The analysis below pertains to data for 2009, the most recent year for which all data points are available.
Below is an analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th grade reading proficiency rates for 2009 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This analysis details how reading proficiency among 4th grade students interacts with other important education indicators such as funding and demographics.
4th grade reading proficiency varies by region.
On average, a higher percentage of 4th graders in the Northeastern United States and the Midwest scored proficient or above on the NAEP reading test in 2009 than in the South and the West.1 In the Northeastern states, approximately 37 percent of 4th graders scored proficient or above, while in the Southern states only 29 percent scored proficient or above. Of the 10 lowest-performing states, nine were located in the South or the West.2
In Mississippi, which had the fourth lowest 4th grade reading proficiency rate in the country, only 22 percent of 4th graders scored proficient or above in reading. In similarly-sized Connecticut, which had the second highest 4th grade reading proficiency rate, 42 percent scored proficient or above in reading.
States where 4th graders performed better on the NAEP reading test tended to have lower student poverty rates and higher per-pupil expenditures.
In general, states where higher percentages of 4th graders scored proficient or above in reading in 2009 had lower student poverty rates the same year. Seven out of the 10 top scoring states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Maryland—also had the 10 lowest student poverty levels. On average, 12 percent of students lived in poverty in these states, whereas an average of 21 percent of students lived in poverty in the 10 lowest-performing states. Additionally, five of the 10 lowest-performing states—the District of Columbia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Mississippi, and West Virginia—also ranked among the 10 states with the highest student poverty levels. Although poverty and student performance are not perfectly correlated, research by the RAND Corporation has found that NAEP performance is linked to student background and family characteristics.3
In addition, states with higher 4th grade reading proficiency rates in 2009 also tended to have higher average per-pupil expenditures the same year. Per-pupil spending averaged $13,148 in the 10 top-performing states, whereas per-pupil spending in the 10 lowest-performing states averaged nearly $2,000 less at $11,236. When the District of Columbia—which has the highest per-pupil expenditure in the country—is excluded, the average per-pupil expenditure for the remaining nine states drops to $10,296.
4th grade reading proficiency has improved little since 1992 and the achievement gap persists.
The percentage of 4th graders nationwide that scored proficient or above on the NAEP reading test increased slightly from 29 percent in 1992 to 33 percent in 2009. A substantially lower percentage of African American and Hispanic 4th grade students scored proficient across all years than white 4th grade students. While the percentage of white students scoring proficient increased from 35 percent in 1992 to 42 percent in 2009, the percentage of African American students who scored proficient or above rose from 8 percent in 1992 to 16 percent in 2009. Proficiency rates of Hispanic students increased from 12 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 2009.
Although all students saw gains in 4th grade reading proficiency levels, the achievement gap between white and African American students increased by one percentage point to 26 percent, and the gap between Hispanic and white students increased two percentage points to 25 percent from 1992 to 2009.
- 1. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. It is administered to a representative sample of students in 4th and 8th grade in each state every two years.
- 2. Regions. Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont. Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia. West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
- 3. David W. Grissmer, Ann Flanagan, Jennifer H. Kawata, & Stephanie Williamson, RAND Corporation, Improving Student Achievement: What State NAEP Test Scores Tell Us