NAEP shows reading scores are down in many states across the U.S.: Let’s begin by asking God, “Where do we go from here?”

I’ll get straight to the point: if you have not heard, at the end of last month there was disheartening news in the education world.  Across 17 states in 4th grade reading, and 31 states in 8th grade reading, there was a decrease in scores revealed by this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the nation’s report card.”

The big question education experts are asking themselves at this point is, “Why?” Not only was this result not hoped for, it was also not expected. Math results were relatively flat, but NAEP is still in the process of better aligning itself to what students learn in today’s classrooms, and those updates and changes will not be fully incorporated until 2025. Not to mention, the NAEP results also showed a widening of the achievement gap between the highest performing and lowest performing students. NAEP purposefully sets a high bar for proficiency (the FE Coalition likes high standards!), and this bar is generally higher than the standards states set for themselves. For example, a 2015 study of the alignment of the NAEP mathematics for 4th and 8th grade found that the states’ content was not matched well or at all to high-academic standards. But as far as we know, states across the U.S. have made many changes so that state reading standards are more closely aligned to the high bar the NAEP sets for our students.

Though it will take time and research to clearly understand the primary causes of faltering reading scores, here is what we do know: scores can only go up if states and school districts provide strong methods of support for teachers and students. We know that research in 2016 from the Rand Corporation suggested that K-12 English Language Arts teachers throughout the country may require additional support to teach to their state’s literacy standards. We know that over the last few years, many states struggle to maintain consistency in state tests, which has created changing expectations for students. We know that research out of Northwestern University revealed a connection between school spending cuts and poor test performance. We also know that there is a lack of focus on accountability systems in many state K-12 education plans, as detailed in the Check State Plans initiative. And finally, we know that not every student has access to a high-quality education.

Reading proficiency and academic success are inseparable; you cannot experience one without the other.

Unlike many other states, Mississippi and District of Columbia saw positive reading results. In 4th grade, Mississippi’s scores increased by four points, while in 8th grade, D.C.’s scores increased by three points, and we know that over the past few years they have had in place consistent college and career-ready standards for their students.

Here’s what we can do as advocates for Biblical Justice in education:

1. Stress the importance of strong (not flawed) reading habits.

2. Push for all states and districts to use only high-quality, comparable, college-career ready standards and curriculum.

3. Invest in empowering teachers and school leaders to grow in effectively teaching and implementing literacy strategies.

4. Encourage churches and community non-profits to promote daily reading strategies and practices for families and students.

5. Ask local, state, and federal governments to invest in literacy.

6. And pray!

The worsening in reading scores should serve as an alarm for lawmakers, school boards, parents, and pastors to ask God for wisdom in how our communities can lead and implement an education system that works for all students, regardless of their family income-level, zip-code, or ethnicity. We are God’s masterpiece, carriers of the imago dei, and capable of doing great things that God has prepared in advance for us to do.

And when God gives us an answer, let us have the courage to make the necessary changes. Strong policy in the absence of strong leadership will not improve America’s education system. We need you, pastores y padres, to get involved in your children’s education.

Thank you for being an engaged member of the FE Coalition and a partner in the ministry of advancing Hispanic student achievement.

Forward and higher in Christ,

Rev. Girien R. Salazar
Executive Director, FE Coalition