EveryDay Learners: Take the risk: reading is more than a standardized measurement

April 7, 2019

At a parent-teacher conference, my son’s teacher slid a sheet of evidence across the table. The new standardized test categorized my son’s ability to read as basic, two levels below proficiency, or two levels below grade level. I held the evidence in my hand and an uneasy feeling gripped my insides.

Reading is a gratifying interest in our home. We read books, the back of cereal boxes, directions for games and fun facts. According to the National Education Association, “the more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher students are in reading proficiency.” So, what were we doing wrong?

The system of education is always evolving. The way we teach, assess and measure data isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago, or even five, nor will it be in years to come. Educational practices try to scaffold a growing world of diversity, but we can’t exclusively rely on conventional standardized tests as evidence. And, we can’t stress standardized tests so much that we neglect the best methods to promote better readers.

In my high school English classroom, we read, write and communicate every day. Each skill reinforces the other. We become better readers as we write about our reading, and talk about what we’ve read. Reading at home and school is still the best way to become a better reader.

My son likes to assemble stapled packets of paper, complete with imagined storylines and pictures. He reads his story, working though a few misspelled words that at this stage, are still endearing. I put his story in a bin full of treasures, but more than anything, I treasure his passion.

When I look at the evidence of the standardized test, I want to play my cards, too — to show my hand, and offer proof that my son is anything but basic, but I know better. Teachers and parents are not on opposite sides of a table. We need to stand together, working for our children and their future. A favorite poem called “Risks,” reminds us, “to try is to risk failure.” We all learn in different ways, and what works for one child doesn’t work for another, but we keep trying.

When my son was small enough to hold in my arms, we’d read the same bedtime story over and over. The melodic rhythm brought on sleep, sometimes for both of us. Sometimes it felt magical, and other times we were just exhausted. Eight years later, not much is different, but my son reads to me about carnivorous animals or imaginary, far away lands. Together we enjoy the awakening of my son’s growing curiosity.

Now, standardized tests indicate my son is a “strategic” reader, one level above basic, but still below proficiency. But, I don’t let it bother me. As the poem “Risks” also reminds, “only the person who risks is truly free.” So, keep reading to illuminate the horizons. You’re doing better than you think.

For more information about reading and the importance of literacy, please visit https://unitedwayuc.org/strengthening-families/education.