professornana (professornana) wrote,

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censoring research

Today's Washington Post has a piece about an MIT researcher challenging claims from ETS about its essay scoring program: I love how the company manages to filibuster its way around the charge of censorship. It is another prime example of how corporations make claims and then prevent others from substantiating or refuting those claims. And it brings me back to one of my favorite issues: leveling of texts.

I have a basic issue that none of the companies seem to address: any "tool" or formula or gradient or program is something that measures. It measures syllables and sentences, analyzes syntax and semantics, counts words, etc. However, the text being assessed, leveled, measured, etc. is not simply a collection of words. It is, instead, full of ideas and themes and more. In short, the text is a creation, a piece of art. What programs do is try to place a scientific formula over a creative product. I think at the core, then, there is a terrible mismatch.

The piece in the Washington Post actually points to some of the limitations of these programs that purport to measure and assess and evaluate and rank. They show the beginning of an essay written to see if the program could indeed evaluate:

"Competition which mesmerizes the reprover, especially of administrations, may be multitude. As a result of abandoning the utterance to the people involved, a plethora of cooperation can be more tensely enjoined. Additionally, a humane competition changes assemblage by cooperation. In my semiotics class, all of the agriculturalists for our personal interloper with the probe we decry contend..."

Don't worry if the paragraph makes little sense, the program being tested lauded the effort, commenting on the expansive use of vocabulary. I imagine it would receive a high level of readability and lexile and the rest, too. And it points to some of the problems in a system obsessed with levels and lexiles. And complexity. And rigor.

Last night, during #titletalk, someone raised a question about using picture books as mentor texts. How was that justifiable given all of the emphasis on complexity? Many of us assured the person that picture books can be quite complex. Just because there are pictures and 32 pages does not mean a book is less than something longer, wordier, etc. I think the emphasis on numbers had led many educators to some terribly wrong conclusions about what makes a text complex.

This morning I read this book:


KID SHERIFF AND THE TERRIBLE TOADS by Bob Shea and Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2014) is just one example of a text that can be quite complex. Of course, the book is too new for it to be listed at AR or Lexile sites. But I did find a 2.4 RL for it on another site. So, here is a book for second graders. Or, if you are CCSS, it is relegated to 1st grade since we want kids to push beyond their levels right away.

And what a shame that older kids will not be able to have the fun of listening to this book (it CRIES to be read aloud in an exaggerated set of accents/dialects). What a shame that we could not use it for a mentor text if we are in a system where books have to be at a certain level or lexile. What a shame that some program reduced the book to a number.

We have to stand up here and stop assigning numbers (and letters) to books. When we allow a program to reduce a text to a letter or a number, we give up one more piece of our autonomy. We also give in to censors as these programs limit the readership of books based on their codes. Time to stand up. Time to use the texts we see fit. Time to stop lining the pockets of companies. Time for FREADON. As Donalyn Miller says #letmypeopleread.
Tags: ccss, idiocy, levels, lexiles
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