Friday, June 14, 2013

Test Prep for the Common Core

Ed Week has a lengthy feature piece here on how a particular school, and teacher, are working to get their students ready for the common core assessments. They are doing what you would expect--lots of drill, having students do close reading of teacher-selected texts, etc.

Everyone is clearly working so hard—the teachers, the students, and the administrators.  It’s just so incredibly sad and frustrating that all of this effort—and money spent—will have such little payoff.

Professor Stephen Krashen, from the University of Southern California, has brought together all of the research on reading, and it clearly shows that teaching skills is just testing skills.  Kids acquire advanced reading skills through wide, avid reading.  Sure, you might get a little gain with this kind of intensive test prep.  But it’s short term, and not at all life changing.

During the 37 years I taught high school English, my best students were the avid readers.  They could effortlessly do close reading of any text.  The mediocre and poor readers were the kids who never read for pleasure.  With much effort I could get them to do a close reading of a particular text, but the skills didn’t transfer.

The best way to raise reading scores—and to enable students to do close reading—is to spend most of the school year having the kids find books they love, and spend hours every week hunched over those books.  Then spend a couple of days before the tests going over some sample ones, showing the students what the tests are looking for.  I did that for years, and never had a student fail the state assessment tests—even though I taught classes that initially had the poorest readers.

Turning students into avid readers will not only enable them to pass the common core tests, it will change their lives.  Every subject will be easier for them.  Their academic futures will be unlimited.


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