I blogged several days ago about the major problem of too many elementary school teachers across the country not really knowing how to teach reading properly. According to reports from both Forbes and American Public Media (APM), years after the “Reading Wars” were supposedly settled, far too many of today’s teachers and the education schools that train them at best remain oblivious to what is required for high quality reading instruction.
Even worse, not a few of these educators consciously chose to ignore a whole lot of scientific research that shows which reading instruction approaches are best for students. Instead, these misguided educators cling to a warped, faith-belief system about how to teach reading instead of doing the right thing for kids.
I also pointed to evidence from Kentucky’s performance on the Grade 4 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading Assessment that indicates that problems Forbes and APM found nationwide most definitely appear to be an issue in the Bluegrass State because the reading performance for the state’s two dominant racial groups is obviously problematic.
Today, I expand on the real picture the NAEP provides about reading in Kentucky’s schools because Bluegrass State residents have been hearing from various sources that Kentucky performs above the national average for reading. Let’s finally put to rest that false notion about Kentucky’s reading performance by examining a race-by-race comparison of national and Kentucky scores from the 2017 Grade 4 NAEP reading assessment. The proficiency rate data in the graphic below come from the NAEP Data Explorer and cover all the racial groups NAEP considers for its trends over time reporting (exception, the American Indian/Alaska Native group is not shown because Kentucky has too few students in this racial group to get a report of their scores).
Here is how this national public school versus Kentucky proficiency rate comparison for 2017 NAEP Grade 4 reading looks:
Notice that – except for Hispanic students, who only comprised about seven percent of the Grade 4 enrollment in Kentucky in 2017 – no racial group from Kentucky outscored their national public school counterparts’ NAEP averages – not one.
In fact, all of the Kentucky rates are slightly lower, but except for whites not statistically significantly lower, than the national averages for these racial groups. Clearly, the state does not outperform in Grade 4 reading on the NAEP.
To reiterate, while only the white proficiency rate difference in the graphic above is considered statistically significant due to fairly large statistical sampling errors in NAEP scores for the other races, in no case can it be claimed Kentucky outscored the national average. In fact, after considering the sampling error, even Kentucky’s rather large apparent advantage for Hispanics actually becomes nothing more than a blurry statistical tie, too.
Thus, those claims you’ve been hearing that Kentucky moved ahead of the rest of the nation for Grade 4 reading on NAEP don’t reflect the current situation. Kentucky certainly does no better, and for the state’s largest student racial group, its whites, who make up about four out of five Kentucky students tested by NAEP in 2017, the Bluegrass State is doing worse.
Returning to the topic in my recent blog about how many kids don’t get proper reading instruction in this country, don’t for an instant think Kentucky is somehow doing better. The NAEP, properly analyzed, implies that problems with inappropriate reading instruction are widely found in Kentucky, too. And, when not even one in two Kentucky white fourth graders scores proficient or better in reading, this is a big problem indeed.
Which brings me to a point Jim Waters makes in his current weekly column. Since the Kentucky Legislature is ultimately responsible for education, it is high time for the Kentucky Legislature to get involved with this major problem. That process could start with the legislature’s Office of Education Accountability taking a serious look at reading instruction in Kentucky. A few questions that should be asked:
- How many of our Ed Schools (if any) do an appropriate job of teaching reading?
- What proportion of Kentucky’s teachers know how to teach phonics properly?
- How many teachers and schools stress the importance of putting phonics first in their sequence of reading instruction?
Once we get answers to questions like these, we can start to fix things for our kids.
By the way, Forbes and American Public Media say a better reading program is happening right now in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Office of Education Accountability should check that out for their study, too.