“I started to wonder whether our beliefs about struggling readers had inadvertently given students permission to give up. I know from experience that when people believe in my abilities, I work harder to prove them right. When colleagues ask me for help with reading instruction, I know they trust me to know what I’m doing. This belief encourages me to produce and perform. [....]
Just like this process made me—and everyone else—aware of my technology shortcomings, our focus on standardized testing during the past 10 years has made students aware of their reading shortcomings. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we have identified struggling readers as early as 1st grade and have shared with them the cold, hard truth about our perception of their abilities. It’s no wonder that by high school, they have often given up on themselves. Special reading classes just give some kids a better place to hide.” –from Educational Leadership:Reading to Learn:I Got Grouped.
I couldn’t agree with this more! Like most teachers, I have seen how standardized tests and a constant focus on things like reading level just creates a different kind of “class” system in schools. Kids start to believe they are their reading level or test grade, and believe that’s all they’re capable of. I know I’m not saying anything new, but it deeply saddens me to know that President Obama’s plans for NCLB will do nothing to improve this situation. In fact, it will reinforce much of the same horrific policies we’ve been teaching under, only now the distress teachers have been teaching under, out of anger at the limited, cookie-cutter curriculums we’re forced to teach with, now we’ll also be teaching under an increased fear. Because if these curriculums fail our students, and the tests “prove” it, it’s the teachers who will be held to task for it and fired, sometimes at the rate of an entire school at once. And it’s getting worse, state by state.
These views of children also infect some teachers. My fifth grade students are always given third grade test books, or sample tests, and they asked me, when the advanced ELL students are removed from my class, if it was because they were smarter. They believe our class is not as smart as others. And I feel sometimes like that sticks with them more than anything I say or do to counteract that because it’s so much a part of the school culture to think about students and classes as “some are good, others will never be good enough.”
Right now in fifth grade, you need to be reading a level S to be on grade level (3, or 4). If you read P or below, you are a 1. My students have almost all been in this country for less than two years and are about that far behind in grade level. Yet, I have students who came into 5th grade reading a level E (first grade) and are now reading a level O (third grade). That’s 10 levels up that they moved. And what grade am I allowed to give them? 1. The work they have done, the immense strides they’ve made, do not count — that’s what they’re told by these grades, and by standardized English and Math tests.
What does it even mean to be an educator any more? Well, in the Chris Tovani piece quoted at the top, she may not address the dire educational system overall, but she does give great insight into what teachers do when *we* group children based on such assessments:
When we group strugglers together, all the experts except the teacher are taken from the mix. So learners become even more dependent on the teacher. The teacher has total control of the group’s learning because he or she is the one who holds the information. When there are lots of learners whose needs are great, taking away other possible “teachers” isn’t an efficient way to meet needs.
How many times do I do guided reading and implicitly teach the kids that they are dependent on me to become a better reader?