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Press release | Research

Reading and Comprehension Keys to Success in Addressing Today’s Skills Gap

November 18, 2019

Contact: Kristen Lacaillade          Phone: 609-524-8172     Email: mediacontacts@ets.org

Princeton, N.J. (Nov. 18, 2019) – In America’s classrooms, children are struggling with the kinds of basic reading and comprehension skills needed for learning in order to advance in the workforce and navigate today’s society, including making critical decisions affecting one’s health and financial situation. This is evidenced by results released at the end of October for the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” which show that two out of three students score below proficient in both fourth- and eighth-grade reading.

As policymakers, educators, and assessment designers strive to address this skills gap, the authors of Curbing America’s Reading Crisis: A Call to Action for Our Children recommend integrating both skills- and knowledge-based considerations as well as social and motivational strategies to further inform these important decisions.

Key recommendations include continuing to measure and monitor foundational reading skills after grade 4, developing assessments that support learning, and providing texts that support comprehension through background knowledge of relevant topics.

“On a practical level, teaching more effectively often doesn’t revolve around large financial investments, but rather on effective implementation of key strategies,” said Irwin Kirsch, director of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education and the Center for Global Assessment.

The authors also stress the importance of understanding the root causes of a students’ lack of reading proficiency. For example, many students struggle with a range of difficulties including foundational reading skills, which are the building blocks required to “get words off the page,” as well as with comprehension. The report further discusses the important role of students’ background knowledge on reading comprehension and how it may be leveraged in the service of learning.

“To address the reading crisis,” said Tenaha O’Reilly, managing principal research scientist at ETS and lead author of the report, “we must first understand the nature of the problems that are causing the deficiencies. Misdiagnoses are likely to prevent students from receiving the types of interventions they need to acquire better reading and comprehension skills. With the recommendations made in this report, we hope to raise awareness about key issues and begin to see changes in policy.”

The Center for Research on Human Capital and Education at ETS leverages work on national and international large-scale assessments to explore the acquisition, outcomes and inequalities of human and social capital across a range of topics including pre-K–12 education, teacher quality, higher education, workforce readiness and non-cognitive skills.


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