Every so often news headlines alert us that the U.S. ranks “below average” in reading test scores, lagging behind other countries, like China, which consistently rank at or near the top. It’s probable that we’ll receive the same news again this spring after many schools dutifully administer standardized tests.
Why? Because, as a whole, our education system continues to do the same things it’s always done to try to improve reading test scores, yet it expects different results.
It goes something like this: Kids spend hours and hours practicing answering test questions about random topics supposedly preparing them to be good test takers. Tests are taken. Test scores are announced. Teachers, administrators, parents bemoan the scores for about 10 minutes. Administrators purchase the next “best” expensive program that promises to be the answer to better test scores. Rinse and repeat.
Sadly, test scores and the costs in time and resources we expend on them offer us pretty much nothing of informational value. Many education professionals around the world (myself included) agree that tests measure the wrong things. Assessing children’s mastery in answering multiple choice questions about reading random passages about topics that the kids don’t care much about is just plain silly. Especially since:
- Just about nobody needs to carefully read things they don’t really care about.
- Just about nobody needs to answer multiple choice questions about those things.
- Just about nobody competes with others in doing such reading assessments once they leave school.
The bottom line? We shouldn’t spend large amounts of money and time requiring children to squirm in their chairs while coloring in bubbles with a #2 pencil when they could be engaged in activities that will be useful for the rest of their lives.
If we want children to be good readers, we should continually ask questions like:
- Do they have a favorite book with them at all times?
- Do they happily choose to read that book when given the time and opportunity?
- Do they have access to abundant appealing books that they will really love so when they are given the time, they will continue to read for enjoyment every day?
- Do they enjoy discussing and sharing what they read with friends and family?
That’s it. If we answer “yes” to those simple questions, we will increase the number of joyful, lifelong readers and learners in the U.S.
If we spend money and time to assure we can answer “yes” to these questions, it will be money and time well spent.
If we continually say “YES” to those four targets, our children will continually grow as readers every day they are in school and beyond school. Reading levels at any point in time is immaterial if we get children the books they need and time to enjoy them.
Let’s grow readers, not test scores.