The average reading literacy score of the United States is 24th on the list of countries ordered by average score. These scores are based on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment performed on 15-year-old students every three years. There are fourteen countries notated as having higher average scores than the United States when considering statistical significance. Still, that is fourteen education systems whose 15-year-old students perform better in reading literacy than the United States. Canada, Finland, and Ireland had scores that were ordered third, fourth, and fifth on the list.
In 2016 a different international reading assessment on fourth graders was performed by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. Again, U.S. reading scores are not that impressive. Twelve education systems were notated as outperforming the United States (with a statistical significance of .05).
The point is we are not at the top. We aren’t even in the top 10. It doesn’t feel like the culture surrounding our kids is aiming for excellence, especially with best-selling books like Captain Underpants and Dork Diaries generously offered at school libraries.
When an elementary student can read a 120+ page “book” loaded with graphics in about 20 minutes, it is probably lacking something important like quality and depth. Children learn from what they are reading (grammar, spelling, etc.). Are poor quality books helping K-12 students improve critical thinking skills, and reading or writing scores? This problem might be hindering the common goal of improving academic achievement and literacy in our nation’s schools.
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) December 5, 2017
— NCES (@EdNCES) December 5, 2017
Billions of tax dollars are spent to support in vogue and intensely debated educational standards like Common Core (the set of goals that a child is expected to achieve in each grade) with “new” curriculum (the books and educational materials). Yet, when walking the halls after school one might notice that too many children are reading books riddled with thought bubbles, thoughtless commentary, and offensive content. What use is spending billions on adopting new standards with more “rigor” if the bar is lowered for leisure reading? The goal cannot be to constantly feed children easy and absurd reading material.
There is a mainstream desire for our children to compete with the best education systems in the world. Here is one thing you can do: Channel that energy around improving the education system into encouraging children to read quality books. Set an expectation and ask for better books in reading award programs, school classrooms, and libraries.