Proof Points: Why reading comprehension is deteriorating

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By Jill Barshay

When national test scores revealed a significant decline in reading performance in 2019, pundits jumped in with explanations, from new Common Core standards to school funding cuts. Serious scholars are starting to dig into the data. Researchers at the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit research organization, are looking at how daily reading behavior has been changing in the digital age. 
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Key Findings 
  • Eighth graders are reading less and enjoying reading less. 

  • Nationally, those who read more scored higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) but, in a state-by-state analysis, there was no correlation between reading habits and attitudes and reading comprehension. 

  • International surveys aren’t yet showing that U.S. students are reading less or enjoying reading less than they had in the past. 

Parent Takeaway 
  • Reading is still important. Reading expert Elena Forzani recommends allowing your child to read whatever they want to, even if it feels like a below-grade-level story, because your child will be more motivated to read. 
Teacher Takeaway 
  • The drop in book reading at home may not explain falling reading scores. Another reason could be the way that schools teach reading to struggling students. 
Lit Review 
  1. Hooper, M., Bai, Y., Correa, S., Straus, S.  Declining Reading Culture? Analysis of NAEP 2017-2019 Results on Reading Habits and Attitudes. Presented at AERA 2021 Annual Meeting 
  2. Hooper, Martin. (March 2020) “Troubling trends: An international decline in attitudes toward reading” International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) 
  3. OECD (2021), 21st-Century Readers: Developing Literacy Skills in a Digital World, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. 
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