Here are a few things I've seen or heard about from classrooms where students are required to read within their designated "Reading Level" (as determined by the Star Reading Test and monitored via regular AR quizzes):
- A third grade boy who read happily over the summer, but then for whatever reason did poorly on his first Star test of the year. He wasn't allowed to read for school from the book series that he'd been enjoying on his own.
- A fourth grade girl lamenting the unfairness of getting a relatively high score on her first Star test of the year. Because kids in her class were allowed to read and test above their designated level but not below she griped that: "Everyone else gets to read what they want except for [a few other kids] and me."
- A fourth grade girl who started reading The Hunger Games because it was at her reading level (though to be fair the "interest level" listed for it is higher) and was disturbed by the content. She self-censored and no harm was done but it was a wake-up call for her mother that reading levels and interests levels aren't always aligned.
- A fifth grade girl who did poorly on a mid-year Star test and was THRILLED, because then she could read from a series she had fallen in love with.
- A mother scouring the AR Book Finder for books that her son would be willing to read, because his reading level was slightly below his interest level.
- Another mother scouring the AR Book Finder for books that her daughter would be willing to read, because her reading level was slightly above her interest level.
- A mother quickly ordering books that her child wanted to read, before she might test out of that level again.
- Multiple kids each declaring an intention to do poorly on the next Star test.
So much friction coming between these kids and the enjoyment of reading. So much wasted time on the part of parents. So many dedicated teachers who want kids to enjoy reading, yet end up putting kids and parents into these situations.
I do agree that there is benefit to pushing kids out of their comfort zones. I do agree that some kids need practice reading books at their level. I do know that not all teachers use reading levels this way, and I do know that these reading levels when they are used apply only to books read for school. Parents who know to do so can give kids reading choice at home (though only kids who are relatively strong readers will have the time, depending on how many books they are required to read for school). But it still feels to me like a lot of families are working around this system, instead of the system helping to nurture readers. This makes me sad. And frustrated.
[I just noticed, right before publishing this, that Donalyn Miller has also written about this topic this weekend. See her post: Readers, in Spite of School, which is an excellent way to put it, but still sad.]
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