Struggling to read

I can certainly relate to David Powel’s commentary about his son’s struggle to master the skill of reading. Mr. Powel eloquently describes his son’s long struggle to read despite having all the benefit of having two educated and loving parents. Just as with many parents of struggling students Mr. Powel assumed “a kid who visited museums in the summer, spent hours on end outdoors, traveled widely, slept under a safe and comfortable roof each night, ate well, and had health insurance would surely find a way to be successful in school.”

Yet, his son was only a ‘basic’ reader in the 6th grade, just as I was, which is why I can relate to the commentary. See, I, too, struggled immensely to read as well as my classmates. In fact, it is a struggle I deal with to this day. And just like Mr. Powel’s son I, too, was placed in remedial reading programs.

Yet, I now read and write for a living despite the fact there were people who never thought I would ever be able to handle rigorous course work or become the next John Steinbeck. However, the big difference between Mr. Powel’s son and me is that while his teachers were telling him what he couldn’t do, mine focused on what I could, particularly my resource teacher Joanne Walker.

I must confess that one of the people who never though I could handle rigorous courses or become the next Jon Steinbeck was me. In elementary school I never thought I would ever go to college never mind earning a master’s degree from one of the top universities in the country. I thought baseball was the only way I could ever make something of myself. Yet Miss Walker, Miss Irwin, Mrs. Reilly, and other teachers always expected more of me than I expected of myself. Somehow they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Without those expectations I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Unfortunately for Mr. Powel’s son, he doesn’t seem to have the same support from his teachers as I had, which Mr. Powel blames on standardized testing. Mr. Powel believes that the emphasis on standardized tests has led to his son being labeled as a ‘basic’ reader by his school. This is quite unfortunate and the opposite of how schools should use test score data. If indeed the test scores are showing his son is currently a ‘basic’ reader then that school should look deeper into the test data to find out why he is struggling. As a special education student with an IEP that is what my school did with great success.

Of course, my school used more than test scores to make decisions as to what would be best for me just as schools now should do. And it is what good schools are doing for their struggling students. Test scores are extremely important tools in identifying student strengths and weaknesses but test scores by themselves will not improve achievement. That is up to the schools.

Mr. Powel is absolutely correct in pointing out that test scores do not predict a student’s future success, since test scores should be used to improve future student performance not predict it. This is why states and the federal governments need to provide more funds for professional development so our teachers, administrators, and support staff can learn to more effectively use the data they have to improve not only student test scores but their chances for success in life as my teachers did for me.-– Jim Hull

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