Tuesday, October 5, 2010


For the first time ever, we got a midterm report from AJ's teacher. We are continuing to learn that AJ's teacher this year doesn't do things like everybody else. While some kids are struggling with that, AJ seems to be thriving. He is taking greater responsibility for his work and is less inclined to take the easy way out. We are still seeing some mighty basic math homework a lot of the time, but not all the time. AJ, who has brought home straight As since he started getting grades, actually seemed proud of his grades this term. I think he had to work for some of them. And I think he's starting to learn that working means you're doing okay, that you're not supposed to know everything before you start. If the only thing AJ gets out of this year is the message that working is worthwhile, then the year will be a success as far as I'm concerned.

There were three other areas of note that came out of the midterm report.

1. AJ's teacher had the students evaluate their own progress, and their self-assessments were included with the midterm report. I asked AJ about it and he said it was really hard to do. He did, however, offer a fairly accurate assessment in most areas. Although I did think that his high rating on listening in class was undercut by the five warning slips also included (these were handed out throughout the year to date), as each one was for talking in class. He's his mother's son, for sure.

2. As I mentioned in a post at the beginning of the summer, AJ's school has adopted the Accelerated Reader program for guided reading. This involves standardized tests for level assessment. Each book a student reads for independent or in-class free reading is assigned a number of points based on length and difficulty. After each book is completed, the student takes a computerized test of 10-20 questions about the book. The questions are quite detailed and it is not uncommon for students to have to test more than once. After a successful test (which I believe is defined as 80% or higher, although I'm not sure about this), points are assigned to the students account. If the student gets all the questions right, they get full points. If they miss a question or two, they'll lose a few points. Students need to accumulate a certain number of points in their accounts each trimester. The idea is to motivate students to read and to encourage them to read more challenging books, which garner them more points. Readers with greater ability will be expected to earn more points per term than those who are still struggling with the basics.

In principle, I think this program can work. But the book level system is highly flawed, as I mentioned in my previous post on lexiles. AJ's teacher is using book level rather than lexile number. They are basically different ways of stating the same information. The book level is defined by grade level. For instance, a book that is deemed a good reading level for an average fourth grader in the middle of the year will be level 4.5 (month 5 of fourth grade).

Up until now, they've been able to read whatever books they like. But the Midterm Report informed us that from here on out, the only books that would count toward the point totals are the ones that fall within their reading range. AJ's level has been determined to be between 4.5 and 8.9. I'd say that's probably about right in terms of ability. It's better than it could have been -- he's testing at an advanced high school level. The problem is, he likes to read a lot of books that are in the 3.8-4.4 range.

The latest example: Diary of a Wimpy Kid was assessed at 5.2, nearly a grade level above Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, a much more challenging book from both the standpoint of vocabulary and subject matter, which is registered as 4.5. Smekday was just barely inside AJ's reading level. It's his favorite book at the moment. If it were one point down, he wouldn't have been allowed to read it. If any of you has read both of these books, can you explain the book leveling? It's a mystery to me.

I'm all for pushing AJ to challenge himself with reading. I think he often cops out of things that are a little harder than he's used to because he's afraid he won't succeed. But the book levels seem so random to me that I'm not sure of the value of the cutoff. The AR program does try to acknowledge age appropriateness with their book search system as a separate category from reading ability, for which I commend them, but as I pointed out in my previous post on the subject, the age assignments are frequently random (although not as downright inappropriate as some of the things we found on lexile.com).

I'm a little concerned that AJ is feeling like his book choices are not good enough, like his reading is not up to par because many of the books he likes are below his assigned level. In order to encourage him, this weekend I took him to the bookstore to pick out a new reading book. He came home with Pseudonymous Bosch's The Name of This Book is Secret (book level 5.6). He is loving it and is excited that there are more in the series. So we're good for now, at least.

3. We discovered a really not-so-good result of the school day that is now 45 minutes shorter than it was last year thanks to budget cuts: they can't teach science and social studies at the same time. They are alternating science and social studies units. How can kids not have both subjects all the time? I read Obama's sweeping statements about the education reforms that we need, about having a longer school year, blah blah blah. I have one thing to say to him: Show me the money.


FreshHell said...

Dusty's school has always done the AR program, at least since she's been there. It's not perfect; it is what it is. A number of books she's read aren't even on the list and thus "don't count" toward her points (her goal last year was 100 pts and she surpassed it) but she reads plenty that do count. I've never looked to closely into to figure out whether the point system makes any sense and since Dusty reads a lot of books and takes plenty of those tests on a regular basis, I don't worry too much about it. She reads whatever she wants and still manages to fulfill the class requirements.

That Bosch book is great. We enjoyed reading it together. I think she's read the second one, too.

They alternate science and social studies too very often because they're scheduled in the same block. Often the teacher can combine the two but sometimes the lesson is more history heavy and others more science heavy. Frankly, I don't think they get as much science - period - as they ought.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm opposed to this whole book level thing. From what I've read it seems pretty flawed. I don't really like anything that says one book is better than another. I'd imagine that if AJ is wanting to read books at level 4.2 there's a reason for that -- I guess I'm in favor of people reading challenging things, but am opposed to anything that makes reading a chore or terrifying or anxiety-causing. Eventually you get tired of comfort reading and move on, but if it takes 20 Nancy Drews to get there, I don't see the problem.

Fern said...

Wimpy Kid is rated higher than Smekday? That makes no sense. Mob agrees. I'm so glad that J-Lo squeaked in just over the 4.5 bar because there's a character that shouldn't be missed.

I don't know the Bosch books, but will be checking them out.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Freshhell, on further investigation, I think the alternating science and social studies is more a difference in style than in kind and is not due to the cuts as I originally thought. Other teachers do science 2-3 days a week and social studies the other days. AJ's teacher prefers to concentrate on one and then the other. I still think kids should be having both all the time, but at least this isn't another budget related problem.

Readersguide, I do think AJ needed a push into more challenging works. He reads them at home, but won't report on them because he's afraid of getting things wrong. But the system is very flawed. It's as if there's some kind of computer algorithm for determining level. No sensible human would assign some of these levels.

Fern, Smekday is probably the best book *I've* read this year. Definitely a keeper. I've only perused the Bosch, but it looks good and AJ loves it. I'll have to check it out too. But AJ and I are both hoping for a Smekday sequel.

Fern said...

Harriet - no sequel yet, but I found Boov t-shirts through Adam Rex's website! http://www.adamrex.com/
Unexpected in a Christmas stocking! We've gotten lots of comments (but not, so far, from anyone who actually knows what a Boov is).

Harriet said...

I read Rex's blog -- how did I not notice that? The only problem is, which one? I'm thinking maybe the Boov skeleton. I myself will be lobbying for Squid vs. Pirates.Thanks for the link!

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Anonymous said...

Dusty's school has always done the AR program, at least since she's been there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the Bosch books.

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