Re: Is "Grade Level" A Load of Hooey?
Determining grade level in reading is particularly inane. There are a number of formulas out there that ask you to count syllables or words over five letters in length in usually a hundred word sample of text. The average of several of those is then plotted on a graph and you get the grade level at which a particular text can be read. Except that Toni Morrison's book Beloved comes out at around an 8th grade reading level, and anyone who has read that book knows there's more complexity there than many 8th graders can handle. Plus there are explicit scenes in that novel.
Children are tested to determine at what grade level they read. If they can read aloud a particular leveled text without a certain percentage of errors, it is assumed that they read at that grade level. So, we have countless schools in this country using leveled texts.
What is so sad about this is the fact that reading involves a meaning-making process. It is not a mechanical process. A formula that is not based on meaning and not based on the idea that how well any person reads a particular text depends on her or his prior knowledge just isn't good enough. This doesn't involve just prior knowledge of a topic, by the way, but prior knowledge of text structures, conventions of text, etc. Nor can it be determined by simply asking someone to read aloud. We currently labor under an over-reliance on oral fluency in reading, and at the moment fluency does not mean comprehension. That is something that is dealt with separately.
I'm a singer and just yesterday I was working on Du Bist Die Mir by Bach--in German. I can sing the words without making any mistakes (when my brain isn't distracted by a musical mistake) but at the moment I have little clue as to what I am singing about. I can do that in Italian, French, and Latin, by the way. And I don't speak Italian, French, or Latin, or German, for that matter.
I have to assume that "grade level" in other subject areas is just as flawed. If we just used these reading formulas as a way to provide a ballpark notion of reading level, I wouldn't mind. But some programs and standardized tests actually level text and reader at a particular year and month. I decided once to see if I could get a better idea of how well a special education student read. One standardized test score said he read at a 1.2 grade level. Another pegged him at 1.4. I assessed through a miscue analysis and was floored that he actually understood the story he read aloud to me, and that the miscues he made were all quite logical and ones that even good readers make. He did, however, read very slowly.
I remember reading Derrida in my doctoral program and though I knew all the words he used, I certainly did not always understand what Derrida wrote. I also recall the one and only time I put together a bookcase. I followed the directions, which were pretty straight forward, but when I stood the bookcase upright, it fell apart. I should have known. My prior knowledge informs me that I cannot be trusted with hand tools and building materials.
Nancy Patterson, PhD
Literacy Studies Program Chair
College of Education
Grand Valley State University
>>> "ElsaHaas" <ElsaHaas@si.rr.com> 4/7/2009 12:39 AM >>>
Yes, a load of hooey. Forget grade level - why do most schools even have
grades (in either of the two senses of the word)?
Have you read John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down?
Albany Free School doesn't have grades (of either kind), and they seem to do
well with kids of various backgrounds (in the long run, which is what
Elsa (unschooling mom to an almost-ten-year-old who didn't read until he was
eight and who now reads 500-page novels of his own free will)
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Sent: Monday, April 06, 2009 11:30 PM
To: ARN State; ARN Main List; arn2-strategy; ndsg Study Group
Subject: [arn-l] Is "Grade Level" A Load of Hooey?
At the heart of the "achievement gap" is the contention that lots of
low-income minority kids are "not at grade level" and are often said
to be several "grade levels" behind.
But what do we mean by "grade level"? Grade level is the score of the
average child in a particular grade on a norm-based test. But, by
definition, 50% of all children are always below grade level. [...]
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