There’s this place in life that comes naturally but isn’t all that attractive. I call it the “My Kid is Amazing… How ‘Bout Yours?”-stage. It’s the uncomfortable place of comparing kids, abilities, and doing so in a way that expresses superiority to other moms and those around us.
I have tried really, really hard not to fall in to that trap in Brendan’s 7 years. And for the most part, I’ve succeeded. My kid is healthy, growing, and on his own trajectory. He’s bright, makes good connections between things, events, and words on a page. We don’t even use letter grades in our homeschooling, mostly because I don’t think they are useful. When he makes a mistake, I give him the ability to correct it and learn from the mistake, and we work through any difficulties that way. There is nothing redemptive or helpful, in my opinion, about putting an A, B, C, D, or F (although it was E when I was in high school) on the top of a page. The learning comes in when the mistake has the opportunity to be corrected and turned in to a chance to master something a bit more.
But I was bothered a few weeks ago when a friend posted on Facebook about her child successfully completing the year-end assessment that her state requires. I believe her words to describe her child’s work were ‘with flying colours.’ I like my friend and I’m glad her child did well, but I found myself in an uncomfortable place of feeling as though what we do for school simply wasn’t enough. I don’t want to add in year-end assessments and make it all about “passing a test” (one of the main reasons we homeschool is to avoid the No Child Left Behind madness and testing-til-you-drop garbage). Brendan’s reading well, made it through his entire math curriculum, (which as a first-grader, is about what I was doing in third grade), loves learning, and did well. We had rough days when he was tired, frustrated, or whatever, but every kid has those, public-, private-, or home- schooled they may be.
Combine that with my child’s insatiable curiosity and desire to read and we end up at my conundrum. He went from easy word recognition and Level 1 readers in the fall of last year, straight through to Level 2s (some of the harder ones like Amelia Bedelia), plowed through Level 3s, and today just finished his first Level 4 book (The Titanic: Lost and Found). My dear friend even tested him back in March when we visited (she teaches public school down south) with the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). He tested back then at an 18-20, and was expected to be at a 12-14 by the end of first grade. So he was reading ‘above level’ back then, but what exactly does that mean?
I set out to research and try to figure it out this past week. What I learned will not shock many (any?) homeschooling parents, but might surprise non-homeschoolers. There are a TON of reading assessment programs out there! And absolutely none of them correlate with anything comprehensible to anyone outside of professional educational theory or practice.
What follows is a smattering of different testing programs and “reading level assessments”:
- Rigby Leveling System Comparison
- Accelerated Reader
- Fry Readability Graph
- Lexile Level
- SMOG Readability Formula
- Professional Achievement Testing
- Five-Finger Method
- Schonell Reading Test
- Jerry L. Johns Reading Inventory
- Fountas & Pinnell’s Levels
- Reading Recovery Level
- Developmental Reading Assessment
- Qualitative Reading Inventory
- Flesch-Kincaid Index
- Edit Central Style & Diction evaluation
- and more…
Clearly, it’s overwhelming. What I really wanted to know (and understand) was whether my son was reading at, above, or below where he “ought to be” if he were in public school. Reading is an incredibly important part of my life and one of the things I prayed for when I was pregnant with this little guy was that he would love to read. Seems silly, but it was (and is) that important to me. I probably should have been satisfied with what my friend down south told me, but Brendan’s reading was above what it was when we last saw her and my curiosity got the better of me.
I know, curiosity KO’d the feline.
So I tried a few things. I printed off the Schonell reading test, which was actually interesting. What’s nice about it is that it can be used to assess and keep track of word recognition ability as the student grows and continues to learn. What’s not so helpful is that it appears to have European roots and gives a “reading age” assessment result, which basically tells me nothing. Brendan came up with an 8 for “reading age,” but that converted in to gibberish in my head.
The DRA, which appears to be used in many public school systems here in the US, is good, but not understanding the seemingly-arbitrary levels it has as results, is fairly useless to me as a home-educator. And in order to use the product, one must purchase a lot of expensive materials.
The assessment that I found the most accurate and best indicator for our needs was the Leveled Book List. The LBL is hosted by a private citizen and merely lists common elementary-level books and their grade-level assessment. It doesn’t assess the child, but allows the parents to do that. The indication of how the child is doing is based on the child’s aptitude and frustration level – if the youngster gets too frustrated, the book is too hard. It is as simple as that. Based on that list, I was able to look at books that Brendan has read and mastered and determine at what “grade level” he is currently reading.
What’s ultimately useful to me in this whole exercise and experience is that I got my frustration about feeling as though I was “competing” with other parents and how their children are doing in educational pursuits, but more practically, it gives me a good idea what to purchase for next year’s school books and materials. Although we don’t use grades and whatnot to mark achievement, I still need to know what’s age-appropriate before I make the purchase(s).
So there it is – more than you ever wanted to know about reading assessment and what it means (and what it doesn’t). I’m glad I worked through it all, but I’m not married to the fact that my kid is reading at a certain level at this point in the summer. He’s headed in to 2nd grade (officially) and reading solidly at a 3rd grade level – but this too will change. The important thing is that he enjoys reading, learning, and that it’s fun. And based on the fact that he brought me his Titanic book to finish at 8:30 a.m. today, I’d say that those goals are being met.