My View is a special series taking a ground-level look at big issues
My preparation for a new school year follows a similar routine: buy new classroom supplies, organize and set-up the classroom, look over and revise lesson plans, and my favorite part—get to know my newest third graders.
I can’t wait to meet the young people I will work with to develop a collaborative team, where they can grow their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
This year, as I looked over second-grade report cards, old test scores, and notes from their former teachers, I felt a sense of fear and anxiety for my incoming students, myself, and my third-grade colleagues.
The Read by Grade Three Law goes into full effect this school year. My newest group of children will need to achieve a designated cut score on the M-STEP standardized test by the end of this school year or they may be retained.
Looking over my notes, I realized some of their reading scores were low and some were significantly below second-grade reading level. So many thoughts, concerns, and questions swirled in my head.
In less than nine months, how will I help each one of these precious individuals make a year’s growth and several of them 1-2 years of growth in reading?
How will I meet each of my 26 students’ individual needs in reading, while trying to teach all of the Common Core curriculum standards in writing, math, science, and social studies without more support in my classroom?
How will I find the time to devote to the endless cycle of modeling, practice, coaching, and feedback with so much of our learning time being pulled into testing?
Are all of these tests really necessary: weekly tests; formative tests/exit tickets; unit tests; benchmark tests; beginning-, middle- and end-of-the-year tests; pre/post tests; progress monitoring tests; and state M-STEP testing?
We are spending too much time teaching to tests, preparing or reviewing for tests, taking tests, and providing feedback about tests. We need more time to teach and allow adequate practice time to help kids develop reading skills and strategies and prevent them from being labeled “struggling” readers in the first place.
All of this test prep and test taking leaves little time to promote a love of reading and allow children time to practice reading. Research has shown that increasing the amount of time kids spend engaging in reading is the best way to increase reading skills and achievement.
Unfortunately, testing and test prep also don’t allow for student choice over reading material. Struggling readers could be more motivated to read and persevere in reading if allowed to choose high-interest texts. Reading about what they love and having choice over their reading material makes youngsters feel more content, which leads to comfort and confidence in reading ability.
These positive feelings encourage children to spend more time reading, which further increases their skills. We need emergent readers to practice reading as much as possible, and to believe in themselves as readers, in order to achieve their full literacy potential.
However, building authentic connections between life and learning is often sacrificed to quickly “cover” all of the material and make time to give another test. I wonder what message this intense focus on test-taking sends to my impressionable third graders.
Are we telling our children that rushing to obtain a score is more important than doing quality work to demonstrate learning?
I worry the children will get sucked into a sickening cycle of comparing themselves to a cut score or other people’s scores to define their value and self-worth as a person.
How will they ever believe they are enough if they are basing their self-worth on these ever-present, constantly fluctuating scores?
My constant fear is for my lowest-performing students who never seem to get close to the cut score.
How do they see themselves as a learner or as a reader?
How many times can they rally to get back up and persevere to overcome their challenges in reading?
How many times can they fall short of the target and still believe they can read and they will succeed?
Over time will scores deflate their sense of self-worth and convince them they can’t read, won’t ever be able to read, and should just give up?
Giving up in third grade seems like a disastrous outcome for any child. This could not have been the intention of the Read by Grade Three Law. We all want our children to flourish, and reading is a vital component to their future success.
I hope by sharing my experience with this first year of full implementation of the Read by Grade Three Law other educators will similarly speak up as well. I hope to encourage educators, community members, students, and policy makers to be courageous enough to have honest conversations about what the real intentions and effects of this law mean to the daily lives of students, families, teachers, and school districts.
We all need to collectively examine questions and concerns about this new law, so we can collaboratively design sustainable solutions to providing the best education for our children and their future. Asking for the help and support we need, to give our children what they deserve for the best education possible, demonstrates our caring and strength.
Will stakeholders’ voices be heard and respected?