Teacher

Six is not the new sixteen

What's wrong with you, baby? How come you can't read yet? How will you ever get a job?!
What’s wrong with you, baby? How come you can’t read yet? How will you ever get a job?!

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Whenever I read doom and gloom stories, lamenting the reading scores of six-year-olds, I feel sad. When did six become the new sixteen? When did we start worrying about job prospects and future options for kids who still sleep with a nightlight?

Imagine you are six years old. You like running around aimlessly with your friends and playing video games and snuggling with your cat. School is OK, but reading is hard. Maybe your brain scrambles the letters, so you’re not seeing what the other kids see. Or maybe you can’t stay focused long enough to figure out what the words mean. You don’t really know what’s going on except that your parents keep bugging you to “pay attention” and you have to read with that “special teacher” who helps you and a few other kids.

Now, imagine you worked your little butt off for the whole year and your reading got a lot better. All of a sudden, you can read real books, some of them all by yourself. You’re feeling pretty good. You did all of the work your teacher asked you to do, but guess what? It still wasn’t enough to make all those grown-ups happy because you didn’t pass the “test” at the end of the year.

Well, gosh darn it. You tried your best and you did get better. How come it wasn’t enough?

Maybe it’s because you’re only 6 and you need more than one year of extra help. Maybe you spent most of this year learning how to tie your shoes and be a good friend and count to 10. Maybe your brain is just working slower on reading because it’s working overtime learning something else. Or maybe, just maybe, you have a learning disability, which means reading is going to be hard for you…maybe for awhile, maybe always.

An opinion piece by Paul Bennett in Saturday’s paper proclaimed Nova Scotia’s new literacy program Succeeding in Reading a failure. He said the assessments for the end of Year 1 (year 1 of a 3-year program, mind you) showed that 44 per cent of these grade 1 students failed to meet the expected standard for achievement. Ergo, the education system has once again failed these poor children.

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

There is another way you could look at those numbers. Hmmm…what could that be? Oh, let’s see now. One hundred take away 44…carry the one…uh…56. That means 56 per cent of the children met the standards.

More than half…in the first year…of a brand-new three-year-program.

That’s starting to sound a bit better, isn’t it?

Here’s a novel idea: what if we started looking at test results differently?

Call me crazy but what if, instead of comparing widely different kids to each other, we compared them to themselves? What if we based their successes on their individual achievements?

Well, the critics will grumble, that’s not the way the real world works. These children are going to have to compete with people from all over the world to get jobs! They need to be competitive. 

Yes, yes. I agree. They will have to compete for jobs…in 15-20 years! Right now, no one is fighting them for the job of making their bed.

I want to know how many of these children became better readers over the course of the year. Based on my experience working with struggling readers, I would guess that almost every single child improved. Of course not all to the same extent, but some may have had farther to travel. These successes should be celebrated, not lamented.

Each individual result needs to be looked at, so we can see what each individual child needs in order to continue improving in the years to come. Tossing all of the results into one big melting pot and saying: Well, only this many kids passed the test, so therefore the entire program is a bust, is silly and irresponsible.

All kids learn differently, at their own pace. And they all need different things to be successful. How about we focus on that for change?

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4 thoughts on “Six is not the new sixteen”

  1. Thank you so much! I am a teacher and I am sick and tired of this… just because a child isn’t learning fast enough for the state or local “authorities” on education they “need intervention.” Well, I am proud of and will continue to be proud of my kindergarten students who learn to read and add and subtract by the end of the year. They may not fit into the box politicians and others try to put them in, but they worked hard and learned something. Children are children. Not numbers.

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