Unveiling the Latest Trends in Literacy from 1992 to Today

Trends in Literacy - From 1992- Present

I spent the last month looking over data to find the latest trends in literacy and reading. Here are the main takeaways.

Unveiling the Latest Trends in Literacy and Reading

Trends in Literacy and Reading

Trends in Literacy are constantly evolving. Should we allow kids to learn to read from phonics? Sight words? The Science of Reading? Additionally, literacy trends are shaped by technological advancements, societal changes, and global events.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed significant shifts in the way we consume and engage with written content. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these trends have only accelerated, bringing both challenges and opportunities to the realm of literacy.

Unfortunately, reading remains stagnant for many 4th and 8th graders. We have not seen many significant gains in those grades, grades that are important markers for academic success. Furthermore, we are still seeing academic disparities in young children of color. For many children, the trends in literacy have not changed.

Post-Covid Trends in Literacy

Reading and literacy statistics haven't changed much since 1992.

One of the most profound effects of COVID-19 is the lasting effects it’s had on education. Trends in literacy have been everywhere in the news lately, but the disruption from Covid-19 are persistent. As schools closed their doors and students transitioned to remote or hybrid learning models, access to books and resources became limited for many. We are still working through many of the effects.

This sudden shift highlighted existing disparities in access to quality education and resources, particularly among marginalized communities. The shutdown underscored the importance of digital formats in ensuring continued learning during times of crisis.

Thus, these are some of the most significant trends in literacy I’ve noticed in my research.

Key Takeaways:

Changes in Reading Scores Over Time (From the NAEP Report Card)

  • Reading scores for 4th and 8th graders in the U.S. have been relatively stagnant over the past decade.
  • White students in 12 states/jurisdictions scored lower in 2022 than in 2019 in reading.
  • Black students in 8 states/jurisdictions scored lower.
  • Hispanic students in 10 states/jurisdictions scored lower.

Impact of COVID-19 on Reading and Literacy

  • A significant decline in reading scores was observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The pandemic led to a 30% increase in e-book sales.
  • Libraries reported a 40% increase in digital lending during the pandemic.

Impact of COVID-19 on Trends in Literacy

New trends in literacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on trends in literacy and education. As schools were forced to close their doors and transition to remote learning, the effects on reading and literacy became evident. One of the most significant consequences of the pandemic was the decline in reading scores.

I think the graphs below show this information plainly. Trends in literacy come and go but the results speak for themselves – there has been little improvement since 1992.

This first graph shows reading scores from 1992 through 2022 for 4th graders.

This second graph shows reading scores from 1992 through 2022 for 8th graders.

Again, the decline isn’t as much of a decline as it is a return to 1992 reading levels. Over the last 30 years we had made some slight progress but Covid stripped away gains for just about everyone. Unfortunately, despite efforts to improve literacy rates, reading scores for both 4th and 8th graders have remained stagnant. This lack of progress is worrisome, as reading proficiency is crucial for academic success and overall cognitive development.

One of the most worrisome trends in literacy is stagnation.

Some important things to consider when we think about learning loss during Covid are:

  1. With schools closed and students confined to their homes, the usual structure and routine of classroom learning were disrupted. This sudden shift to remote learning presented numerous challenges for both educators and students.
  2. Many students heavily relied on school libraries or public libraries for their reading materials. However, with these facilities closed during the pandemic, students had limited access to books. This lack of access not only hindered their ability to practice reading but also impacted their overall motivation and engagement with literacy.
  3. Furthermore, the transition to online learning posed additional obstacles for students who did not have reliable internet access or adequate technology at home. These disparities in access further exacerbated existing inequalities in education. Students from underprivileged backgrounds were disproportionately affected by this lack of resources, which contributed to lower reading scores.
  4. Another factor that influenced reading scores during the pandemic was the shift towards digital formats. With physical books less accessible, many students turned to e-books or audiobooks as alternatives. While digital formats provided some continuity in terms of access to reading materials, they also presented new challenges. Some students may have struggled with navigating digital platforms or maintaining focus while reading digitally.

Learning loss is more than just book learning and test scores. Many students faced significant difficulties at home. While many schools are arguing over how to makeup for learning loss, many students are still struggling with the mental impact of lockdown. I do not personally believe we will make significant strides until we address these underlying issues.

Disparities in Reading Scores Among Student Groups

Post-Covid trends in literacy.

When looking at trends in literacy, we need to examine the disparities in reading scores because it is evident that there are significant gaps between various student groups. Studies have consistently shown that white students tend to score higher in reading compared to their peers from other racial backgrounds.

  1. Black students often face lower reading scores, indicating a concerning achievement gap. In 1992, Black students scored 181 but began steadily increasing their scores to 197. Then, they dipped back down to 194, post Covid.
  2. Hispanic students face similar challenges. In 1992, they trended similarly at 180, peaked at 207, then dropping back down to 202.
  3. White students started at 217 in 1992, high a high of 234, and dipped down to 231. On average about 20 points higher than Black and Hispanic students.

See the graph below for more details.

The reasons behind these disparities are multifaceted and complex. Socioeconomic factors play a significant role, as students from low-income households may face limited access to resources such as books and educational support. Additionally, cultural differences and language barriers can also contribute to variations in reading performance among different student groups.

Overall, Students Are Trending Lower

It’s not just students of color who are trending lower. White students and mixed students also saw a slight dip in reading scores. When looking at this chart though, it is fairly evident that some groups of students began higher and have stayed high whereas some groups of students have been (and continue to be) persistently lower.

Trends to Literacy Push Towards

Addressing these disparities requires a holistic approach that encompasses both systemic changes and targeted interventions. It is essential for educators and policymakers to prioritize equity in education by implementing strategies that provide equal opportunities for all students.

This includes investing in high-quality early literacy programs, ensuring access to diverse literature representing different cultures and backgrounds, and providing additional support for struggling readers.

Furthermore, fostering a culturally responsive curriculum can also help bridge the gap in reading scores among student groups. By incorporating literature that reflects the experiences of all students, educators can create an inclusive learning environment where every child feels valued and represented.

Trends in Literacy Moving Forward

There are always new trends in literacy. Don't give up!

It doesn’t matter what shiny new curriculum is trending. The trends in literacy we need are consistency in our policies and time to heal from the lasting effects of the pandemic. We’ve seen significant changes to the face of education over the last 30 years but literacy remains flat. We haven’t made any major gains. Although we have lost some gains from Covid, we haven’t actually lost that much – because we never gained that much.

One of big trends in literacy, thanks to the pandemic, is a renewed focus on the importance of reading and literacy, as schools and educational institutions have had to adapt to remote learning environments. I’ve seen education make huge strides in technology advancement.

One notable finding is the disparities in reading scores among different student groups. Black and Hispanic students score between 20-30 points lower than their White counterparts in their reading scores, highlighting the need for targeted interventions and support systems to address this issue.

As educators, parents, and researchers continue to navigate these changing trends, it is crucial to prioritize efforts towards improving reading scores for all students and ensuring equitable access to diverse literary resources. By staying informed about these trends and actively addressing challenges, we can foster a culture of lifelong learning and promote literacy for generations to come.

So what can we do about it? It’s really important to focus on promoting reading in the home. Education always begins at home. Even if you don’t like reading personally, read with your children. Find things to read together. I’ve got lots of suggestions for all age groups: Top 10 Manga for Early Readers: A Parent’s Guide to Choosing Age-Appropriate Content, Best Books for 7-Year-Olds in 2024 – Top Reading Recommendations, 5 Essential Classic Mystery Novels for Kids, and 6 Essential Young Adult Books by Authors of Color. I have new lists every week, so please reach out if there’s a list you’d like me to create!

In addition, if you liked this article, be sure to check out the others in this series: The State of Literacy in Educational Systems: A Comprehensive Analysis.

Happy reading!

Literacy and Reading: You can do it!


I am an educator with almost 15 years of experience teaching in Japan, Hawaii, and in Los Angeles. My goal is to change education and the way we view literacy instruction in America.

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