Saturday, May 30, 2015

Punching the Eight Year Olds

In some special states, it's not just the end of testing season-- it's also punish third graders by telling them that all their hard work this year was a waste of their time because they have failed a single reading test, and so they have officially flunked third grade.

Mississippi is just open more example of a state that thinks eighth-year-olds need to be pummeled mercilessly so that they will stop holding out, because clearly any third grader who can't pass a Big Standardized Reading Test must not have been threatened enough. Clearly some folks believe that once facing the prospect of failure, a nation of third graders will declare, "Well, then, I'll stop messing around and learn how to read, because previously I had no interest in learning that fundamental skill-- at last not as much as I wanted to get into fourth grade." Yes, surely that's what will happen.

“We have had dozens and dozens of studies on this topic,” said [Linda] Darling-Hammond. “The findings are about as consistent as any findings are in education research: the use of testing is counterproductive, it does not improve achievement over the long run, but it does dramatically increase dropout rates. Almost every place that has put this kind of policy in place since the 1970s has eventually found it counterproductive and has eliminated the policy. Unfortunately policy makers often are not aware of the research and they come along years later and reintroduce the same policies that were done away with previously because of negative consequences and lack of success.”

This whole Failing Third Graders policy argument is what I've learned to recognize as a standard reformster construction. The basic argument structure looks like this:

1) This is a real problem. We will tell you just how real a problem it is.
2) Therefor a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves.

Step 1 sometimes involves a big slice of deep fried baloney, but sometimes it's an actual issue. Third grade reading is probably an actual issue-- students who can't read well-ish by third grade seem not run into issues down the road (although-- correlation or causation-- those problems might be connected to reading issues, or both the problems and the reading issues could be related to some other factor *cough* poverty *cough*).

The thing is, you could take all the evidence that third grade retention works, roll it up in ball, set it on a pedestal non the head of a pin and still have room left over for several milling angels to have a square dance. Or, to be plain, there is no evidence that retention helps. There is a mountain of evidence that it hurts.

So if we actually wanted to solve the problem of third grade reading proficiency (and not, say, create yet open more crisis with which to force more evidence of public education failure), there are so many things we could do.

We could add additional teachers at the K-3 level so that each student could get more focused personal instruction.'

We could add more intervention programs and personnel so that the moment a student faltered, that child would get all the help she needed.

We could pursue aggressive programs to put books into children's homes. Hell, we could pursue aggressive programs to write and publish materials that wide varieties of children (and their parents)would find appealing and attractive.

We could use methods of assessment that would more reliably tell us about student reading skills, and not more ridiculously inauthentic BS Testing.

We could listen to actual experts. There are plenty talking about this.

“People often present this as if there are only two choices — choice one is hold the kids back and the other is socially promote them without any additional resources or strategies,” Darling-Hammond said. “But the third way, the right response, is one in which you identify the resources they must have and ensure they are getting them immediately. They also should look at whether if you sit them down with a book, can they read? Because a lot of kids perform poorly on multiple-choice standardized tests who actually know the material if you present it in a more authentic way.”

At a minimum, we could shift our thinking-- instead of trying to think of ways to make sure that eight year olds aren't Getting Away With Something by having reading issues, we could adopt an attitude that we will do Whatever It Takes to help those students succeed. Because telling eight year olds that we will punch them in the face if they don't pass that BS Test is not only cruel and stupid-- it also just plain doesn't work.

1 comment:

  1. From your "methods of assessment" link that leads to your post on inauthentic assessment, I then followed your "perversion of close reading" link to your post on Close Reading 2.0 that explains what's wrong with CCSS reading . I can't remember if I'd read it before but I think it's one of your best posts.

    I also followed the "actual experts" link to your Rigorizing Eight Year Olds post. I think the analogy of retaining children if they're not tall enough is so good.

    It just seems like common sense that the better way would be, as you say:

    "We could add additional teachers at the K-3 level so that each student could get more focused personal instruction."'

    "We could add more intervention programs and personnel so that the moment a student faltered, that child would get all the help she needed."