Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reading, reading programs and standardised testing

I was going to begin this post all angry, because I really was, but then I decided to have a coffee and a chat with my ever-patient husband (who is currently painting the back deck - looks relaxing . . .).

It started when I read this - Venting about the Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers at Musings of a Book Addict. I couldn't really believe what I was reading for most of the post, but this really got to me:
If they finish a lesson early they may read one of the following books from the program's library: The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.
Only these 8 books - OR -They may read either the Kids Discover Magazine, Cobblestone Muse, Faces or Odyssey Magazine or Footsteps.
And then there was this:

On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. Due to our curriculum, all 6th graders in the county read the same novels, at the same time and follow the exact curriculum at the same time. The same goes for the 7th and 8th graders. As of this year they have implemented the core curriculum for high school and I believe elementary. That way if a kids transfers schools in the district everyone is at the same place at the same time. What? You are asking what about the child that can't keep up and never gets that book read? We are told they need to learn the skills to keep up. If they are ESE or ESL there are built in modifications that the entire district is supposed to follow.

All pleasure reading is to be done at home.

At first, my knee-jerk reaction (after the spluttering) was to say 'this could never happen here in Australia.' But then I thought a little more. The program described is a response to the state reading test. And more and more we have a government and media led movement toward teaching for and from the NAPLAN test. For example, last Saturday we were encouraged by the lone state-wide newspaper to compare school data when they published school-by-school NAPLAN results (from 2008, a little detail that was mostly glossed over). In my school we are currently required to prepare our Year 2, 4 and 6 students for next years test. District offices are putting pressure onto Principals to show rapid improvements. And Queensland has pretty much had a year long beat up of its teachers, schools and students because we came second last in the testing in 2008. (of only 7 states and territories).

With all the pressure being put on schools to produce good results, and all the people out there realising there's a good buck to be made from NAPLAN (NAPLAN-style support books, expensive 'readers' sets promising better results, NAPLAN-style tests, and even a company taking advantage of swine flu to flog their NAPLAN products), surely it's only a matter of time before Principals take these programs up as a way of achieving better results, insisting that their teachers enforce these programs, no matter what. Particularly if Queensland does poorly again this year (not terribly unlikely, we've got another cohort of children here used to the Qld tests, rather than the NSW/VIC style tests used in NAPLAN).

So I was quite angry. But now I'm just determined. I'm determined to make sure this doesn't happen. I'm determined to make sure that our Principal and our HOC give us teachers the information that we need. I'm determined to find good, tested methods of improving students learning. I'm determined to make the classroom a place which is not dominated by one test. And I'm determined to speak out more, and to stop keeping quiet because it's the easiest thing to do.

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