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Most 4th grade students in Texas do not read at grade level

The reading level for most of our school children may be lower than you think.

AUSTIN, Texas — A recent news article led to several social media conversations regarding Texas education.

The focus is a statistic said by gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke.

“What if the best public schools in America were found in our community?  Right now, in the average Texas 4th grade classroom, seven out of 10 kids cannot read at grade level,” O’Rourke said at a political rally in 2021.

The comment continues to drive political discussions on social media.

THE QUESTION

Are 70% of Texas 4th grade students reading below grade level?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER 

This is false.

This is FALSE, but it needs context.

No, Texas 4th grade students' grade-level readiness does not show 70% fall below “grade-level” reading standards, but federal standards show seven out of 10 Texas 4th grade students were not “NAEP Proficient” in reading.

WHAT WE FOUND

Experts we spoke with said the interpretation of The National Report Card is often misinterpreted. 

O’Rourke said “on grade level,” which technically would mean the State of Texas testing results.

“So I believe the data is coming from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which reported in 2019 that 70% of fourth graders were below “Proficient.” The problem is that “NAEP Proficient” is not the same as a lot of states’ “proficient,” which means grade level,” Grady Wilburn, Ph.D. Statistician, with the National Center for Education Statistics.

“This is not the same as being ‘on grade level,’ which refers to performance on local curriculum and standards,” the National Assessment Governing Board’s website showed.

The government website showed “NAEP Proficient” represents the goal for what all students should know. It quantifies students who demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter.

Bottom line, it’s a tougher metric for states to strive to meet.

The Nation’s Report Card shows the national average at 35% with Texas at 30% at or above NAEP Proficient.

The results are lower for eighth grade students.

“The NAEP website, which is run by the federal government, warns people not to use the name ‘Proficient’ as meaning grade level. It does not mean that,” Tom Loveless, Ph.D, retired Senior Fellow with the The Brookings Institution.

Texas measures grade-level readiness using the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Exam.

The State’s grade-level results show different outcomes than the NAEP assessment. NAEP showed 30% of Texas 4th graders were at or above “NAEP Proficient” at reading. The number increased to 61% if you use at or above “NAEP Basic.”

Wilburn said the Texas grade-level results would fall between NAEP Basic and NAEP Proficient.

The national researchers tested 7,400 Texas 4th grade school children in reading. The same year as the national report, TEA records showed 43% of fourth graders “meets” or “masters” grade-level reading, leaving 57% that either did not meet readiness or approached it without meeting or mastering the level.

In other words, while seven out of 10 Texas 4th graders do not meet NAEP Proficiency, six out of ten Texas 4th graders did not meet grade-level readiness or approached it without meeting or mastering the grade level.

“It's (NAEP Proficient level) an achievement level that is often difficult to reach, and it's called aspirational by our National Assessment Governing Board,” Wilburn said.

The point for the national assessment is to compare states using one standard. The test is federally mandated.

Since the NAEP Proficiency is a higher standard, a Texas student could meet grade-level requirements and still not be Proficient among national standards.

“NAEP does not map exactly to grade levels. It maps to a very high expectation of reading ability and it's higher than grade level,” Loveless said.

If you see something suspicious online, email us at verify@kvue.com.

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