CAN TESTING AND GRADING HARM STRUGGLING READERS?

“Weighing sheep often doesn’t make them fatter.
It just takes time from grazing.”

My biggest despair as a teacher was to have coddled a student who was especially discouraged and far behind to the point where he/she was putting forth effort and taking steps to success. Then it was report card time and I had to grade them against their peers. They were still behind so I had to give a grade that made them feel badly because they had been working hard and making progress.

I will always remember the teacher who came up to me with tears in her eyes after one of my workshops. She taught in an exceptionally high needs school and her school board had just issued a new report card that was very detailed in labeling students. She said, ”How can I give grades to my grade one students in October when I have hardly had time to get to know them and they need so much help before I start judging them.” Young children are just doing their best to make sense of school and don’t know how to get grades.

I remember one woman who was taking her nephew home in October of grade one. He was a boy who came to grade one having little background in being read to. He said, ”I can hardly wait to see how many 1’s I got.” She said the possibility of him having any 1’s was not going to happen. Too bad that his bubble burst so quickly. What value was a served by giving him a grade?

What do children compare to when they think of themselves as readers? Not their score on a test but to how the best reader in the class is reading. When they receive extensive testing but still aren’t approaching this level of reading, they become more and more discouraged. They don’t realize all the factors that came together to allow the top reader to read so well or that we don’t all walk and talk at the same age either.

Confidence is one key to achieving reading success. It is a flame that is easy to extinguish and difficult to rekindle. Children should be given no grades or tests until they are able to read and then very rarely. We don’t need tests to know whether they can read or not.
Any teacher or parent, who is worth his or her salt, only has to sit down beside a reader and listen to them read to find out where they are and what help they may need. Tests that give a grade level are only useful for authorities to compare schools. They are great for telling the underachieving reader, who realizes he can only do a few of the questions, that he is a failure. It is just one more nail in his ‘depression coffin’.

I love the policy in Finland and Sweden of not giving grades in any subject until children are ten years old. By then, they understand what grades mean and how to get good marks. They top the world in reading.

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