So, you can imagine my chagrin when I saw a link to books being recommended to parents via the state (STAAR) test. Here is the wording directly from the booklist web site:
“One of the most exciting features of the new STAAR Student Report is a recommended book list provided to each family along with the student's test scores and Lexile information. All books recommended on these lists are within the reading levels recommended for the grade the student is in and developmentally appropriate for the grade band. All of the books on the book list have been approved by at least one family-centered organization, or is widely accepted as a standard for children’s literature. We recognize that every family has a unique set of preferences around what their children read and we encourage parents to review any books before sharing with their children. “
You can look at the lists for yourself. I will say immediately that listing only 10 books per grade level is insanity. Talk about narrowing choice in reading. But look at the individual titles as well. For 6th grade, for example, copyrights range from 1892 (Sherlock Holmes) to 1906 (White Fang) and 1941 (The Black Stallion). The most recent copyright is 2012 (Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs). I wonder how many 6th grade students will flock to these titles. And while there is some diversity, it is greatly limited.
I do not dismiss classics out of hand. However, there are some classics that simply no longer resonate with contemporary readers. There are classics which, when forced upon students, will create at best apathetic readers if not pushing them away from a love of reading. Allowing lexiles to guide book choice demonstrates a few things. First, using a program to spit out book choices is suspect. But I will not climb on that particular soapbox today. Instead, let me question this phrase: "All of the books on the book list have been approved by at least one family-centered organization, or is widely accepted as a standard for children’s literature."
What organizations? Who decides it is a standard? Why only 10 books? I have lots of questions, but I know there will be no answers that will reassure me. I see these books (like the ones listed as CCSS sources) become the focus of reading. Other books will suffer because of this. I see class sets and intensive reading. I see what Kelly Gallagher calls readicide.
When Nurse Girl was in high school, her test scores were quite high (she was smart and great at taking tests). The book recommended for her based on her scores was The Scarlet Pimpernel. Really? This was (and is) a kid who reread all of the Harry Potter books annually. Who read Zane Grey at the recommendation of BH. Who read the YA i happened to place strategically around the house. Who read tons of nonfiction. Who was already an avid reader. And who once went to in-school suspension for helping a friend pass an AR test (very proud moment for me). She still loves to read today. But I question whether or not that would be the case if she had to read the recommended books from TEA.
Donalyn Miller and I are working on a book an talk about the importance of choice. Where is choice here? 10 books to fit all 6th graders? Talk about one size fits all mentality. I hope there is some push back here. Why can't we be list-less?