Imagine walking across the street and being hit by a car. The car came out of nowhere at a speed that you couldn’t avoid. You were in the crosswalk. You did not cause what just happened. You followed the rules and yet, you are down and you are hurting. You don’t know what to do or how to get out this mess.
But wait! You can hear the siren in the distance getting louder. Help is on the way. The ambulance is within sight. And then the unthinkable happens. The ambulance doesn’t stop. In fact, it actually drives over you. Not once but many times and when the Paramedics finally jump out of the car they actually berate you for trying to walk across the street!
Sound ridiculous? Absolutely. It just defies all logic. You are clearly the victim. Why should you be penalized? What did you do to deserve this treatment? All you wanted to do was cross the road.
So why am I writing about this foolish situation. Victims don’t get blamed in real life. They get the help they need. Isn’t this correct?
Not if they are low-income whites, African American or Hispanic students in the third grade. These students are victims who are about to be penalized for the remainder of their school career thanks to the new third grade high stakes testing policy that is sweeping the nation.
Under this policy, all students in third grade who are not in specialized categories of special education will now take the test and if they fail they will be retained. They will be marked as incapable, lose their friends and be treated as different. Many will continue to repeat and eventually drop out all because of an illusion that legislators have mandated into law as a reality.
What’s the illusion? Well it’s actually consists of two-parts. The illusion was created by reading researchers who chose to overlook the truth . The first part is that if you don’t catch students by third grade, they can never catch up. Even worse, is the second part, which states that current reading approaches have the capacity to insure that all students can be taught to read by third grade. Not true. Simply not true. Especially, for low-income students identified as “chronic non-responders”.
Here is the real truth. First, there has never been a large-scale reading research study to show one reading approach to be 100% effective. Generally speaking, failure rates can reach as high as 30% for regular education students and 50% for special education students.
Second, it is never too late to accelerate the learning curve of non-responders regardless of their grade level. Change the approach and you change the student outcome. In short, failing students need a different approach. Not variations on the same old theme. Failing students are clearly the victims.
Rather than providing the help they need, we give failing students more of the same. We put them in reading approaches that are not best suited to their individual learning styles and current background knowledge. We then give them a test measuring the lack of growth produced by these inappropriate approaches. We then provide intensive tutoring using these same approaches. Finally, we continue to fail these students over and over and over.
This sounds a lot like being hit by a car and when the ambulance arrives …
Note: It is never too late to save a life. Retention is flat out wrong. Far too many students have been retained more than once. I have personally been in 4th and 5th grade classrooms where the majority of students are 14 and 15 years old! These students are doomed for the rest of their lives.
Here is a great a summary quote from an article you must check out:
“When weighing the pros and cons of a decision to retain or promote a student, it is critical to emphasize to educators and parents that a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention …”