Welcome to the next decade where it is predicted that we will use sophisticated glasses to see the words on the screen, rather than walk with our heads bowed to look at a screen in the palm of our hand.
My blog topic today is about reading and the need for more teaching. It just so happens to coincide with the social promotion of third grade students
The Charlotte Observer editorial article of December 20, titled Educators, not courts, should decide reading test, had me quite intrigued. It highlighted Read to Achieve (RTA), a program adopted, or perhaps borrowed, from the Just Read Florida initiative that tests K-3 reading proficiency. The RTA program has failed to show significant improvements in NC, or anywhere else, says the article, despite $150mil spent by the NC DPI, or Department of Public Instruction.
Growing up in a family where reading was encouraged and promoted from an early age, I did not have to worry much about reading tests at elementary school. After all, I was learning (and reading) English and therefore got to hear thousands of words daily, in my native language, long before I had to take my first school test at age 6. I also grew up at a time in South Africa when TV was only introduced when I was a teen, so there were less alternatives (and distractions) like there are in 2020.
This scenario has not played out with young students in our program like Anthony, Sneijder and Gabriela, who essentially learned their first English words on day one of kindergarten. Score 1-0. Advantage to the native English speaker. My daughters have all recently attended public school and I am privy to the heavy amount of testing they undertake, rather than the teaching they receive. And I am sure Language Arts, and reading is no exception, regardless of the subject.
The problem appears to be that NC borrowed the programs worst aspects … more testing and holding back children who fail to show proficiency by third grade. In case you missed it, only 4 out of 10 3rd grade students in CMS schools can pass the reading proficiency test, according to recent Charlotte Meck School research. And it’s not getting any better I am afraid to say …
So, what happens to those on the cusp of repeating grade three? Glad you asked. In my experience with working with ELL students from title 1 schools in our after-school program, 3rd grade students are tested, and retested near the end of the school year. If you fail the retest, you are afforded the opportunity to come back to school for the first three weeks or so of summer, to do some intense Read to Achieve testing. Or should that be teaching? It’s really not possible to catch up on years in just a few short weeks while their more fortunate buddies are enjoying a nice summer vacay. In my experience, 4th grade looms large, whether they are ready or not. After all, what would third grade look like if some 18,000 or so were held back every June? And besides, who would want to be a third-grade reading tutor, tester or perhaps teacher?
You see, the $150mil has not been spent so much on teaching to read, as it has on testing. The Science of Reading program is getting strong reading results at less cost in Mississippi, the state with the dubious distinction of having the highest poverty levels, but where 83% of 3rd graders passed, this past school year. In NC, only 56% passed, according to the research. It was 4% higher when Read to Achieve was implemented in 2013.
Dr. Claire White, from UMass, in her recently published dissertation had it right, in my opinion. Academic literacy is the way to go. Dr. White really got me thinking. She makes a great case for teaching target words and then engaging children from a young age in debates about topics like “is it cruel (in your opinion) to have animals in a circus?” It is never too early to start, her research suggests. In my opinion, we ought to teach kids to connect with the books theme and its overall content, and worry less about force feeding the vocabulary that has little significance to a young child who is already so far behind and is no doubt going to be to fourth grade, regardless.
I am suggesting that we need to try something else in our local schools. More emphasis on teach, instead of test. Reading often comes across as an unpleasant time of struggling to figure it out by yourself. Not fun at all.
Here’s what we are doing and will continue to do at LHCC in the reading arena. We let children choose their own books, read with them and help them connect with the subject matter. We want them to see reading in a different light. Much like the beacons of hope we try and represent for all students and their families.
Learning Help Centers of Charlotte
January 5, 2020