Tag Archives: standardized tests

Doctor’s prescription: reading

Instead of leaving the doctor’s office with a prescription for their child’s ear infection or strep throat, some Valley parents are taking home Curious George or Madeline.

Photo courtesy of Reach Out and Read.

Physicians working with Reach Out and Read are prescribing books to young children and their parents with the intention of bringing families together and also giving young children a head start on the school years to come.

Serving nearly four million children across the country, Reach Out and Read has partnered with 4,500 hospitals and health centers so pediatricians can prescribe books during regular checkups. Young children leave the office with a new book in hand.

During the checkups, doctors talk to parents about how important it is for them to read with their children while they are still very little, even if all they do is look at the pictures.

According to Reach Out and Read, preschool-age children who read with their parents have an easier time learning to read once they reach school. Because test scores and school standards put such a huge focus on reading skills, this could be a very important step to improving national averages in reading.

Another focus of Reach Out and Read is to provide reading materials to low-income families who may not have money to spend on books because they are busy providing the basics.

“A typical middle-class child enters first grade with approximately 1,000 hours of read-aloud time, while a child from a low-income family averages just 25 hours,” according to the Reach Out and Read website.

If doctors can be a resource for distributing developmentally appropriate books, children from low-income families have a chance at bringing those hours up.

The other huge benefit to the program is bringing families closer together. When I was little, my parents, my sister and I would sit down in the living room every night before bed and read a book. This ritual continued into my teens as we all became addicted to the Harry Potter books and refused to wait to take turns reading them.

Now, even with my busy school/internship/social life schedule, I try to fit in reading for fun whenever I can. I bring books to kill time on the light rail or while I’m waiting for appointments to start. Because of the love for reading my parents gave me I rarely struggled with school reading assignments because I associated them with fun. With this program, parents may be able to create little bookworms of their own.

Check out the Reach Out and Read list of recommended books. — Veronica Jones

No Child Left Behind leading kids to jail?

Several organizations have come together to argue that the No Child Left Behind Act, the education mandate created nearly 10 years ago to improve American schools, actually makes things worse.

NCLB actually contributes to the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline, according to a paper presented by six groups — the Advancement Project, Education Law Center – PA, FairTest, The Forum for Education and Democracy, Juvenile Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The paper claims that standardized tests involved in the NCLB system are a huge detriment to students, especially those who are already at risk, including members of minority groups and students with disabilities. Because the standardized tests are so generalized, students who have special learning needs are set up to fail. Frustration and low self-esteem lead some of these kids to turn to undesirable extracurricular activities, sparking an increase in students being put in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.

The paper suggests several solutions Congress should consider to solve the problem. The first is to “create a stronger, more effective school and student assessment and accountability system capable of recognizing multiple forms of success and offering useful information for school improvement.”

This seems to make sense to me. Maybe one student is able to write the most amazingly imaginative and descriptive stories but cannot memorize the facts and figures for a history exam. Is he or she a bad student because of this? Not necessarily. People have strengths in all different areas. We see this in everyday life. Some people balance budgets, some people design homes and some write blogs for magazines. No one can do everything well. That’s why people gravitate toward careers that emphasize their strengths.

When I was in elementary school in Canada, report cards graded us in many different areas. They were broken down by subject, but then each school subject was split up into a couple of categories. For example, English would be the subject but it was broken down into Writing, Reading, and Oral Communication. Students received a letter grade for each of these categories so parents, students, and teachers could see where strengths lay and where improvement was needed. Comments beside the subject gave a good indication of how each child was doing. Compare the Ontario report card to what your child receives.

The second suggestion from the paper is to “provide funding and incentives aimed at improving school climate, reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, and limiting the flow of students from schools to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” This would mean spending more money to bring schools psychologists, counselors, and nurses to support at-risk students. If it is evident that the child has a troublesome family life, maybe talking to a school counselor about it could help them express their distress before they resort to acting  eout because they feel so frustrated. Unfortunately, this idea is expensive, particularly for districts in rough neighborhoods where many children have problems outside of school.

An acquaintance who teaches eighth grade in a tough neighborhood was talking to me as he headed home to work on his lesson plans. There was a hopelessness in his voice when he told me a lot of his students will end up in prison. I’ve never been in his class but I suspect it’s not his teaching that is the problem.

We’ll have to wait and watch to see how NCLB ends up. There are definitely problems with the country’s education system but does anyone really have a foolproof plan? — Veronica Jones