Reading Sufficiency: A Tale of Two Papers – Part 849
The Oklahoman made a splash again this morning with the editorial, Conspiracies, anecdotes no substitute for analysis. The title itself is the deepest part of the piece, but let me quote from it anyway:
Consider a recent Owasso forum focused on education. At that event, some attendees complained about a new law requiring retention of third-grade students who read at only a first-grade level or lower, based on state tests. The fact that children should be taught to read should be obvious, yet the law still has detractors.
Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, has filed legislation to allow parents, teachers and local school board members to socially promote students even when tests show a child is far behind classmates. Nollan’s argument for her bill rested, in part, on an anecdote. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test,” Nollan said. “This is an 8-year-old.”
Think about that: The justification given for changing a major state law is that a single child out of roughly 50,000 third-grade students in Oklahoma once vomited during testing. The law of averages suggests this scenario happens at schools every day across Oklahoma, regardless of whether testing is ongoing. That child could have simply been sick, or other factors may have induced stress. Yet that isolated instance is pointed to as justification for watering down efforts to teach children to read.
To politicians, anecdotes are the gold standard. Without them, we wouldn’t have the Merry Christmas Bill, the Pop Tart Gun Bill, or so many more of the fabulous entries into our state’s legislative record. Just think back to any presidential debate from the past 20 years. Every candidate has cherry-picked someone’s tale of woe and made it the symbol of what’s wrong with this country.
In this case, however, I’m siding with the politician. I have seen the increase in anxiety. I have seen the students crying after their benchmark tests. I have seen teachers whipped into a frenzy over the fear that in spite all their efforts, a student will have a bad test day and they won’t have the documentation to promote the child anyway.
Selective story-telling isn’t limited to politicians, by the way. The editorialists at the Oklahoman missed the big ideas from the parent meeting. Fortunately, the journalists at the Tulsa World were on hand to do something resembling reporting.
Seven legislators and Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, took questions from more than 100 people who asked questions and shared concerns about education funding, the Reading Sufficiency Act and other issues…
Several people also spoke about their opposition to the third-grade reading law, which this year requires third-graders to show proficiency on their reading test or be retained in the third grade.
Robison told parents that there are six ways a third-grader could be promoted to fourth grade after failing the reading test. But one parent told him that has backfired in her daughter’s third-grade class.
“What’s happening, sir, is they are taking instruction time from our children to build a portfolio on every single child just in case they don’t pass,” she said.
After a pause, Robison said, “That’s unfortunate,” bringing a chorus of groans from the audience.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said she has heard that as many as 4,000 third-graders could be retained this year. Robison said state officials estimate that about 12 percent of the state’s third-graders would be in danger of retention.
“Overtesting, teaching to the test, high-stakes testing all has been detrimental,” said Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs. “I had a third-grader in my district who threw up on her test. This is an 8-year-old.”
She said she has introduced a bill that allows for a team of parents, teachers and principals to decide after remediation whether a child should be promoted to the fourth grade.
“We’re really hoping to put it back into your hands to make the decisions,” Nollan said. “The people on the front lines are the best people to make the decision as to whether a child should be retained or promoted.”
The story, when told in full, is much more interesting. The key word here is parents. It’s not just teachers and administrators who hate the mandatory retention law; it’s parents too. Even ones who should have no concerns about how this will impact their children are unnerved. The Oklahoman believes parents should hold the schools accountable for wasting the time of all students by doing the portfolios (which of course are one of the good cause exemptions – and something REAC3H coaches are training districts to complete under the watch of the SDE). On a greater level, what parents should really demand is that we quit wasting such an insane amount of time on high-stakes testing. And by time, I also mean tens of millions of dollars a year.
During a Q&A with KFOR in Oklahoma City yesterday (questions = softballs & answers = blame teachers), Superintendent Barresi did everything the Oklahoman editorial decries. She discussed her sons’ struggles with reading (anecdotal evidence). And she blamed all of the adults for creating the anxiety being felt by Oklahoma’s students.
To that end, I’d agree with her. I just think she’s blaming the wrong adults.
Fortunately, some of the grown ups in Oklahoma City have been listening to parents. Yesterday, the House Education Committee advanced two bills that would provide more options to parents of third graders in lieu of retention. The only two who voted no on each bill were Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.