Thanks in part to the Common Core, there is broad (though not yet universal) agreement that we need to raise the level of rigor in the reading that’s assigned to all students. Unfortunately, the guidance that’s starting to emerge about how teachers can best select “grade-appropriate” texts is overly complicated and may actually end up undermining the Common Core’s emphasis on improving the quality and rigor of the texts students are reading.
Take, for example, the book recently released by the International Reading Association entitled Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading. The first chapter of the book (blogged here), made a strong argument against the practice of assigning “just right” books and in favor of selecting more rigorous texts.
Having made a persuasive case for upping the rigor of readings, the authors devote the better part of the remaining eighty pages to showing, in great detail, just how complicated this process can become when put into practice. What unfolds is a dizzying array of quantitative and qualitative measures that teachers can use to select appropriate texts.
The authors warn teachers that relying on quantitative measures alone (word and sentence length, word frequency, and text cohesion), which are by far the easiest and perhaps even the most reliable way to pin a text to a particular grade band, is “too problematic to be effective.”
Of course, the authors are right that
The central idea behind standards- and accountability-driven reforms is that, in order to improve student learning, we need to do three things:
- Clearly define a minimum bar for all students (i.e., set standards).
- Hold students, teachers, and leaders accountable for meeting those minimum standards.
- Back off: Give teachers and leaders the autonomy and flexibility they need to meet their goals.
The push for greater accountability has often been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control.
It’s a powerful formulation, and one that we’ve seen work, particularly in charter schools and networks where teachers and leaders have used that autonomy to find innovative solutions to some of the biggest instructional challenges.
Unfortunately, in far too many traditional school districts, the push for greater accountability has been paired with less autonomy and more centralized control. That is a prescription for a big testing and accountability backlash.
You needn’t look far for examples of how traditional districts have gotten the accountability balance all wrong. There are a host of stifling district practices that unintentionally hamstring, rather than free, our teachers and leaders. And that unintentionally encourage precisely the kinds of practices most testing critics loathe.
Many of these top-down district policies stem from the earnest desire to replicate the practices of the best and most effective teachers. Unfortunately, what too many state and district leaders miss is that you can’t script your way to great instruction from district offices or from the statehouse. And trying to
Guest blogger Paul Gross is an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia and former head of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.
Yesterday in Ed Week, an article by Nora Fleming highlighted the results from a recent NAEP assessment of “hands-on” science skills, which demonstrated that “elementary, middle, and high school students failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of science concepts when they performed activity-based science tasks and investigations…” This breathless account hardly merits close attention. The NAEP data will receive it in due course. But the remarks of the NAEP Governing Board’s spokesman, here quoted, are disturbing. They call for a response not much longer than statements quoted in Nora Fleming’s article.
All scientific "situations" are "real life."
Photo by Umberto Salvagnin.
First, the comment attributed to Alan J. Friedman implies that, until now, K-12 science education has consisted of “rote memory and how to follow instructions.” Abandonment of this canard by science teachers (and their teachers) is long overdue. There is no evidence to support it. For half a century, specialists in school science and their professional organizations have stressed, and overstressed, the importance of “hands-on” science learning. That insistence antedates by decades the advent of computers. The suggestion that
Common practice and conventional wisdom among many literacy experts suggest that the best way to help improve student reading comprehension is to assign “just right” texts—those that are pitched at a student’s instructional reading level. The theory is that you want to challenge students to read books that are just hard enough to push their comprehension, but not so difficult that they’ll throw up their hands in frustration.
Does a focus on “just right” texts adding to the gap between advanced readers and their below-level peers?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post wondering whether this focus on “just right” texts was doing a disservice to our most-struggling students, even adding to the already large reading and content gap between advanced readers and their below-level peers.
A new book published by the International Reading Association and written by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Diane Lapp provides yet more evidence that the focus on “just right” books may in fact be undermining student learning in three critical ways:
1. Assigning “just right” books makes reading too easy.
“Perhaps one of the mistakes in the past efforts to improve reading achievement has been the removal of struggle,” the authors argue.
As a profession, we may have made reading tasks too easy. We do not suggest that we should plan students’ failure but rather that students should be provided with opportunities to struggle and to learn about themselves as readers when they struggle, persevere, and eventually succeed.
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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