Monday, November 19, 2007

National Endowment for the Arts issues alarming report on reading

Click on the title to this post to go to the New York Times for an article about the release today of a new study from the NEA that shows that across all age groups and economic levels, reading for pleasure is dropping off dramatically. The article correlates this pleasure reading with general levels of skill in reading, and other skills such as in math and science.

Among the findings is that although reading scores among elementary school students have been improving, scores are flat among middle school students and slightly declining among high school seniors. These trends are concurrent with a falloff in daily pleasure reading among young people as they progress from elementary to high school, a drop that appears to continue once they enter college. The data also showed that students who read for fun nearly every day performed better on reading tests than those who reported reading never or hardly at all.

The study also examined results from reading tests administered to adults and found a similar trend: The percentage of adults who are proficient in reading prose has fallen at the same time that the proportion of people who read regularly for pleasure has declined.

In 2004, the NEA released a report,
Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline - 28 percent - occurring in the youngest age groups.

The study also documents an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, representing a loss of 20 million potential readers. The rate of decline is increasing and, according to the survey, has nearly tripled in the last decade. (snip)
(from the NEA press release accompanying the 2004 report) At the NEA web page you will be able to download a PDF of this older report. or you can purchase it. This report was based on a census question that asked about reading in several categories: fiction, poetry and drama. The report was cricized by some as being too narrow. The new report combines about two dozen other studies, including federal reports and private foundations' work. See the NEA page here that announces the new report and has some links and information about it. You can either download a PDF of the report or an executive summary of it, or buy them here,

These are our future students we are reading about, which certainly alarms me. Reading skills underlie a great deal that we take for granted with law students. Being able to keep up with the daily assignments for class, and being able to think about what they read are key to the way we teach law school. If our upcoming students can no longer be assumed to come with strong reading skills, we will certainly have to rethink the way we teach.

The Times article does note that already scholars are taking issue with the alarming new report:
Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, said that based on his analysis of other data, reading was not on the decline. He added that the endowment appeared to be exaggerating the decline in reading scores and said that according to federal education statistics, the bulk of decreases in 12th-grade reading scores had occurred in the early 1990s, and that compared with 1994 average reading scores in 2005 were only one point lower.

Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association and a professor of urban education and reading at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested that the endowment’s report was not nuanced enough. “I don’t disagree with the N.E.A.’s notion that reading is important, but I’m not as quick to discount the reading that I think young people are really doing,” he said, referring to reading on the Internet. He added, “I don’t think the solutions are as simple as a report like this might be encouraging folks to think they might be.”

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