It's hard to know whether to blame deficient attention spans, insufficient practice with challenging texts, sloppy reading habits driven by online reading via key word searches rather than the parsing of entire sentences, and/or the bottleneck to fluent reading caused by insufficient phonics instruction, but reading comprehension skills continue to be in serious decline.
However, the decline in reading comprehension, in my experience, is not accompanied by a decline in reading confidence. Take a student who reads something--say in one of your comments on his or her paper--that sounds unreasonable or contradictory. Does that student first go back and re-read to make sure you're really saying what he or she thinks your saying before emailing you his or her objections? Perhaps many students still do that. But recently I'm starting to get messages like:
In your feedback, you contradict yourself. First you tell me I shouldn't have done X. But later you tell me I should have done more of X.I look back at my comment, which reads something like:
You weren't supposed to be focusing on X. Instead, you were supposed to be focusing on Y. Given A, B, and C, it's odd that your paper should have focused so much on X.And then I realize that my second sentence was too complex for my student. She hadn't processed it as a whole, but instead had extracted the embedded clause "your paper should have focused so much on X," and interpreted that as a contradiction of "You weren't supposed to be focusing on X."
I pointed this out to my student, who then said that my wording was confusing and that my sentence had been hard to follow since I had "broken it up with commas."
Up to a certain point, I can simplify sentences for reading impaired students, or explain things orally. But, as I wrote earlier:
Some ideas are so complex that they can only be expressed in a series of complex sentences. Sentences beyond a certain level of complexity can only be fully digested in written form, where readers can take them in at their own pace and reread as necessary. If you aren’t able to sustain the attention it takes to parse such sentences in all their complexity, or to develop the skills it takes to write them, you are shut off from whole worlds of ideas, across all sorts of disciplines, from economics to psychology; from chemistry to literary analysis.