A WEEK after the Department of Education reported that nearly half of American adults have difficulty with common tasks requiring reading, another report by the agency shows that more than two-thirds of American students are reading below their grade level.
The ``Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States'' found that 41 percent of fourth graders, 31 percent of eighth graders, and 25 percent of high school seniors could not comprehend material that should have been easy for them. Nearly 140,000 students in 41 states were tested.
``The results of this study are extremely troubling,'' says Richard Riley, United States secretary of education. ``The jobs of tomorrow demand complex skills and high-level performance. The basics aren't good enough anymore.''
The best news in the report is that changes in teaching practices are affecting student performance. Fourth-grade reading teachers who cut back on worksheets and introduced more books produced higher-scoring students, for example.
Students who performed best spend less time watching television than other children do, read more books for fun, and discuss their reading with friends or family members, the report says.
``Children who read poorly overdose on television,'' Mr. Riley says. Students who reported watching six or more hours of television a night had substantially lower reading scores.
Riley called on parents to help improve their children's reading performance by policing TV time. ``Parents need to supervise their children's homework and know when to turn off the tube,'' he says. ``I hope parents will remember that the same little remote control button that can turn on your TV can also turn it off.''