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Are Reading Scores Slipping? (page 2)

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Updated on Apr 13, 2010

Harvey says what we’re lacking in this country is professional development—enhanced and continuous professional development for teachers. “These are the people who are delivering the information and assessing student progress,” Harvey says. And they aren’t going to be on top of their game, he says, unless they’re continually sharing and learning from colleagues and mentors. “The goal is to reach each and every student, and we have to rely on the expertise of the teacher to make the appropriate adjustments to the curriculum,” Harvey says.

Susan Neuman, Professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan, believes it’s the curriculum that’s lacking. So lacking, she says, it’s “boring our students to death.” Neuman explains that in order to effectively engage students in a subject matter, teachers have to be able to present high-quality books—books that students are eager and excited to read. “We need more higher-level science curriculum, higher-level social studies curriculum…. You can’t read if you have nothing to read about!” she says.

Neuman, who previously served as Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education during the Bush administration, was primarily responsible for implementing NCLB. In her opinion, the modest gains on The Nation’s Report Card at the 8th grade level are most likely not a result of NCLB. “I think if this was really an effect of NCLB, we would have surely found it at grade 4,” she says. “I think that one of the things NCLB did do however—it helped focus on basic skills. What it didn’t do is, it didn’t raise the bar in terms of what is really needed to really be proficient.”

Neuman says the kinds of interventions that were initially implemented to improve reading at grade 4 were effective to some degree, but we’ve hit the ceiling in terms of what we can expect to see in gains. Now she says we need to move into the more complex and slower-growing skills such as comprehension, building background knowledge, and vocabulary.

Expectations for the development of these kinds of skills are being looked at carefully as discussions continue about reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Secretary Arne Duncan said in his March 17 testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that they are asking the states to adopt federal standards and assessments (as opposed to the current state standards), which will raise the bar and hopefully help to meet the goal of closing achievement gaps.

Visit NAEP online to read The Nation’s Report Card. The NAEP reading assessment is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and policy for NAEP is set by the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, bipartisan group of public officials, policy experts, teachers, and others.

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