To the Editor:
You report that comparing 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores from 11 cities is not beneficial in determining the effectiveness of reading approaches("NAEP Results Offer Scant Insight Into Best Reading Strategies," Jan. 11, 2006.) . But NAEP has taught us a great deal: NAEP results consistently confirm that children with more access to reading material read better, and that children who read more likewise read better.
NAEP itself has reported a positive relationship between the amount of reading children do and how well they perform on its reading test. Also, NAEP analyses have shown that scores are higher when teachers give students more time to read books of their own choosing.
In an analysis of NAEP scores in 41 states, Jeff McQuillan, in his book The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions, reported a strong relationship between performance on the NAEP test and the quality of children’s overall print environment (books available at home, school libraries, and public libraries). This relationship remained when the effect of poverty was controlled.
We should also consider the interesting case of California. That state’s extremely low score on NAEP in 1992 was blamed on whole-language reading instruction. Yet, despite the purge of whole language from California schools and the introduction of intensive, systematic phonics, there has been no significant improvement in California’s NAEP scores: The state still ranks near the bottom among states that took the national assessment, tied for next to last in 2005. California has the worst school libraries in the nation and among the worst public libraries. This was true in 1992 and remains so today.
These results suggest that the way to get higher NAEP scores is to improve children’s access to books, and the most obvious way for schools to do this is to improve their libraries. Studies show that when interesting and comprehensible reading materials are available, children do in fact read. Perhaps NAEP scores have “stagnated” because we have not considered this easily discerned way of improving reading.