Academic journal article High School Journal

Trapped in a Cycle of Low Expectations: An Exploration of High School Seniors' Perspectives about Academic Reading

Academic journal article High School Journal

Trapped in a Cycle of Low Expectations: An Exploration of High School Seniors' Perspectives about Academic Reading

Article excerpt

Reports show that the reading proficiency scores for 17-year-olds have stagnated over the past several decades. In this study, the authors explored older students' academic reading perceptions that might suggest links to proficiency. What do high school seniors really think about class reading? Do they understand what they read? How do they view teacher support for content reading? A quarter of the senior class of one mid-sized high school responded to open-ended questions such as these as well as a Likert-style reading attitude survey. Additionally, the teachers of the student study sample were interviewed about their students" reading behaviors and attitudes. Data revealed that these seniors largely felt confident in their class reading abilities despite the fact that most said they did not do much reading either for school or recreationally. Seniors also reported a lower tolerance for reading long periods of time and showed little preference for reading informational texts. Yet most participants planned to go to college and felt positively about the challenges presented by college-level reading. Student and teacher reports suggested both parties may be locked in a reciprocating cycle of low reading expectations that maintain student non-reading behaviors and unrealistic ideas about the skill level necessary for informational reading comprehension.


With increasing demands for higher levels of literacy and the national focus on the Common Core standards, students' critical reading of informational texts has moved front and center as an education and curriculum issue. However, despite such mandates, the reading proficiency scores for high school seniors dropped again this year according to the SAT report on college and career readiness (The SAT Report, 2012). The report revealed that the graduating class of 2012 scored lower in critical reading than in 2011, indicating a downward trend as the past several years of students scored four points lower than in 2008. The 2011 ACT reading benchmark report also showed no improvement in reading scores since the previous year with only about half of students (52%) at reading benchmarks set for college readiness (ACT College and Career Readiness Report, 2011). The findings from both reports align with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend report, which showed that 17-year-olds' reading proficiency has remained stagnant over the past several decades (The Nation's Report Card, 2011).

Although we know high school students' reading proficiency is a concern for the educational community at large, do students and their content teachers see reading proficiency as a problem? What do they really think of class reading and reading instruction? What is the connection between academic reading attitudes and proficiency for older students? These are some of the questions we investigated in this exploratory study. High school seniors in their American Government class responded to two measures: open-ended questions and a survey about class reading. Their three government teachers were interviewed about class reading. Although previous content reading research has focused on teacher instruction or the reading attitudes of younger students, this study examined older students' attitudes and perceptions of academic reading as they readied themselves for college and/or careers.

Literature Review

Reading Expectations for Older Students

The Carnegie Foundation report entitled Reading in the Disciplines: The Challenge of Adolescent Literacy (Lee & Spratley, 2010) discussed the complex content area reading processes and skills that students are expected to master on their path to reading proficiency. The authors noted that reading comprehension is a result of dynamic interactions among knowledge, strategies, goals and dispositions of students. Further, they stated that although various disciplines require specialized vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies, there are certain generic reading strategies across the disciplines, such as pre-reading, questioning the text, and predicting, that lead students to become more proficient disciplinary readers. …

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