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Little improvement in 4th-graders' reading skills

By Sally Holland, CNN
  • Fourth-graders make little headway in 2009 test over 2007 results
  • Eighth-graders perform slightly better
  • Several states saw improved numbers
  • Education secretary says achievement should grow faster
  • Education
  • Arne Duncan

Washington (CNN) -- The national report card for reading by fourth-graders was flat for 2009 compared with 2007, leaving Education Secretary Arne Duncan unsatisfied with the trend.

"Today's results once again show that achievement of American students isn't growing fast enough," Duncan said in a written statement.

Eighth-graders performed slightly better overall, scoring 1 point higher than they did on the test in 2007. The gains in this grade were predominantly with students performing at lower and middle levels. Scores for higher-performing students showed no significant change.

"The achievement gap didn't narrow by a statistically significant amount in either grade. Like the [National Assessment of Education Progress] 2009 math scores released last fall, the reading scores demonstrate that students aren't making the progress necessary to compete in the global economy," Duncan said.

The National Assessment of Education Progress for 2009 rated a sampling of more than 178,000 fourth-graders and 160,000 eighth-graders from across the U.S.

For fourth-graders, scores decreased in Iowa, New Mexico and Alaska, while scores increased overall in Rhode Island, Kentucky and the District of Columbia.

The D.C. school system had the highest jump in scores, with a 5-point increase.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said, "We continue to stand in awe of our fourth-graders, who have again outpaced the nation in growth -- and their teachers who have led the students to this accomplishment."

Even with the increase, schools in the District of Columbia remain below the national average in reading scores for fourth-graders.

Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Utah all saw reading scores improve among eighth-graders.

Read the individual state analysis

According to the report, a sample question for fourth-graders has the student read an article on species of bees and the importance they play in plant reproduction and then asks the question:

According to the article, what can animals of the same species do?

A) Travel in groups over long distances

B) Live together in homes such as hives

C) Mate with each other and give birth

D) Find food for their young

The correct answer is C.