Looking Back: How Have Students’ Reading Competencies Changed Over Time

When you visualize the 21st century classroom, what do you see? A smartboard on the front wall, iPads in every student’s hands, individualized learning programs on the computer, setting the pace of a lesson while a teacher stands by for questions…

Some classrooms have moved into the digital age, however, the 21st century classroom is more commonly described as overcrowded and underfunded. The student demographic is diverse with disabled, gifted, English language, impoverished, and enriched learners. Teachers are faced with having to teach to all levels of the classroom, and due to lack of time, resources, and bandwidth, they teach to the students in the middle; often leaving those who are falling behind behind and those who are gifted unchallenged.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released the report “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” inspired by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”[i] This report, though controversial, did bring to light educational issues we are still fighting today.

The following are some noteworthy statistics from the 1983 report:

  • · Functional illiteracy among minority youth may run as high as 40 percent.
  • · The number and proportion of students demonstrating superior achievement on the SATs have dramatically declined.
  • · Many 17-year-olds do not possess the “higher order” intellectual skills we should expect from them.
  • · There was a steady decline in science achievement scores of the U.S. 17-year-olds as measured by national assessments of science in 1969, 1973, and 1977.
  • · Between 1975 and 1980, remedial mathematics courses in public 4-year colleges increased by 72 percent.
  • · Too many teachers are being drawn from the bottom quarter of graduating high school and college students.

Sound familiar? Three decades later, minorities are trending toward becoming the majority, while the achievement gap continues to grow; college students are graduating with weak critical thinking skills; students’ competency in STEM subjects aren’t keeping up with the amount of job openings in STEM fields; and teachers are now said to come from the bottom one-third of their class.[ii]


[i] “A Nation at Risk” By The National Commission on Excellence in Education

[ii] “Achievement Gap” http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/achievement-gap/

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