This past Thursday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of vocabulary questions from the 2009 and 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which included questions on word meaning for the first time. The results showed that the fourth and eighth graders tested were able to recognize the correct meaning of only around half the words selected from the test's reading comprehension passages and, as was noted by Greg Toppo in USA Today, students' performance on vocabulary questions closely tracked their performance in reading comprehension. The complete report is available here.
When speaking to the Wall Street Journal, University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center senior scientist Margaret McKeown described the results as cause for concern. "There is quite a bit of research about vocabulary and the best ways to teach it. Unfortunately we are not seeing that go into the classrooms as much as we would like."
While educators work out the implications of the test results, vocabularians may want to take note of the words themselves: The majority of fourth graders were able to identify words including created, spread, and underestimate, while less than half recognized barren, eerie, and prestigious. The majority of eighth graders identified edible, enticing, and grimace, while less than half recognized urbane. Among twelfth graders, who were tested on vocabulary as part of the exam only in 2009 (when some questions were given to both twelfth and eighth graders), more than half recognized capitalize, prospective, and reimburse, while less than half correctly identified delusion as well as urbane.
How do you stack up against fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders? Quiz yourself on these words and others that appeared on the exam with our interactive NAEP Vocabulary List to find out.
(A word of caution: In a blog post for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum rebuts the Wall Street Journal coverage of the results, cautioning against raising the distress flag precipitously and noting that tests like the NAEP are designed so that half the students score below the mean.)