Friday, March 23, 2012

The Miseducation of America

Yesterday, I included in the workshop I did for librarians and teachers in North Texas, a snapshot of the "top books for readers" in 2011. The information came from a publication I had seen before. it is from Reading Renaissance, the folks who bring you Accelerated Reader. They claim this publication as "research" of over 2 million kids from K-12 and provide lists of the 40 most read books at each grade level. Now, I think that they are basing their "research" on the tests that are taken most frequently at each grade (and that bothers me on a whole other level, big brother-wise). I showed the participants the top 5 titles at each grade 4-12. In grades 4-7, the top titles were mostly one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series. Grade 7-8 saw some invasion by HUNGER GAMES. High school titles ranged a bit more but were mostly canonical: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, NIGHT.

Today, The Huffington Post ran a story with this headline: AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOLERS ARE READING BOOKS AT THE FIRTH GRADE LEVEL. Cue threatening background music, add basso voice over. Ready? Set! Here is one more thing wrong with education and falling test scores. Here is the link to the actual story, so you can read it and weep yourself:

Where to begin?

1. This publication is not "research" beyond the customers of the company.
2. Many canonical texts have low reading levels.
3. Many canonical texts cannot be plugged into a readability formula.
4. Formulae are "science" trying to apply to a literary work or "art." They do not fit comfortably together.
5. Even lexiles do not provide an accurate assessment of the complexity of a text.
6. What is the readability of the typical adult bestseller? Newspaper (like maybe the HuffPo?)
7. The quotes from one of the contributors of CCS makes matters worse.

I need to stop and take some more aspirin.

8. What makes a text complex?
9. There are no pieces of nonfiction in the RR "report" of research. Wonder why?
10. Did anyone think to ask some teachers and librarians about the books kids are reading?
11. Why does the fact that kids are reading THE HUNGER GAMES spell gloom and doom for our future? (and anyone else get the irony there?)
12. Readability does not equate with interest level or age appropriateness. (NIGHT is 4th grade RL and, yet, I would hesitate to give it to 4th graders)
13. Why is someone not pointing out that there is little diversity in the canon or in the list of books kids are reading for AR tests? (does that not bother anyone else?)
14. What other factors might be at work here?

I need to stop before I blow a blood vessel.

I think it is more than syllables and sentence length. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that it is more about IDEAS and how the text makes the reader think and react and respond. If we want NAEP scores to show readers are more proficient (and please can we include other indicators than test scores?), then we need to support readers. That means we accept their interests, honor them. We read what they are reading, too. After someone from HuffPo or another of the hand-wringing complainers about education reads WHERE THINGS COME BACK or THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING or THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK or SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD (or fill-in-the-blank with any number of fine novels) then you can write something a bit more reasoned and less sensational (I hope).

Ranting over for now.


  1. Night is fourth grade? What 4th graders have the background knowledge to grasp this book? I have to give that knowledge to my 8th graders when they read it unless they have read other Holocaust stories.

  2. Rant away. I am always amazed when those with no background in education have such strong opinions without asking those of us that live it.

  3. Wow ..seriously? What is their educational background? Have they actually gone in to a school and truly done the leg work for this atticle?

  4. Hmmmm...interesting.... I have heard similar comments from high school teachers regarding Manga. They are concerned about the actual number of WORDS in the books. If kiddos are reading for pleasure, regardless of the medium, they will likely keep reading!

  5. Just because they are reading books at a 4th grade level, doesn't mean that is all they are reading. What about the daily newspaper? What reading level is it? Adults read it everyday. Everytime I read a young adult novel in public, someone asks me why I am reading a "kid" book. Luckily, I can say, to keep up with what they are reading.

    And one more thing...what are the employees at HuffPo reading?

  6. Great Topic,
    one of the reason
    t is that when students participate in the AR they are responsible for the teacher, school making model, master classroom. This seems to be more important than what the students are interested in reading. Some students in some districst/school are not allowed to deviate above their grade level because they will get in trouble if they fail the AR test and jeopardize the teacher's/school chance of making model/master classroom. The student must maintain a 90percent and make sure they they get their points. So some students who are interested reading other titles and above their grade level are told they cannot. In addition those few 5th graders who are reading way above their grade level(7/8th grade are limited with the collection in the elementary level. In addition, not alot of teachers/ librarian have time to create AR test for those students who will actually go get interest and higher level books in the public library.
    My two cents Maria Sanchez

  7. I think some people fail to understand how it is ok for students to read books 'just because'. There does not necessarily have to be an academic purpose all the time...Heck, sometimes my 4th graders laugh when I read a picture book; just because it is not in their level, doesn't mean there is no value in reading it. I want my kids to enjoy reading, not feel like it is a chore...if we subject children to reading only what we want, there will never be any intrinsic motivation to read, and reading is the foundation for all things.