitt Romney's book, No Apologies, and said that the US needs to push math and science in schools, even to the detriment of other programs like arts, physical education, and social sciences, to keep the United States at the top of global power.

Being more of a bookish person myself, I told him that if I had been pushed into math and science, with my other programs either taken away or hardly funded, I would have been a rather unhappy student and maybe even a drop-out.

This morning I stumbled across this article that came out today in the New York Times saying that while math and science scores have risen tremendously over the last couple of years, reading scores have pretty much stayed exactly the same.

On average, eighth-graders scored 264 on a 500-point scale in reading, compared with 263 in 2007, the last time the test was given. Fourth-graders scored 221 on the 2009 test, the same average as two years earlier... Math scores, in contrast, rose 20 points for eighth graders and 27 points for fourth graders from 1990 to 2009; the 19-year increase means that fourth graders on average in 2009 knew about two and a half years’ more math than their fourth-grade counterparts did in 1990.
Looks like my husband's getting what he wants.  But why the disparity?  The article gives one explanation:
Susan Pimentel, an expert on English and reading standards who is a member of the governing board that oversees the test, said that American schools were fairly efficient at teaching basic reading skills in the early grades, but that as students matured they need to be consistently challenged to broaden those skills by reading not only complex literature but also sophisticated nonfiction in subjects like history and science.
Of course, it's wonderful that math and science scores are improving and that at least reading scores aren't dropping, but why isn't it rising at the same level?  What do you think about the education system and reading?  How could it improve?