American Students Lacking Vocabulary

Thursday, 06 Dec 2012 05:04 PM

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The U.S. Department of Education is for the first time considering vocabulary as a skill separate from reading and has found that the diction of American students is not nearly as good as it should be.

A report from DOE’s National Center for Education Statistics found that vocabulary skills are tied closely to reading level, and that both must start being developed from a young age in order to progress properly, reported USA Today.

The report is based on test scores from a pilot program held in 2009 and tests repeated 2011 with fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders across the country.

On a 500-point scale, the average fourth-grader scored 218 points on a 500-point scale in 2011, which was unchanged from 2009, and average eighth-graders scored 265, also unchanged from 2009. In 2009, twelfth-graders scored 296, but the test was not done again in 2011.

“About half of the variation in reading comprehension [on the main test] can be associated with variation in vocabulary,” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of theNational Center for Education Statistics, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Teaching vocabulary using literary passages, rather than lists of words, accomplishes several goals, most importantly that students learn to deduce the meaning of words in context - which enhances basic reading comprehension and does not tie the understanding of words to memorizing meanings.

“There’s quite a bit written about vocabulary and the best ways to teach it; unfortunately we’re not seeing that go into the classrooms as much as we’d like,” said Margaret McKeown, a senior scientist and clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

“Typically for the younger kids, teachers often use words that the kids already know …, conversational words… but they’re not attending to the meanings of words kids are meeting in texts,” said McKeown, who helped develop the reading and vocabulary framework for NAEP.

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