Improving Reading Achievement in American Schools

Reading is a fundamental skill that serves as the basis for all academic learning and success. However, national assessments of U.S. students consistently show lackluster reading achievement, indicating a systemic issue across American education. With millions of children struggling to develop proficient literacy skills, schools must make improving reading performance a top priority.

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) paint a bleak picture of reading proficiency among U.S. students. In 2019, only 35% of fourth graders and 34% of eighth graders scored at or above the NAEP proficient level in reading. Major disparities exist across student subgroups as well, with lower average scores among disadvantaged students. It is clear that American schools are falling short when it comes to equipping students with essential reading comprehension abilities.

Tackling this complex challenge requires a coordinated effort between all levels of the education system. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education oversees programs and policies aimed at enhancing literacy instruction in schools. These include competitive grant initiatives that fund research and development of innovative reading curricula and interventions. The Department also provides guidance to states and districts based on scientific research, such as recommended best practices for teaching reading comprehension strategies.

However, real improvement depends on commitment from education leaders at the state and local levels. They must set clear expectations and accountability for reading achievement, support high-quality professional development for teachers, and allocate resources to evidence-based reading instruction – particularly in the early elementary grades when reading skills are developed. With flexibility to respond to local needs, states and districts can drive continuous improvement in reading outcomes.

At the school level, creating a culture that promotes literacy is key. Principals can foster teacher collaboration focused on effective reading practices and build strong school-family partnerships to reinforce learning. Teachers must receive training to master advanced reading instruction techniques, such as teaching students to make connections between texts. With proper support, they can provide differentiated instruction to reach all learners.

Boosting reading achievement among America’s students is not a one-year effort. It requires establishing literacy as an instructional priority embedded in schools’ day-to-day practices over the long term. The Department of Education plays an important role in conducting research and sharing knowledge. But collaborations between all education decision-makers, guided by data, are necessary to drive real progress. With consistent, systemic focus on evidence-based reading instruction and intervention, U.S. schools can improve outcomes and ensure all students gain the reading skills they need to unlock future academic and career success.