Caring Doesn’t Make Us Flawed
The Oklahoman is up to their usual nonsense this morning. This time, they’re criticizing the adults who don’t like the third grade retention clause under the Reading Sufficiency Act.
In sports, citizens often mock the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality or refusal to keep score. But in academics, some find it shocking that officials would acknowledge any students trail their peers. Some critics take things a step further by suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read.
That’s the wrong approach. Fostering an entitlement mentality provides children no academic benefit. A child’s self-esteem should be based on actual achievement, not social promotion. Self-image improves most when a child initially struggles to achieve a goal, not when “accomplishment” is handed to them.
Keep in mind, the law only prevents students from advancing to the fourth grade if they are reading at a first-grade level or lower. Such students are unable to read and comprehend a Dr. Seuss book.
This is just the first third of the editorial. And it’s so, so wrong.
I’ll start with the youth sports analogy. I’ve coached youth teams where no official score is kept. I’ve also coached teams where the children are in single digits, the adults do keep score, and the kids finish the game completely unaware of the outcome. Some of them are playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball, softball, or anything else for the love of the game. Keep that concept in mind for later in this critique.
I also have problem with the statement that educators are suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read. The test results that we will ostensibly receive by May 9th will not tell us one damn thing about the teaching that has occurred in the classroom. They won’t show the interventions, remediation, or tutoring. They won’t show that students made gains. They won’t show the level of parental involvement. They won’t show whether the students are getting more and more comfortable in their school libraries. Tests only show what they show. And that’s very little.
Furthermore, there is no entitlement mentality. Critics of forced retention know that third grade is too late to do this. That is why, when we look through the permanent records of many of the students who will be retained this year, we will see that the school recommended retention at an earlier grade for a variety of reasons. Often, the parent overrides that recommendation. Still, most third grade teachers will gladly tell you that they would rather promote their students to fourth grade based on the fact that they are making gains. Maybe they’re not on level. I’d promote an improving student rather than holding him or her back, however.
A number of other bloggers have discussed that the test does not actually diagnose reading level. That is a whole separate battery of tests. In fact, there is tremendous disconnect between the skills assessed on the Oklahoma 3rd Grade Reading Test and the nationally-normed tests that are in place as one of the Good Cause Exemptions. The levels of performance are also mis-aligned. And again, with the Dr. Seuss. Apparently defenders of this inane law are going to keep pushing this nonsense until we’re all One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish in the face.
The writers also criticize the concept of test anxiety, saying that the leading cause is anxiety over the material itself. I agree that can be a cause of anxiety. It’s not the only one, however. That’s typically true of older test takers – not eight and nine year-olds. For them, this is the first significant standardized test. It’s completely unfamiliar. I’ve never been in a third grade classroom during state tests where the children weren’t at least a little antsy.
I’ve also heard claims that the adults are making the anxiety worse. This is mainly coming from Superintendent Barresi, who obviously hasn’t been spending time in schools where she would see teachers making up songs with their classes, entire faculties wearing testing t-shirts, and parents providing support and encouragement non-stop. Testing is the most stressful time of the school year for everybody. The procedures alone are brutal on the adults, who still muster the energy to look at the kids, sing a happy song, and say, “You’ve got this. I believe in you!”
The editorial continues with more inflated nonsense about testing.
Some critics of the reading law suggest “high stakes” testing doesn’t occur outside K-12 schools. Not true. The driver’s license exam is certainly high stakes for most teenagers. College admission is often tied to a student’s ACT or SAT score. Those wishing to serve in the military must achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB to enlist. For what it’s worth, a 2010 Education Trust report, which examined ASVAB results from 2004 to 2009, found 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates (and 39.5 percent of black applicants from Oklahoma) did not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist.
Those wishing to work as attorneys must pass the bar exam. Failure on that test means years of college education and thousands of dollars in tuition have been wasted. Talk about high stakes! The same scenario is true for accountants. Even those wishing simply to work a cash register at a retail outlet must typically pass a skills test.
Before the writers drift off-topic to the ASVAB results, they nearly make a solid point. At different stages in life, many of us have chosen to take a test that will have high stakes for us. I chose to take the ACT and SAT in high school (and the GRE after college). I have countless friends and family members who have self-selected to take the MCAT and LSAT and spent hundreds of hours on top of their coursework cramming for those tests. This hardly compares to the experience of our third graders.
I hope the editorialists at the state’s mouthpiece for corporate education reform at least understand that. If they don’t, then they need to read Rob’s blog from last night. Sure, it’s an anecdotal piece of evidence. But it’s a pretty compelling one.