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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Students Fall Flat in Vocabulary Test 12-07

Students Fall Flat in Vocabulary Test

Eighth-graders scored an average of 265 out of 500 in vocabulary on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the results of which were made public Thursday. Fourth-graders averaged a score of 218 out of 500.

The results showed that nearly half of eighth-graders didn't know that "permeates" means to "spread all the way through," and about the same proportion of fourth-graders didn't know that "puzzled" means confused—words that educators think students in those grades should recognize.

Most fourth-graders did know the meaning of "created," "spread" and "underestimate." At eighth grade, most students knew "grimace," "icons" and "edible."

Read the Report

'Vocabulary Results from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments'

The new vocabulary test was embedded in the biennial national reading exam, known as the NAEP. Last year's scores were in line with those posted in 2009, the first time vocabulary scores were broken out, but the latest results are the first to be made public. Experts noted that the results mirror the performance on the national reading test, which has yielded fairly static scores for a decade.

Margaret McKeown, a senior scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, said she wasn't surprised by the results but that they are cause for concern.

"There is very little vocabulary done in any classroom at any age," said Ms. McKeown, whose research focuses on reading and vocabulary. "There is quite a bit of research about vocabulary and the best ways to teach it. Unfortunately we are not seeing that go into the classrooms as much as we would like."

Leslie Russell, a reading specialist at Butts Road Intermediate School in Chesapeake, Va., said the vocabulary scores could be improved if students were more immersed in literacy at school and at home. "We need to make more of an effort to get parents involved in teaching reading and teaching them how to help children make sense of words they do not know," she said.

The U.S. Department of Education administered the 2011 exam to a representative sample of 213,100 fourth-graders in public and private schools in all states. About 168,000 eighth-graders were tested.

In 2009, 12th-graders also took the exam. Their average score was 296 out of 500 on the vocabulary portion. The high school exam is administered every four years.

The department has given the reading exam for decades but decided to add new questions in 2009 to more fully test students' knowledge of grade-level vocabulary. The words were embedded in reading passages and students were asked their definition in a multiple-choice format based on the context of those passages. The selected words are familiar concepts, feelings or actions.

African-American and Latino students posted scores lower than white and Asian students at every grade level. Low-income students scored far below their wealthier counterparts. The gaps between the groups ranged from 28 to 31 points.

Girls scored a few points higher than boys in fourth and eighth grade, but the results of girls and boys were nearly identical in 12th grade.

Data showed scores for the highest-performing students dipped slightly from 2009, while scores for the lowest-scoring students remained unchanged in fourth grade and increased slightly in eighth grade.

"Without a strong vocabulary, any child's ability to read and to learn suffers dramatically," David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, said in a statemen

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