Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

U. S. Fourth Graders' Informational Text Comprehension: Indicators from NAEP

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

U. S. Fourth Graders' Informational Text Comprehension: Indicators from NAEP

Article excerpt

Introduction

Closing the achievement gap between students from middle- and low-income homes has long been a goal in the United States (US) (Coleman, et al., 1966) and remains a major concern as evident in the No Child Left Behind Act (2001). To address the achievement gap, reading performance is a top priority (Bell, 2009/2010; United States Department of Education (USDE), 2002). Promising long-term trend data analyses have shown the gap between low-income and not low-income students in reading achievement narrowing in most states since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB); unfortunately, however, a sizable minority of states have shown a widening gap (e.g., at fourth grade 28% of states had a widening gap between low-income and non-low income students (Chudowsky, Chudowsky, & Kober, 2009). Moreover, although the results from these analyses suggest some progress toward the goals of NCLB, the gap in reading achievement between students from lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds is still quite large. For example, on the 2011 fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment, there was a 26-point gap (on a 500-point scale) between low-income students and their wealthier peers in public schools for literary reading and a 28-point gap for informational reading (calculated using NAEP's Data Explorer: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/dataset.aspx).

Although the achievement gap is a concern for both literary and informational reading, we focus in this study on the reading of informational texts. Elementary school students in the US performed statistically significantly lower on measures of informational reading than measures of literary reading on a recent international assessment, although this finding is not necessarily true for students worldwide. [See Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, and Foy (2007) for more information on the achievement differences of students in 40 countries.] In the US, informational texts are typically not a focus in reading instruction, particularly in the early grades (e.g., Duke, 2000; Jeong, Gaffney, & Choi, 2010; Moss, 2008; Ness, 2011). [See, however, Smith (1986) and Venezky (2000) for a view of informational text earlier in the history of US reading instruction.] But there is increasing recognition that without early exposure to this type of text, students may be unprepared to handle the unique demands of informational texts, especially exposition (Pressley, Wharton-McDonald, MistrettaHampston, & Echevarria, 1998; Williams, 2005) and may face difficulty as school tasks require them to independently comprehend these texts. As students progress through school and into the workplace, they are expected to comprehend more and more informational writing (Common Core State Standards, www.corestandards.org/thestandards; Venezky, 2000; White, Chen, & Forsyth, 2010), particularly in textbooks (Chambliss & Calfee, 1998) and on standardized tests (Calkins, Montgomery, Santman, & Falk, 1998; Flood & Lapp, 1986: National Assessment Governing Board, 2008). The expository structures in textbooks and standardized tests can be challenging for many students, as exposition contains structures and features that differ from those found in narrative texts (Chambliss & Calfee, 1998). Thus, without early experiences, students may not have the skills and strategies needed to understand these texts.

In this study, we focus on fourth grade, which may be a particularly important juncture for examining informational reading. In her description of the stages of reading development, Chall (1983, 1996) noted that it is at about the fourth grade that children must deal with school reading tasks that increasingly move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." As this shift in reading demands occurs, children must move beyond stories and relatively familiar vocabulary to deal with unfamiliar vocabulary and expository text structures. …

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