Why 8th Grade Reading Is So Hard & So Important

August 26, 2011 by Geoff Nixon

Why 8th Grade Reading Is So Hard & So Important

And Why 4th Grade Reading Scores Are Not!

Woman readingThis is the time of year when schools report back on the 3rd to 8th grade, and across most of the US, the story is the same:  quite good progress and overall proficiency rates in early grades, but 40-60% proficiency in 8th grade reading.

The bad news, the only measure that matters is 8th grade reading and as a nation only about 50% of our 8th graders are proficient readers.  

The reason that 8th grade is such a difficult standard is that by 8th grade, readers should be able to decode fluently, read for literal comprehension and have some critical reading skills, meaning that the student can think while reading, called metacognition.  If a student does not have these skills, they will not pass 8th grade reading.

In 3rd and 4th grade however it’s a very different story.  Proficiency at this level requires being able to recognize a large list of words and to have literal comprehension.  Many bright students are able to meet this standard using memorization and other coping strategies, without learning to decode properly.

In reality, this ability to “pass” 3rd and 4th grade reading (the US is among the world leaders in 4th grade reading) without having sound fundamentals is part of the educational challenge.  Many so-called readers are found out to be winging it — their reading style is stitched together and is not indicative of future success.  And so they start to run into trouble in later grades, where the comprehension ask rises and the word list expands what can be memorized without sound phonological awareness and decoding fundamentals.

Is Your Child on Track?

Bottom line, these disappointing 8th grade results, and more particularly, the fall off in proficiency from 4th to 8th grade, should be a warning to all parents that students are not out of the woods reading wise, until they are in 5th and 6th grade, reading at a 5th and 6th grade level. Many parents use our reading program  as an insurance policy, to make sure their child does indeed have the fundamentals down, to prevent a fall off in later grades.

To see state scores, check out Nations Report Card here.