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Iowa’s vocabulary results on NAEP test are released


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Iowa’s student results on the vocabulary portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined significantly from 2009 to 2011 at the fourth-grade level and were stagnant at the eighth-grade level, according to NAEP results released today.

“Today’s NAEP results are troubling for Iowa because vocabulary plays a critical role in reading skills and comprehension,” Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said. “Our NAEP reading scores have been flat since the early 1990s, and these vocabulary scores show we’re not moving in the right direction. We must act on these results.”

NAEP’s vocabulary report represents the first comprehensive look at how well the nation’s students understand word meaning. NAEP began to measure vocabulary as part of reading assessments in 2009. National NAEP results show a strong link between student performance on vocabulary questions and reading comprehension.

Iowa’s average score in fourth-grade vocabulary in 2011 (219) was statistically significantly lower than in 2009 (223), according to the report. The national average score (217) did not change from 2009 to 2011. Iowa’s fourth-grade vocabulary scores dropped across the board, from disadvantaged students to white, relatively affluent students.

The state’s average eighth-grade vocabulary score (266) did not change from 2009. The nation’s average score (263) also was stagnant. Twelfth-grade students were not assessed in vocabulary in 2011.  

(NOTE: Click here for examples of vocabulary questions from the assessment, as well as the percentage of Iowa students who answered those questions correctly.)

“We know that our educators are doing their very best to teach our children, and while we celebrate the fact that Iowa has the highest graduation rate in the nation, we also must acknowledge that Iowa needs to improve in the area of achievement,” Glass said. “Iowa has shown a pattern of stagnation on national assessments across the board, and the state also faces significant gaps in achievement among high-need students.”

Glass said these challenges exemplify the importance of carrying out major state efforts to align instruction in schools with rigorous expectations and standards, to improve literacy, and to tailor instruction to fit the needs of each student. These efforts include:

  • Implementation of the Iowa Core in schools statewide. The Iowa Core represents the state’s standards and expectations for what students should learn in kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • The Iowa Reading Research Center, established as part of a 2012 law to apply research for the development of certain literacy efforts, including teaching strategies, assessments, and an intensive summer literacy program.
  • Response to Intervention, a proven procedure to help schools identify and diagnose learning problems, to customize instruction to correct the problems, and to monitor student progress. This framework was proposed in the Iowa Department of Education's Overcoming the Achievement Divide: Key Challenges and Solutions for Iowa Schools report released on November 13, 2012.

The state’s system of assessments also will need to adapt to meet these state initiatives, Glass said.

Some of that work will begin in 2013, when the Iowa Department of Education will analyze proficiency levels on the Iowa Assessments for rigor and alignment with the Iowa Core. The state also will consider in the next few years whether to adopt the SMARTER Balanced assessments, which will be piloted in Iowa in the spring of 2013 and will be tightly aligned with the Iowa Core.

About NAEP: NAEP, known as the nation’s report card, is the only state-by-state comparison of student progress. Assessments on NAEP are administered to about 3,000 students in 100 schools in Iowa and other states for each grade and subject – a large enough sample to draw valid inferences about Iowa’s population in comparison to other states.

For more information about NAEP, visit

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on January 20, 2018 at 1:06am.