EIGHTH-GRADERS’ READING COMPREHENSION OF INFORMATIONAL TEXTS AND LITERARY TEXTS IN THE 2009 NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS
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National assessment results tell us that a large majority of American middle school students are not proficient readers. These assessment results indicate a dire situation. However, historically literacy research targeting this population is understudied. While we still do not have a complete picture of the situation, we do understand some aspects of it. The current literature has identified student and school characteristics that may explain why American middle school students are having literacy problems. In this study I analyzed the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment with a particular focus on eighth graders, looking into both student and school characteristics. The goal of this study was to examine how these student and school characteristics were associated with eighth-grader’s reading comprehension of literary and informational texts. In particular, I explored student and school characteristics that contributed to the White-Black achievement gap and the White-Hispanic achievement gap. The student participants for the 2009 NAEP reading assessment contained a nationally representative sample of 160,900 eighth graders from 7030 schools. Responses to the 2009 NAEP student questionnaire and school questionnaire were analyzed to address my research questions. I used the hierarchical linear modeling approach (HLM) to model the nested data structure (students nested within schools) in NAEP assessment. At the first level, I examined the associations between student characteristics and reading comprehension of informational and literary texts. At the second level, I investigated the associations between school characteristics and reading comprehension of informational and literary texts. One important finding in this study was that after controlling student characteristics (e.g., gender, eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, home literacy resources, school reading amount, reading motivation), the White-Black achievement gap in literary and informational texts disappeared in the within-school model. In the present study the low family income and lack of literacy resources at home contributed to the White-Black achievement gap. This study showed that eighth-grade Black students were especially disadvantaged in terms of family income. In addition to family income, the present study indicated that Black students had significantly lower access to home literacy resources, such as newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, and books, compared with White peers. Taken together, the low family income and lack of literacy resources at home contributed to the White-Black achievement gap. In addition to these student characteristics, this study also demonstrated that school type was significantly associated with the White-Black achievement gap. More specifically, in public schools Black students scored significantly lower in both informational and literary texts, compared to White students. In private schools, however, no significant difference was observed between White and Black students in literary or informational texts. In other words, Black students performed equally well as White students in private school settings. Another important finding was the performance of Hispanic students. More specifically, Hispanic students scored significantly higher than White students in both informational and literary texts, after controlling all the student variables in the model. The results of the present study indicated that a disproportionately high percentage of Hispanic students were disadvantaged in both family income and parental education, which contributed to the White-Hispanic achievement gap. This finding is consistent with the White-Hispanic achievement gap literature that demonstrates that Hispanic students are more likely to come from low-income families, compared with White students. In addition to socioeconomic status, this study also pinpointed other key student characteristics contributing to the White-Hispanic achievement gap, including home literacy resources, reading amount in school, and reading motivation. The results of the present study indicated that Hispanic students had significantly lower access to home literacy resources, were engaged in significantly less reading in school, and displayed significantly lower reading motivation, compared with their White peers. Thus, a plausible explanation for the White-Hispanic achievement gap among adolescent readers can be reasonably attributed to the differences between Hispanic and White students in these key variables. Above and beyond student characteristics, this study also indicated that school type was significantly associated with the White-Hispanic achievement gap. More specifically, in private schools Hispanic students outperformed White students in both informational and literary texts. However, in public schools Hispanic students scored significantly lower in both informational and literary texts compared to White students. Taken together, these findings indicate the complexity of reading development among Black students and Hispanic students. Both student characteristics and school characteristics contributed to the White-Black achievement gap and the White-Hispanic achievement gap.