Vocabulary scores decline for Iowa fourth-graders

Vocabulary scores for Iowa's fourth-graders have dropped from 2009.

The scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress Exam and only two other states, Indiana and Arkansas, showed similar drops.

Local educators say the decline could be attributed to the tests requiring a different kind of critical thinking than what is taught in the classroom. The tests require students to read a passage and use context clues to find the definition of a word. In school, most vocabulary exercises are matching or a dictionary-based activity.

One step towards improving the scores in the next few years could be emphasizing reading and vocabulary at home.

"As students are reading, the more they can read, the better and when they run into unfamiliar words, I would first try to, instead of saying something like 'why don't you look it up in the dictionary?' I would say, 'well, what do you think that word means based on the rest of the paragraph that you're reading or based on the context of what that word is, what do you think some possible meanings are?'" said Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator at Great Prairie AEA. "That's going to be a strategy that will help students be better life-long learners."

Dr. Sheldahl said demographics could also play a role in the scores. As Iowa is seeing more children in poverty or with lower reading skills coming to schools, teachers must double their efforts in the classroom.

Even though the test results took a dip, Iowa's scores are still above the national average.