Re: Is "Grade Level" A Load of Hooey?
I think there is both more and less to grade level than Peter and Nancy have
given us. Peter is right that "grade level" has traditionally been defined
as the score of the average child in a given grade on a norm-referenced test
(NRT). It is thus a floating standard and might be great or awful. But
virtually no one uses NRT's anymore so that def. is not available. Paige
and Spellings changed the word "proficiency" in NCLB to "grade level"
thereby giving us 50 definitions of grade level--grade level is whatever a
state defines as proficient--and since everyone must be proficient by 2014,
it is attainable by all (theoretically).
On the other hand, given some of the scenarios Linda Perlstein describes in
Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, it is hard to argue
that these kids are on a "continuum" of any kind. They not only don't know
the words associated with the images they're expected to respond to in
Dibels, many don't have a clue about what reading involves. I agree, Peter,
that "they are where they are" but it's not as simple as the concept of a
continuum would make it seem. "Managing a class means making a constant
stream of decisions about which misbehaviors to address and which to ignore"
(p. 111). If you read her chapter where she goes to a nearby wealthy school
(she spent over a year in the poor one), you come away thinking "different
worlds", not continuum.
I don't think there is a press that "ALL kids have to be equally good at
reading." Even NCLB doesn't require that. It is hard to know what reading
level is sufficient to cope with the real world because reading is only one
way adults gather the information they need. That's probably why people who
don't score high in adult literacy tests (which have many flaws) don't
report that their reading level causes them real life difficulties. Still,
the average black 12th grader scored 267 in 2005 compared to 293 for whites.
That's about a 2 1/2 year difference as NAEP goes and slightly below the
271 of white 8th graders. It's hard to think of that as "slightly better"
From: Nancy Patterson
Date: 4/7/2009 6:59:36 AM
Subject: Re: [arn-l] 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
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)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com
Behalf Of Peter Campbell
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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