Tag Archives: reading

Text complexity in the early grades: Shooting ourselves in the foot?

Cozy reading spot

Here are some quotes from the most recent issue of Educational Researcher regarding text complexity in the early grades, one of the hallmark pushes of the Common Core State Standards:

the CCSS text complexity standards for Grade 3 appear to be aspirational, much like the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress targets (Shepard, 2008). The small set of studies that have examined text complexity over time does not show that text complexity at Grade 3 has deteriorated. Neither is there evidence that the accelerated targets in the primary grades are necessary for high school graduates to read the texts of college and careers. (p. 47)


Another potential indirect effect on students may be their motivation and engagement. The engagement of reading among American students is already low, as indicated by a 2001 nationally representative sample of fourth graders from 35 countries that ranked the United States 33rd in an index of students’ motivations for reading (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Kennedy, 2003) and 35th out of 35 countries in the revised index of attitudes toward reading (Twist, Gnaldi, Schagen, & Morrison, 2004). At present, there is research indicating that motivation decreases when tasks become too challenging and none that indicates that increasing challenge (and potential levels of failure) earlier in students’ careers will change this dismal national pattern of disengagement with literacy (Guthrie, Wigfield, & You, 2012). (p. 48)


Will the intended outcomes of higher levels of literacy for all students be realized by setting the bar arbitrarily at third grade? Our review suggests that the unintended negative consequences could well outweigh the intended positive outcomes. (p. 49)


Increasing the pressure on the primary grades – without careful work that indicates why the necessary levels are not attained by many more students – may have consequences that could widen a gap that is already too large for the students who, at present, are left out of many careers and higher education. How sadly ironic it would be if an effort intended to support these very students limited their readiness for college and careers. (p. 49)

Hiebert, E. H., & Mesmer, H. A. E. (2013). Upping the ante of text complexity in the Common Core State Standards: Examining its potential impact on young readers. Educational Researcher, 42(1), 44-51.

Image credit: “Cozy” reading spot

In Iowa, our Department of Education brags about elementary schools that cut recess

Everyone wants children to be able to read. But unpacking that educational goal – and the political rhetoric that often surrounds it – may require a bit more digging and critical analysis. Here’s an example…

In the 2004-2005 school year, 18 4th graders took the state reading test at Charter Oak-Ute Elementary. Only 14 were deemed proficient, for an AYP percentage of 78%. That apparently sparked a 7-year quest to raise test scores.

2005 Charter Oak Ute Elementary Reading

Today the Iowa Department of Education (DE) touted Charter Oak-Ute Elementary as one of the 5 schools (out of 1,409 in the state) that’s supposedly proving that poverty does not equal destiny. In fact, DE boldly said on its home page:

It may be well known that high-poverty schools will have lower proficiency rates than their more affluent counterparts. Sure, it’s well known. But it is wrong.*  [yes, that was our Department of Education dismissing decades of peer-reviewed research on student learning outcomes in high-poverty schools]

 DE screenshot 01

What did Charter Oak-Ute Elementary do to warrant DE’s publicity? Well, in 2011-2012, 19 of its 21 3rd grade students passed the reading test – for an AYP percentage of 90%** – despite 58% of its students receiving free/reduced price lunch. [for reference, the average statewide reading proficiency for 3rd graders is 76%]

2012 Charter Oak Ute Elementary Reading

From 14 of 18 students to 19 of 21 students. If Charter Oak-Ute Elementary had kept its reading proficiency percentage steady, only 16 3rd graders would have passed the state reading test last year. So it essentially moved the needle for 3 students. In seven years.***

By now many of you may be wondering, “What did this elementary school do to bump up these 3 kids’ reading scores?” Well, according to its principal:

[Teachers and students] weren’t happy with some of the things we had to drop, such as morning recess time because we really don’t need that.

That’s right. Among other interventions, the school cut recess. For 7- and 8-year-olds.

Never mind statements against cutting recess from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Never mind the research that shows how recess breaks maximize children’s cognitive performance or shows recess is important for children’s learning, social development, and health (“no research clearly supports not having recess”) or connects recess to good classroom behavior. Never mind children’s needs for breaks, exercise, and play. Never mind our childhood obesity epidemic, particularly for low-income kids.

And, apparently, never mind DE’s own admonitions for schools to adopt ‘evidence-based practices.’ Whether proposing 3rd grade retention or cutting recess (FYI, for both the research is heavily AGAINST them), DE is beginning to show that is willing to hold up and/or advocate for practices that are anything BUT ‘evidence-based.’

A high-poverty school that gets rid of elementary school recess to feed the always-hungry maw of ever-increasing test score goals should raise concerns for us. Because it’s yet another example of the kinds of dehumanizing microaggressions that happen all too often to children who are in poverty and/or of color. And it’s not what we in Iowa should be encouraging. Because if DE is willing to tout this recess-cutting school as doing what it needed to raise reading scores, the writing is potentially on the wall for ‘whole child’-oriented practices in larger school districts that have even greater concentrations of children in poverty. Yes, that means you, Des Moines, Waterloo, Sioux City, and Davenport (and others)…

I’m concerned that we’re becoming one of THOSE states. In Iowa we always have prided ourselves as being more enlightened than many of those states in which districts were cutting art, music, recess, physical education, foreign language, and other aspects of school necessary to provide well-rounded schooling experiences for children. We took pride in doing our best to attend to the needs of the whole child – for every child. But that commitment to children – and our recognition of decades of child development research – appears to be waning.

So put February 25, 2013 down on your calendar as the day when not only did Iowans learn that one of our own schools cut recess to improve test scores but also that our own Department of Education was willing to brag about it. Welcome to the new #edreform in Iowa.


* At least it’s ‘wrong’ for the 5 schools out of 1,409 that DE cherry-picked [please ignore the other 1,404]
** DE said it was 92%?
*** Of course this ignores ordinary year-to-year variation, differences between cohorts of students, random measurement error, etc. 

Textbooks amplify student disinterest in reading

Textbooks are unbelievably dull and dense … no one should scratch their head at students’ lack of interest in reading when schools require students to read the most uninteresting writing that exists day after day

Iowa high school student Jack Hostager via http://listentostudents.blogspot.com/2013/01/90-theses-of-textbooks.html

Smoking, steroids, illegal drugs, and 3rd grade retention?

Imagine that someone offered you something and said, “This might give you a short-term performance boost. If it does, we’re not sure how long the effect will last but we know it will diminish over time. The boost might be just a year or two and it’s all but certain that it won’t last more than three or four years. Moreover, it’s extremely probable that after that you will suffer significant negative consequences FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Do you want it?”

You might take that gamble if you were a professional athlete (see, e.g., steroids), but most of us would not. In the case of smoking, illegal drugs, alcohol, and (sometimes) fatty foods, the government actively discourages us from making that choice. But when it comes to 3rd grade retention, some state governments not only are allowing the choice but requiring it.

I know you’re 8. Take a puff!

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]