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Press Release

A Path Forward from Disappointing 12th Grade NAEP Reading Scores

The 2013 results of American 12 graders on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are troubling, but they do more than highlight our educational weaknesses. They point to actions that are needed to improve student achievement.

Sue Pimentel, Vice Chair of the National Assessment Governing Board and co-founder of Student Achievement Partners sees a path forward: “My hope is that this deeper look at possible reasons behind the results from the latest NAEP tests will provide teachers and other educators concrete ideas for next steps about how to improve students’ performance on the next NAEP grade 12 assessment and more importantly, how to better prepare them for the rigors of college and careers.”

The 2013 NAEP results show that not only have scores stagnated since 2009, they represent a decrease in student achievement since 1992. Only 37 percent of 12th graders are proficient in reading, and recent research shows that scoring proficient is synonymous with preparedness with college and careers. Achievement gaps between different demographics of students remain at unacceptable levels, and worse, the white-black achievement gap in reading has increased by six points since 1992. The gap between English Language Learners (ELL) and non-ELL students is 53 points.

But the results also point to what can be done to improve. Looking at the contextual variables measured by this year’s NAEP, which are often overlooked in media coverage, we learn what instructional practices exist for the most successful students (as reported by the students themselves!), and likewise, what practices are missing from the educational experiences of students that struggle.

  • Students who strongly disagreed with the statement, “When I read books, I learn a lot” scored 45 points lower than students who strongly agreed with the statement.
  • Students who reported never or hardly ever discussing their interpretations of reading in class had average scores 22 points lower than those who reported doing those tasks every day or almost every day in class.
  • Likewise, students who reported never or hardly ever being asked to explain what they read had average scores 28 points lower than those who reported doing that every day or almost every day in class.

Experts have long-noted that instructional practices for ELL students may hinder achievement and produce gaps like those seen on this year’s NAEP. ELL students as well as native speakers who perform at similar levels to ELL students, rarely have the opportunity to build knowledge or read content-rich texts that genuinely interest them in fields such as science or history. They are restricted to reading low-level texts without exposure to advanced vocabulary, syntax or rich content. This practice robs them of opportunity to build their literacy skills, but also as students report themselves, they don't “learn a lot” from those texts.

Simply put, there is a strong correlation between students’ performance on NAEP and both how they feel about the usefulness of reading as well as how regularly they engage in close reading where they are asked to draw evidence from meaningful texts to support their claims and conclusions. It is clear that concentrated practice of the right sort matters.

The 2013 NAEP results demonstrate that teachers who make a conscious effort to incorporate content-rich complex texts in their instruction and regularly ask students to draw evidence from those texts are setting their students up to be high achievers. The shifts for instructional practice indicated by the research and embodied by the Common Core State Standards align with what the 2013 NAEP data tell us are necessary skills for students to be prepared for college and careers:

  • Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
  • Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  • Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction

These findings show that there are concrete actions educators can include to emulate the instruction the highest achieving students are receiving on a regular basis. Sue Pimentel believes that consistency is the key, “The data suggest that strengthening students’ reading skills through daily practice of these tasks—asking 12th grade students (and students of all ages) to write and talk regularly about the challenging, content-rich texts they read—matters and matters a lot.”


Student Achievement Partners is a non-profit organization that assembles educators and researchers to design strategies based on evidence that will substantially improve student achievement. Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, and views the changes brought by the college and career readiness focus of the Common Core State Standards as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for kids of all backgrounds and ability levels to better fulfill their potential.

Student Achievement Partners works closely with teachers on all the tools it develops, and the organization supports teachers by making all resources available on for anyone to use, modify or share. For more information on Student Achievement Partners and free Common Core-aligned tools for educators, please visit: