Woes of a Reading Teacher

As I was reading from bloglines today, I came across this post from Musings of a Book Addict by Sandra Stiles, which brought back many “fond” memories of my teaching days (which ended abruptly this year after budget cuts, *sigh*).

She vents about a new canned reading program her school has adopted which teaches students how to hate reading. Yes, you read that right. Some brilliant mind thought it would be a great idea to “help” students raise their scores on, (gritting teeth), the state standardized test, by subjecting them to mindless skill and drill (you KNOW kids are going to LOVE reading after this!). You can check out the details on Sandra’s blog, but essentially, the lessons are broken down into reading and taking a computerized test…and repeat.

What do the students read after they are done with the computer “stuff”, you ask? According to Sandra:

“On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. Due to our curriculum, all 6th graders in the county read the same novels, at the same time and follow the exact curriculum at the same time. The same goes for the 7th and 8th graders.”

More bad news:

  • The students can only pick from 8 available, pre-approved titles.
  • Administrators perform a “fidelity check” to make sure teachers are adhering to the program.
  • Slow readers will simply have to learn to catch-up
  • ESOL and ESE students can try to catch up with the usual modifications

How depressing is that?

Having been a Reading (briefly), ESOL and Language Arts teacher, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder if checking your brain and heart at the door is a requirement for becoming a school administrator. Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed with teaching at some schools where the administrators were friendly, thoughtful and considered the students above the numbers. (Bill, Sandy and Earl, if you ever read this, I want you to know that you were the best administrators EVER!).  But the majority adopt programs like these simply to help raise the numbers. What good are numbers to students who are not being taught how to critically look at the world and make connections?

Think of it this way: teach someone how a car works; all of the inner machinations and technology that make it possible…but never teach them how to drive . Give them a standardized test on what they learned. Watch them get high scores, or not.  How many of these “car experts” will actually be able to drive a car?

I once read that education is a “mushy” science. Nothing is certain, no strategy is without flaw, and all teachers must constantly adapt and improve their methods. Indeed, the best teachers are lifelong students/learners who teach within a particular context, which varies wildly from teacher to teacher, from classroom to classroom, from school to school, from town to town…you get the idea. But if there is one constant in education, it’s the idea that there must be balance.

By keeping and teaching the mechanics of reading, but taking away individual choice and reading for enjoyment, the powers that be are truly setting these kids up for failure.

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I wrote a story inspired by standardized tests that won first place in the Abbey Hill Literary Challenge. You can access the story and other winners in their site here, or read just my story here. WARNING! Contains suspense, blood and some gore…Read at your own risk!

Also appropriate, and one of my favorite stories, is titled “No Dentist Left Behind”, by John Taylor. Any teacher who has been through the standardized testing…”experience”…should read this!

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