The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2011

A nationally representative sample of 213,100 fourth-graders participated in the 2011 assessment. Learn more about the key findings and trends in this Reading 2011 snapshot.

About the Nation's Report Card

The Nation's Report Card™ informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Report cards communicate the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time.

Since 1969, NAEP assessments have been conducted periodically in reading, mathematics, science, writing, U.S. history, civics, geography, and other subjects. NAEP collects and reports information on student performance at the national and state levels, making the assessment an integral part of our nation's evaluation of the condition and progress of education. Only academic achievement data and related background information are collected. The privacy of individual students and their families is protected.

NAEP is a congressionally authorized project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. The Commissioner of Education Statistics is responsible for carrying out the NAEP project. The National Assessment Governing Board oversees and sets policy for NAEP.

The 2011 assessment

Drawing on an extensive research base, the NAEP reading framework specifies the use of literary and informational texts in the assessment.

  • Literary texts include fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry.
  • Informational texts include exposition, argumentation and persuasive texts, and procedural texts and documents.

The term cognitive target refers to the mental processes or kinds of thinking that underlie reading comprehension. The framework specifies that the assessment questions measure three cognitive targets for both literary and informational texts.

  • Locate and Recall. When locating or recalling information from what they have read, students may identify explicitly stated main ideas or may focus on specific elements of a story.
  • Integrate and Interpret. When integrating and interpreting what they have read, students may make comparisons, explain character motivation, or examine relations of ideas across the text.
  • Critique and Evaluate. When critiquing or evaluating what they have read, students view the text critically by examining it from numerous perspectives or may evaluate overall text quality or the effectiveness of particular aspects of the text.

The proportion of the assessment questions devoted to each of the three cognitive targets varies by grade to reflect the developmental differences of students.

The framework also calls for a systematic assessment of meaning vocabulary. Vocabulary assessment occurs in the context of a particular passage; that is, questions measure students' understanding of word meaning as intended by the author, as well as passage comprehension.

Back to Top


As illustrated above, the average reading score for the nation's fourth-graders in 2011 was unchanged from 2009. The score in 2011 was, however, 4 points higher than the score in 1992.

Other national results highlighted in this section show higher scores in 2011 than 2009 for students from both lower- and higher-income families. State results show higher scores in 2011 than 2009 for 4 of the 52 participating states and jurisdictions, and lower scores for 2 states.

There were no significant changes from 2009 to 2011 in the scores for lower-performing students (at the 10th and 25th percentiles), middle-performing students (at the 50th percentile), or higher-performing students (at the 75th and 90th percentiles). Scores for all five percentiles were higher in 2011 than in 1992.

Back to Top

State performance at grade 4

The map below highlights changes in states' average fourth-grade reading scores from 2009 to 2011. Although there was no significant change nationally in the overall average score for public school students in 2009, scores were higher in 2011 than in 2009 in Alabama, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The average scores in Missouri and South Dakota were lower in 2011 than in 2009.

Thirty-two percent of fourth-grade public school students performed at or above the Proficient level in 2011, with percentages ranging from 19 percent in the District of Columbia to 50 percent in Massachusetts. The percentages of students at or above proficient were higher in 2011 than in 2009 for Louisiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Back to Top

What fourth-graders know and can do in reading

The item map below illustrates a range of reading behaviors associated with scores on the NAEP reading scale. The cut score at the lower end of the range for each achievement level is boxed. The descriptions of selected assessment questions that indicate what students need to do when responding successfully are listed on the right, along with the corresponding cognitive targets. The map on this page shows that fourth-graders performing at the Basic level with a score of 220 were likely to interpret a character's statement to provide a character trait. Students performing at the Proficient level with a score of 253 were likely to use information from an article to support an opinion. Students at the Advanced level with a score of 311 were likely to be able to use details from both the beginning and ending of a story to describe a change in a character's feelings.

Questions designed to assess the same cognitive target map at different points on the NAEP scale. This is so because the questions are about different passages; thus, an integrate/interpret question may be more or less difficult depending on the passage the question is referring to.

Grade 4 NAEP Reading Item Map
500 Advanced
330 Critique/Evaluate Provide an opinion about the author's craft in an expository text with supporting details
328 Integrate/Interpret Find and use evidence to support a claim about the central figure in an expository text
320 Integrate/Interpret Interpret a story to infer a character trait with support from the text
311 Integrate/Interpret Use details from both the beginning and end of a story to describe a change in a character's feelings
303 Critique/Evaluate Evaluate subheading and use information to support the evaluation
298 Critique/Evaluate Make complex inferences about a historical person's motivation and support with the central idea
279 Integrate/Interpret Locate and use information to explain a cause in an expository text
271 Integrate/Interpret Infer the reason why a story event is challenging for a character
268 Critique/Evaluate Use story events to support an opinion about the type of story
267 Proficient
265 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the meaning of a word as it is used in an expository text
262 Critique/Evaluate Recognize a technique the author uses to develop a character
260 Integrate/Interpret Provide steps in a process described in an expository text
257 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the main problem that the character faces in a story
253 Critique/Evaluate Use information from an article to provide and support an opinion
251 Locate/Recall Locate and recognize relevant information in a highly detailed expository text
247 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the main purpose of an expository text
244 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the implicit main idea of a story
239 Integrate/Interpret Locate and provide two pieces of information in support of the text idea
238 Locate/Recall Locate and recognize a relevant detail in a literary nonfiction text
237 Basic
237 Locate/Recall Locate and recognize a detail in support of the main idea in an expository text
236 Locate/Recall Locate and recognize a relevant detail in an expository text
226 Locate/Recall Recognize explicitly stated dialogue from a story
223 Integrate/Interpret Make an inference to recognize a causal relation in an expository text
220 Integrate/Interpret Interpret a character's statement to provide a character trait
216 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the meaning of a word as it is used in an expository text
211 Integrate/Interpret Make an inference to recognize the feelings of a speaker in a section of a poem
205 Integrate/Interpret Recognize the meaning of a word as it is used in an expository text
194 Critique/Evaluate Provide an evaluation of a story character
188 Locate/Recall Make a simple inference to recognize the main character's feeling
185 Integrate/Interpret Make an inference to recognize a character trait

Download full report > (29MB PDF)

National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2011 (NCES 2012-457). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.


You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney