Monday, February 6, 2012

The Teacher Says I Can't Read That

So, I picked up Blizzard of the Blue Moon at a nearby garage sale. When I brought it home, Younger Daughter, attracted to the unicorn on the cover, said, "I want to read that!". Then she leafed through the book and said, sadly, "I can't read this yet."

Me: "Of course you can! Read it to me, and if you get stuck, I'll help you."

YD: "Mrs. Second says I'm not ready for chapter books. I'm only on level H."

This is how "balanced literacy" cripples kids. Since reading isn't taught phonetically, and is believed to be about memorizing words on a word list, the reading a kid can possibly do is restricted to books containing only the very limited vocabulary that they've memorized so far.

And here's something I honestly don't understand — we've been working hard on YD's reading all year, and she's made tremendous progress, but her reading level at school has hardly budged. I'm not the only one noticing this: here's a comment from a forum where a mother describes a similar situation with her son:
He is reading books such as "Runaway Ralph", the Junie B series, the Magic Treehouse series for fun, which are all at reading level M-O, yet at school the teacher identified him as level D (on A-Z reading scale, Z being highest level).
How do teachers assess reading levels? What's going on here?

Needless to say, YD is now reading Blizzard of the Blue Moon, with our help.


  1. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 6, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Yeah, same thing here with my youngest son, 8 third grade. He's been in "Learning Center," a pull out reading intervention program since second grade. Yet he reads pretty well at home. Last year he tested well in the average for age range of reading ability yet was/has remained supposedly around a half year or even year below "grade level."
    The grade level standards (state?) aren't truly aligned with norms(national?).
    At Learning Center each level is mastered, child must test at 90% to move to next level (no skipping) that's the assessment. It is so very paced out, I wonder if it is even mathematically possible to reach "grade level?" While they do have a body of research to support this level to level, test for mastery method- It seems counter to my own experience as a reader, really as a learner in general(though I personally never had a "reading problem.") That is bursts of understanding. You know, some time spent struggling followed by weeks and weeks of devouring knowledge.
    I worry that my son is/has accepted Learning Center as his "role" or station in life-
    "This is what we do- spend one week (or whatever it is) on each and every level, because this is who we are."

  2. My friend's child tested at miles below his true reading level in school because of "comprehension problems." After reading a passage, he was supposed to answer a set of picky detail-oriented factual questions, and if he couldn't, he didn't move up.

  3. I first encountered this when I started volunteering at an elementary school while in college. The kids weren't allowed to check out books from library if they weren't the right level. Some kids looked at the colored level stickers on the books instead of the titles! What a way to choose books. This was right around the time that kids in low levels were astounding teachers by devouring Harry Potter, too.

  4. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 7, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Yep, Cynthia. Accelerated Reader is school-wide at our school too. Every single book in the library has a level. The kids are supposed take tests for every book they check out and accumulate points (different books are worth different amounts)..taking AR tests are the only damned time the kids use computers.

  5. Cynthia, I think you're on to something. There's so much emphasis on finding the right level of difficulty. At my daughter's school, there's a sign on the wall advising the "five-finger rule": basically, if you find a page with five words you don't know, that means the book is too hard and you should pick something else.

    Instead of looking for a book that's just difficult enough, shouldn't we be looking for books that the kid is actually interested in reading? I'd rather see YD struggle with a book that's a little too hard, that she's genuinely interested in, than plod her way through a book that's not too difficult but boring for her.

  6. SCF, I've heard of AR. We don't have it in our district, thank God. What a terrific way to make kids hate reading — every time they read a book, they have to take a test. Nifty.

  7. Yes, and the AR tests are those same nit-picky questions Rivka complained about. And there were only about six questions, so you could recap the entire story, but if you forget one stupid detail, you don't pass the test. It had to be demoralizing, as well as stupid.

  8. It's great that you are allowing your daughter to read a book that really interests her. You really need to challenge her in ways that she will also have fun. I also found that in order to get past the memorized words, I had to raise the level of book my daughter read. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was on such book - she wanted to read it - she picked it out. My daughter was levels somewhere around G and H when she started the harder books with me. Before we leaped into those, we read longer non-chapter books - like the Pinkalicious books.

  9. Graphic novels are a great bridge to reading for some kids. Kids might get sick of the Pinky Bunny Gets a Boo-Boo type books before their imagination becomes strong enough to enjoy pages full of text. The stories in some graphic novels can gripping and complex, while giving ample contextual clues for new vocabulary and stimulating the link between text and image. My boy went through a phase where he was adept at decoding what the words say but not enjoying reading because it didn't bring up vivid images for him. A year later (at 7), he reads approximately one book per day.

    Wimpy Kid was a big hit (I think he read each book three times), as was the Amulet graphic series, the Lunch Lady graphic series, Dragonbreath, the Train Your Dragon series, and on it goes.

    Of course, my kid is home schooled now, so he can read whatever he wants whenever he wants and nobody gives him a hard time about it. But if my kid were still in school, I'd encourage him to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" and keep his real reading interests secret from his teachers. That could keep the fun in it. Soon he could make you proud by hiding X-Men in his math book.

  10. Thanks for the recommendations! I'll check them out.