I wrote this blog post back in February, but I’m sharing it again. Here’s why.
Every Saturday afternoon I meet with THE most delightful kindergarten student and we work on reading and writing. We work hard so that she can meet the end of year goal for reading. The district where she attends school uses DIBELS and TRC to assess 3 times a year. The end of year goal for kgarten students is GRL E.
When we finished making words and writing sentences I pulled out a reader for her to practice. She immediately said, “That’s not a level C, is it? I’m not very good at reading level C. If I keep reading only level C books, I will have to go to kindergarten again next year. That will make my mom really sad.”
I struggled to control my facial expressions, my body language and my tone of voice. There is no way this darling six year old would be telling me this if she hadn’t heard it already from an adult. And that adult is not anyone in her family. Mom is understandably concerned and worries that the pressure being put on her child is not healthy. That’s her rather nice way of saying it. She is a remarkable parent and much nicer than I.
I have plenty I’d like to say, but it would be wiser at this point to refer to my earlier blog post because if I continue to share how I feel after my encounter with this little scholar, I’ll most assuredly regret it.
Read on, please.
A lot has already been written by people far more accomplished and well-known than me, but it’s come up recently in my world and I want to talk about it.
First off, this is not intended to be an offense to teachers. I want to be absolutely clear on the fact that our over-emphasis on data-driven instruction in education has created these problems. No teacher in his/her right mind would intentionally engage in these practices to harm children.
It has to stop.
Making Assessment Data Available to Kids
You know what I’m talking about.
A kid is not a “G”.
Several weeks ago as a part of a testing cadre I listened to kids read and assessed them by taking a running record. I had just thanked one of the kids and said they could return to class when I heard, “What am I?”
The child got it that I was confused and asked again, “What am I?”
“A student in second grade?” I asked sheepishly. “No, I’m a level G, right? What level am I? Did I only make it to a level G? My teacher says I should be a level L already. She’s been helping me to read a lot so I can be a level L.”
“You are not a level G. You read a level G book for me today, and you are a smart, second grade student who is doing a fantastic job reading, understanding and talking about what you’ve read.”
We have got to stop telling kids at what GRL we are instructing and assessing them. We have got to stop shaming kids when they don’t make the district goal during benchmark testing. We have got to stop allowing kids to talk to each other about what “level” they are on when they read.
Fountas and Pinnell have spoken about it themselves:
“It is detrimental to a student’s self-esteem and to their love of reading when they are encouraged to measure their own progress by ‘moving up levels,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017)
Reading levels, whether you use F &P Guided Reading Levels, or DRA or any other acronym that indicates a student’s reading proficiency, please in the name of all that is holy, keep that information to yourself. Use the assessment data to drive your instruction and not to motivate or shame a child into reading more proficiently.
Publicly Sharing Private Information About Student Progress
I know that in America we have a long tradition of competition. Our forefathers (and mothers) came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children. They worked hard against all kinds of wicked odds and won freedom from oppression.
We’re proud of how hard we can work at our dreams. We’re pleased that in America we can achieve our goals and surmount obstacles to succeed. That’s great. And it makes our country a place where anyone can give it a try when it comes to pursuing personal happiness.
Can we agree that we don’t have to create an environment of competition when it comes to little people learning to read? We know from our own post-graduate studies that children grow and develop at different rates. And that’s perfectly OK.
Why then would we put up posters on the wall that openly show progress (or not) of our students’ reading abilities? Or number of minutes read? Or sight words memorized? Or AR quiz points?
Thank God, my assistant principal didn’t post my recent score on a state teacher assessment I took online. I passed, but it was not pretty.
Can we please give up the practice of publicly posting evidence of our kids’ reading success? If we want to hold on to the idea that students do well setting goals and then working to achieve those goals, could we keep that information in a folder tucked away securely that only the teacher and the student can view in private? Could we make sure that kids don’t talk about their progress to anyone but teachers and their family members/caregivers?
Guided reading levels and student progress reports were never meant to be an impetus for kids to improve their reading. They were meant to inform our instruction, however.
Can we go back to using them for that purpose?