When the Nation's Report Card for grade school math and reading was released, the adjectives describing the overall lack of upward momentum in reading scores were: lackluster, flat, stagnant and stalled. It's too bad there aren't better words to depict the students' struggle to keep up in the face of difficult circumstances.
Even so, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that fourth- and eighth-grade students posted their highest scores to date in math since 1990. Reading was a different story. Only one-third of all students demonstrated proficient or higher levels in reading.
There were some small achievements, however. When broken out into groups that were either not eligible for free lunch or were eligible for reduced or free lunch, the fourth-graders scored two hard-won points higher than in 2009. Among eighth-graders, lower performing, low-income, and racial and ethnic group students also made slightly greater gains overall since 1992.
But even these tiny gains are worth celebrating since getting students to read well is a major struggle involving many factors both at home and in the classroom.
First, we know that the educational attainment level of public school students' parents and their assistance in ensuring their kids' academic success play the biggest roles. But not all well-educated parents spend time reading to or with their young children or consistently model reading for pleasure at home.
While math is usually accessible to most parents at the elementary grade level, countless parents have difficulty helping their students with reading-based tasks -- a challenge compounded by the erratic way in which students from homes where more than one language is spoken are treated when it comes to English-language instruction.
English language learners are the most rapidly growing group of students in our nation's schools, 75 percent of whom, at the elementary school level, are either second-generation or third-generation U. …