Findings from a new federal study suggest that U.S. schoolchildren may not improve their reading skills until they have a better grasp of basic vocabulary.
The study, out Thursday from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, looks at the vocabulary skills of students nationwide and finds that they closely track students' reading comprehension levels. For fourth-graders, for instance, the top 25% of readers turned in an average 255-point vocabulary score on a 500-point scale; meanwhile, the weakest 25% of readers scored only 177 points.
The findings represent the first time that the federal government has analyzed vocabulary in isolation, and the results show that students have a long way to go: The average fourth-grader scored 218 points in 2011, essentially unchanged from 2009. The average eighth-grader scored 265, also unchanged from 2009. Twelfth-graders' results for 2009 averaged 296 points, but the test wasn't repeated in 2011.
The results come from the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly called The Nation's Report Card.
Francie Alexander of the children's publishing house Scholastic said the results show that developing a rich vocabulary "can become a huge task for students," one that schools must take on "beginning in the earliest grades and continuing through high school." Alexander is also a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP testing. USA Today