Home > Uncategorized > Caring Doesn’t Make Us Flawed

Caring Doesn’t Make Us Flawed

April 16, 2014

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.

  1. April 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Thank you for this. I am tired of educators being used as a punching bag. Many things in this article are a slap in the face to the good work teachers our doing in our state. It is insulting that legislators and others with limited or no educational experience believe they know what is best for kids more than the people who spend the most time with them – teachers and parents.

    It is insulting to assume those who oppose the RSA don’t take literacy seriously. It is insulting that many people are putting more trust in test scores than they do educational experts and parents.

    Another comment that rubbed me the wrong way as the writers close their argument they claim “school is supposed to prepare students for the realities of life as an adult.”

    I didn’t see that anywhere in the standards. Prepare students for college – Yes. For careers – Yes. Realities of life didn’t make the list.

    Are we supposed to teacher 3rd graders about the “realities of life.” Because their are many realities that I don’t think my third grader is ready to learn about, and when he is ready I will be the one to teach him.

    Many great teachers manage to include valuable “life lessons” through literature, excellent classroom management, and modeling social skills – this is all part of the “hidden curriculum.” But to place the burden of academics and teaching students about all the realities of life on teachers is a little much.

    Let’s let schools concentrate on education, and let’s let educational decisions rest in the hands of those who are closest to the situation – not a multiple choice test.



    • April 16, 2014 at 8:46 am

      Line 2: our = are (it was bugging me. Where is the edit comment button on this thing!)


  2. Teacher N. Reading
    April 16, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Very well said!! The major problem with standardized testing is that it fails to show anything other than the outcome of ONE day. Let’s take today for example. My students are currently taking their state test. I had 6 students who were kicked off of their log in screen and denied access multiple times. They had to switch computers (thank you CTB, you are in fact as worthless as tits on a bull) and re-login several times on several different computers. CTB’s answer? Switch computers…well that may be fine and good for a district that houses 800 computers, but my district has been cut to bare bones and we have barley enough to get by (thank youThese 6 students did not get to start their testing until nearly 2 hours after everyone else. Now…it’s not just the 6 that are affected by this debacle, it is the other 55 students around them who are trying to test but are being disturbed repeatedly. How are any of these tests valid? Did we not learn anything from CTB and their incompetence last year? Oh wait…isn’t the whole point of Barresi to prove that public schools are failing? SHE has failed this state and it’s students! I’m drifting from my point here…the point is you cannot base a students progress or potential on the outcome of ONE standardized test on ONE day of ONE year! This whole concept was obviously thought up by someone with less than half a brain and no background in childhood development or education…typical of the state department.


  3. Kathy Taylor Spivey
    April 16, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Here is what the OKLAHOMAN has to say: BLAH…BLAH…BLAH…YADDA…YADDA….BLAH…..


  4. Linda Sexton
    April 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    In addition to any and all problems with giving third graders a high-stakes test, is this: the test being given in NOT a reading test. It will NOT diagnose specific reading proficiencies or problems. It will NOT yield a reading level. Then, there’s this: what do “they” think will be done for a child’s reading instruction in the repeat of the entire third grade curriculum that would not be done for a child in the fourth grade?


  5. Dawn Castor
    April 17, 2014 at 12:44 am

    I’m a HS librarian with and English teaching degree and a masters in education. I fail to comprehend much of Dr. Seuss if the truth be told.


  6. April 17, 2014 at 4:00 am

    Here is a point of interest. I am assuming the authors of this editorial went to college so they also had to take the ACT or SAT. How many times did they take it to improve their scores? This is a common practice with the high school students I teach; some take it as many as four times to get a higher score. Also there are many lawyers and doctors who don’t pass the bar or the boards the first time. It often takes several attempts before they become licensed. So I guess in life there are “do overs” for adults who flub an important test. Too bad we can’t give the same courtesy or at least a lot more flexibility to 8 year old students on a worthless test.


  7. Debbie Barnett
    April 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    You did not mention students who are on IEP’s for a learning disability and showing progress daily in the classroom. Retaining these special need students would not improve their reading skills at grade level and if you do they will be in there 20’s to graduate or drop out. Live with a child with special needs and you will see my point. Every special need child has enough struggle in school, I trust parent, guardian, teachers, school staff over testing what is best for the student.


  8. Jill
    April 18, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Dr. Suess is a lot of made up word for the purpose of writing and imagination so I’m not sure how that correlates with reading levels! I completely agree with Mad Ramblings, I am a counselor in a HS setting and students often take the first ACT just to see what it’s like knowing they will retake it for a better score. 3rd graders are not being allowed that courtesy. To say that an entire law degree is wasted because the test wasn’t passed the first time is stupid.


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