A new report released today by the National School Boards Association's (NSBA) Center for Public Education (CPE), examines the key role of informational reading in preparing students for college, the workplace, and day-to-day life. While U.S. students overall are good readers of literature, CPE's analysis shows that their performance drops dramatically when tasked with reading non-literary texts.
"It is important that all students receive a world-class public education that prepares them for what lies beyond the K-12 system, be it college or career," said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA's Executive Director. "This means providing a firm foundation in the full range of critical reading skills, including the ability to comprehend and analyze complex informational texts."
The report, "Beyond Fiction: The Importance of Reading for Information," found that the ability to understand and retrieve information, whether from an encyclopedia, a billing statement or the back of a prescription bottle, is a necessary life skill, but that many American adults are weak in this area. Roughly 30 million adults in this country cannot read or understand a newspaper article, while another 27 million cannot follow directions on a street map.
Poor literacy skills often lead to a host of negative outcomes including fewer employment opportunities and depressed wages for the individual. Lost taxes, more demand for social services, and lower voter participation convey to the community.
Other findings include:
- - U.S. fourth-graders score high on reading for "literary experience" – only Finland's students outperform them by statistically significant margins. However, the ranking for U.S. students falls when it comes to informational reading, slipping behind four other countries.
- - The gap widens with age – U.S. 15-year-olds are outscored by just five nations in literary reading, but drop behind their peers in 14 countries when asked "to acquire and use information" from written texts.
- - U.S. adults fare worse and score well below the international average in literacy.
"These findings show that our students need exposure to more reading of all kinds, not just literature," said Patte Barth, Director of CPE and the report co-author. "Schools need to continue to engage students in novels, drama, and poetry, but also expand reading instruction across subject areas so they develop into strong, critical consumers of nonfiction texts, too."