Reading Lists and Reading Scores

I’ve had an enduring love affair with literature that began in my childhood. Reading was my gateway into other times and places; reading was where I met interesting people I would never have encountered in my daily life. From the moment I realized that words could be sounded out, I read everything I could get my hands on. School reading lists added to my literary repertoire, for better or worse. On the plus side, I encountered a few classics and was introduced to dystopian fiction, but there was a fair sampling of the mediocre as well as the inevitable fragments from anthologies. Even in the 1960s and ’70s, high school reading lists were prioritizing pop culture relevance over cultural literacy.

This guest post, comparing reading levels in a 1922 reading list compared to one from 2015-16, makes it clear how far this trend has gone. Sadly, the results aren’t pretty. High school student’s reading scores have actually been declining, and while overly simple reading matter is probably not the only cause, it doubtless contributes to the problem. My prescription? Read the classics — the most influential books of the ages. I think the EIL book list is a pretty good place to start!

9th Grade Reading Lists: 1922 vs. Today

by Annie Holmquist

(This story was originally published by Intellectual Takeout on September 2, 2016.)

Have you ever thought that high school graduates today… well, just don’t seem to know or understand as much as they once did?

According to a new research report from the Urban Institute, such a thought is not simply a result of generational pride. Data from The Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) confirms the assumption that recent generations of high school students are not doing as well as they once were.

Take reading scores. As the chart below demonstrates, 4th and 8th grade reading scores have experienced an increase in the years since 1992. High school seniors, however, have experienced a steady decline in reading scores over the same time period.

NAEP Reading Trends since 1992

Is it possible that these falling scores are the result of diminished rigor in the high school curriculum?

Having recently dug up a curriculum manual for Texas high schools from 1922, I decided to explore this question by comparing its 9th grade reading recommendations with those the San Antonio Independent School District recommended for the 2015-16 school year.

Both syllabi included recommendations for poetry, fiction, short stories, drama, and non-fiction. Both syllabi implied that the books on the lists were simply suggestions, which might not necessarily be used in their entirety.

To give an idea of the difference between the two, I plugged the fiction titles from both lists into a text analyzer which measures reading difficulty. The results? Reading material in today’s freshman literature classes measures around a 5th grade level. In 1922, however, freshman literature fare often measured at an 11th or 12th grade level.

1922 vs. 2015 high school reading lists
When we see how the difficulty of reading material has declined in the last one hundred years, is it any wonder that high school reading scores have been trending downward over time?

If American students are ever going to compete on an international level, or even become the well-informed individuals who will lead the next generation, are we going to have to step up our game and get them reading beyond what a grade school child can handle?

Image Credit: Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties

This post 9th Grade Reading Lists: 1922 vs. Today was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Annie Holmquist.

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