Julie’s post about NY’s test scores came as I began reading Kelly Gallagher’s book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It; I’ve only read the first half of the book, but he makes a compelling argument as to why a sudden improvement in test scores is often a case of smoke and mirrors. He references an investigation by The Dallas Morning News when elementary schools were making radical improvements from one year to the next, yet when the students went from elementary to middle school, their test scores tanked. He goes on to say that many of the numbers were not reliable because special education students were not counted, and in one year’s time the number of kids classified as special ed. students more than doubled. The increased importance on testing worries me. While I know that we need some sort of standard benchmark to see if teachers are doing their job, I think the current model doesn’t work. As Gallagher says in the book, we’re “valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers”. All in all, I don’t think that we should diminish the improved scores, but I am skeptical of what it really means.
Gallagher speaks in later chapters about over-teaching, something I was definitely guilty of. When I first started teaching I would give packets of reading comp. questions with each chapter. Instead of getting my students excited about reading, this over-teaching of the novels had the opposite effect.
So I did something about it. I implemented IRP, Independent Reading Projects, into the curriculum 3 years ago. They have 2 of them a year: one that is almost totally open-ended and the other is genre specific. They have to submit their reading selection for review, and I’ve banned some YA series (No Gossip Girl or Cirque du Freak). More importantly, I let them read in class. Each year I’m blown away by the delight in the students’ eyes when I tell them that every Friday we are going to simply read a book of their choosing in class. With the extensive after-school schedules of most of my students, setting aside 45 minutes to sit quietly and read a good book rarely, if ever, happens. I’m lucky because as a teacher in an independent school, we don’t teach to the test. I get to pick the novels that I want to teach, teach them in whatever order I choose, and drop books when I feel like it. This year I’m going to add a unit on graphic novels to try and trick some of my more reluctant male students into becoming readers. We’ll see if it works.