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23 March 2012 @ 04:59 pm
All the news that is unfit to print  
Yesterday, I included in the workshop I did for librarians and teachers in North Texas, a snapshot of the "top books for readers" in 2011. The information came from a publication I had seen before. it is from Reading Renaissance, the folks who bring you Accelerated Reader. They claim this publication as "research" of over 2 million kids from K-12 and provide lists of the 40 most read books at each grade level. Now, I think that they are basing their "research" on the tests that are taken most frequently at each grade (and that bothers me on a whole other level, big brother-wise). I showed the participants the top 5 titles at each grade 4-12. In grades 4-7, the top titles were mostly one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series. Grade 7-8 saw some invasion by HUNGER GAMES. High school titles ranged a bit more but were mostly vanonical: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, NIGHT.

Today, The Huffington Post ran a story with this headline: AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOLERS ARE READING BOOKS AT THE FIRTH GRADE LEVEL. Cue threatening background music, add basso voice over. Ready? Set! Here is one more thing wrong iwth education and falling test scores. Here is the link to the actual story, so you can read it and weep yourself: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/education/

Where to begin?

1. This publication is not "research" beyond the customers of the company.
2. Many canonical texts have low reading levels.
3. Many canonical texts cannot be plugged into a readability formula.
4. Formulae are "science" trying to apply to a literary work or "art." They do not fit comfortably together.
5. Even lexiles do not provide an accurate assessment of the complexity of a text.
6. What is the readability of the typical adult bestseller? Newspaper (like maybe the HuffPo?)
7. The quotes from one of the contributors of CCS makes matters worse.

I need to stop and take some more aspirin.

8. What makes a text complex?
9. There are no pieces of nonfiction in the RR "report" of research. Wonder why?
10. Did anyone think to ask some teachers and librarians about the books kids are reading?
11. Why does the fact that kids are reading THE HUNGER GAMES spell gloom and doom for our future? (and anyone else get the irony there?)
12. Readability does not equate with interest level or age appropriateness. (NIGHT is 4th grade RL and, yet, I would hesitate to give it to 4th graders)
13. Why is someone not pointing out that there is little diversity in the canon or in the list of books kids are reading for AR tests? (does that not bother anyone else?)
14. What other factors might be at work here?

I need to stop before I blow a blood vessel.

I think it is more than syllables and sentence length. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that it is more about IDEAS and how the text makes the reader think and react and respond. If we want NAEP scores to show readers are more proficient (and please can we include other indicators than test scores?), then we need to support readers. That means we accept their interests, honor them. We read what they are reading, too. After someone from HuffPo or another of the hand-wringing complainers about education reads WHERE THINGS COME BACK or THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING or THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK or SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD (or fill-in-the-blank with any number of fine novels) then you can write something a bit more reasoned and less sensational (I hope).

Ranting over for now.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: angryangry
Diana Tixier Heraldext_317811 on March 23rd, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
All the news that is unfit to print
Brava! You hit the points well. Readability scales were created to make text (note - text books not recreational reading) books accessible for the students intended to use them. Most books adults read for pleasure are probably right in the same AR vicinity as those read by teens. This whole leveled reading thing makes me weep tears of blood. It destroys the pleasure to be found in reading and makes kids read books inappropriate for them whether too immature for their interest level or with mature themes to old for their interest level. Huff Post needs to get a clue. Perhaps they could read Gallagher's Readicide.
RebelLibrarian: READ Iconrebellibrarian on March 24th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
I think I'm most disheartened by the comments to the piece... parents proudly saying that this is why they make their kids read Shakespeare or somesuch "good" literature.

It's a wonder that more kids don't hate reading.