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We're always measuring the wrong reading outcomes.

  • 1.  We're always measuring the wrong reading outcomes.

    Posted 22 days ago

    Why so Testy?!

    Every so often news headlines alert us that the U.S. ranks "below average" in reading test scores, lagging behind other countries, like China, which consistently rank at or near the
    standardized-testing 1

    top. It's probable that we'll receive the same news again this spring after many schools dutifully administer standardized tests.

    Why? Because, as a whole, our education system continues to do the same things it's always done to try to improve reading test scores, yet it expects different results.

    It goes something like this: Kids spend hours and hours practicing answering test questions about random topics supposedly preparing them to be good test takers. Tests are taken. Test scores are announced. Teachers, administrators, parents bemoan the scores for about 10 minutes. Administrators purchase the next "best" expensive program that promises to be the answer to better test scores. Rinse and repeat.

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    Sadly, test scores and the costs in time and resources we expend on them offer us pretty much nothing of informational value. Many education professionals around the world (myself included) agree that tests measure the wrong things. Assessing children's mastery in answering multiple choice questions about reading random passages about topics that the kids don't care much about is just plain silly. Especially since:

    • Just about nobody needs to carefully read things they don't really care about.
    • Just about nobody needs to answer multiple choice questions about those things.
    • Just about nobody competes with others in doing such reading assessments once they leave school.

    The bottom line? We shouldn't spend large amounts of money and time requiring children to squirm in their chairs while coloring in bubbles with a #2 pencil when they could be engaged in activities that will be useful for the rest of their lives.

    If we want children to be good readers, we should continually ask questions like:

    1. Do they have a favorite book with them at all times?
    2. Do they happily choose to read that book when given the time and opportunity?
    3. Do they have access to abundant appealing books that they will really love so when they are given the time, they will continue to read for enjoyment every day?
    4. Do they enjoy discussing and sharing what they read with friends and family?

    That's it. If we answer "yes" to those simple questions, we will increase the number of joyful, lifelong readers and learners in the U.S.

    If we spend money and time to assure we can answer "yes" to these questions, it will be money and time well spent.

    If we continually say "YES" to those four targets, our children will continually grow as readers every day they are in school and beyond school. Reading levels at any point in time is immaterial if we get children the books they need and time to enjoy them.

    Let's grow readers, not test scores.



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    Mark Condon
    Vice President
    Unite for Literacy
    Louisville KY
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  • 2.  RE: We're always measuring the wrong reading outcomes.

    Posted 21 days ago
    Mark: There is a difference between developing a love of reading and learning the skills necessary to be able to read. Testing has a small place in helping children if they are used to identify what kind of problems a child has who is having trouble learning to read. I agree that we spend way too much money on testing. That money could be put to much better use, such as ensuring that all children have access to good literature - both fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry.

    I agree with you about what will help children become "readers". If reading is tedious, it is necessary to look at what is going on in your classroom and answer the questions that Mark posed: 
    1. Do they have a favorite book with them at all times?
    2. Do they happily choose to read that book when given the time and opportunity?
    3. Do they have access to abundant appealing books that they will really love so when they are given the time, they will continue to read for enjoyment every day?
    4. Do they enjoy discussing and sharing what they read with friends and family?
    The skills involved in decoding are essential for most children to learn to read but for children to understand what they are reading, children need "knowledge" and experiences that make them able to comprehend text (See Natalie Wexler's book, The Knowledge Gap, a book that is most interesting, although I do not agree with her entire thesis). We need to know the background knowledge that the children bring to the reading experience. Our job is to enhance their understanding of the world so that when they pick up a book, they can comprehend the information in it or the relationship a story or book may have to other literature. Also, children will read books that are related to their interests. We need to have a strong enough relationship with the children in our classes so that we know what they are interested in, what subjects/topics get them excited and supply them with books connected to their interests.

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    Nora Krieger, PhD
    Associate Professor Emerita/Past Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/NJ Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park, NJ
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  • 3.  RE: We're always measuring the wrong reading outcomes.

    Posted 21 days ago
    I agree with Prof. Krieger's analysis, and I would also add the importance of doing this: once you find out what a child's favourite book is and what you can do to choose books related to the child's present interests, you can proceed to suggest other books that could expand their interests and widen their familiarities with grammar usages.  This will encourage both student growth and teacher growth, since no two children will present with the same interests and capabilities to grow at identical rates  Hopefully the teacher involved will have the "next stage" books ready the next day.

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    Brad Butler
    Volunteer Teaching Assistant and Paraeducator student
    Meadows Elementary School
    Olympia, WA
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