Are standardized tests squashing our kids' love of reading?
The New York Times recently told the story of four friends who struggled through the third-grade English Language Arts standardized practice test over the winter break. The test-takers were vexed by the very first question: “What is this story mostly about?” These weren’t third-graders, they were Ph.D.’s—all four of them university professionals who make a living through reading.
I chuckled at their analysis and debate over which was the correct answer. But it also makes one wonder, if educated reading professionals could not agree on the best choice…what hope do our seven-year-olds have?
The test-takers, all parents, arrived at this conclusion: boycott standardized testing and focus on a love of reading. In a perfect world, that would work; the sad reality is that standardized testing is not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact I have personal experience with standardized testing’s “next generation,” where answers are even more elusive, with the hope of preparing students for the ultimate standardized testing monster, the SATs.
Our classroom has found a balance between developing life-long readers and preparing for standardized tests. Developing the reader is first and foremost. If you happened to be a fly on the wall in our classroom, you would overhear the students referring to favorite authors on a first-name basis. You’d find post-it notes stuck to favorite pages, expressing students’ ideas and feelings about the story. Some notes have remained undisturbed for more than eight years; discovering these notes from students long past first grade brings me such joy.
For the students in my classroom, the annual standardized test of reading is referred to simply as Stan. Stan stops in once a year for students to share what they know; Stan celebrates each student for doing their best and never giving up. Last year Stan helped us name our class fish, Stanley. We prepare and learn strategies, but have also learned to take standardized testing and all of its idiosyncrasies for what it is and not let it interfere with what is most important, a love of reading.
My mother passed down her reading legacy to me. My first job was working at the public library; I had a special wallet for my library card and a decorative cloth bags for my books. Reading was and is still my passion. I watched this Christmas as my boys put books on their lists and smiled at my own next generation of readers. For me, once the seed for a love of reading has been planted, nothing can take it away.