Declining Reading Proficiency in High School Students

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

An incredible stat has been announced. “The number of high school seniors who read at or above “Proficient” has been declining since 1992, according to the NAEP reading test” (NCES, 2002). That's over the last twenty plus years. It hasn't taken a century or two. It has taken just over two decades to see rapid decline in reading ability.

What is going on in our society that has caused this? Why are our children’s reading skills declining so fast? We need to find out so we can correct it.

The Decline

Our government is passing more laws to improve the education of our children, but the results are not what they expected. Many sit perplexed as to what is happening, but I might be able to shed some light onto it.

Schools are seeing severe issues with reading comprehension. Test scores are suffering. It has been noted that "between 10% to 16% of those aged from five to 16 years will have reading difficulties." (https://theconversation.com/schools-need-advice-on-how-to-help-students-with-reading-difficulties-51399) That might sound small, but it is not. That means in a room of 100 students, 10-16 of them can't read as well as they should.

Tests! Tests!

When my oldest child was in grade school, her math grades were poor and she was having to do so much homework at night which for her age was ridiculous. When we spoke to the teacher, she said that in math class they were not studying math. Instead they were going to the library to read because reading scores had been down the previous year. What? Next year their math scores will be. And they were. Then the shift in the classroom moved to math. Ever hear of insanity? That’s what the educational system has become.

We are too focused on test results. When we see something is low, we jump on it while leaving all the other areas behind. Then the results swing to the abandoned subjects. Geez! What are we doing? Please use common sense, folks!

Reading and other subjects are seriously getting lost in the rush to meet the latest government education initiative. Reading should be a part of every subject. After all, you have to read to learn it, right? Then why isn’t reading being incorporated into other subjects?

Another reason could be the excess number of standardized tests given to students. My husband is a teacher. He complains endlessly about how he can’t teach the kids anything because they are always being tested. Then they don’t meet the goals set to them by the state. The mandates of the educational system are the reason for the low reading levels. It’s a never ending circle of failure that is only going to get worse.

Value of Literacy

The ability to read is the foundation to communicate with other people. Without it, communication falls apart and we are left trying to communicate without coherent words. Businesses would be failing. People would be in court all the time. Literacy keeps our economic world moving forward, our political world fun to watch, and everyone on the same page.

The less our children can read, the more trouble they and society will find themselves in. Advancements in technology will decline as people cannot communicate issues, ideas, and achievements.


What the Future Holds

What does this say for the future? It is a scary thought. The children who will lead this world are growing up without the ability to lead it. Their abilities are already narrowed. Are we hurting ourselves by not educating our children properly?

What will our world be like if the leaders can't understand a legal document? What if they can't understand historical documents that impact today? How can they communicate effectively when they are adults and are in charge of the world?

How to Fix It

I don't know if there is a one solution answer to this. It will take everyone being on the same page. It will take trial and error. It would take people willing to work for a solution and be willing to have an open mind.

Reading would have to be encouraged everywhere. It would have to be more than just having reading time. It would be showing reading to be fun and not a chore.

What ideas do you have? We have a problem. What are we going to do to fix it?


Questions & Answers

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      • letstalkabouteduc profile image

        McKenna Meyers 6 months ago from Bend, OR

        As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I'm not surprised in the least. People who don't know anything about childhood development and education are making the calls—politicians, bureaucrats, tech leaders. Children in kindergarten are now put in reading groups and drilled about letters, sounds, blends, and sight words even though there's no research that shows early reading is beneficial. They get turned off to it at an early age and don't want to read for pleasure and knowledge. Parents are so thrilled when their little ones use technology because they think it will prepare them for high-paying careers. But their kids are losing their ability to use their imaginations, be creative, and interact with one another.

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