Sunday, September 23, 2012

This Blog Has Moved

This blog is no longer active.  I still post information pertaining to this issue, but I do it at my other blog  which is found at thelibrarianlife.blogspot.com.  Visit me there!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It has been a while since I have posted! While the blog has been silent, there have been things happening.

First of all, I have decided to consolidate and enhance my professional blogging endeavors into one blog. I am going to leave this Rescuing Reading Blog live so that if people are looking for Lexile information, they can find it. However, after today I will do all of my posting on my new blog "The Librarian Life". This blog will be more broad-based and will incorporate things I have been trying to put in this blog and my Inspiring Empathy blog. In addition, I will also start posting about my other librarian endeavors such as my weekly story times, book clubs, etc. I borrow heavily from the ideas of my colleagues and fellow bloggers who share their ideas on a regular basis, and I want to start giving back! You can follow my new blog at thelibrarianlife.blogspot.com. I will continue to post news and information regarding Lexile scores, testing and reading on the Rescuing Reading facebook page.

Secondly, I want to report on my letter to the Georgia Department of Education, their response, and my follow-up response. It wasn't an encouraging exchange, I won't lie. Although, it wasn't really unexpected. It reflected the current status of our buy-in into the ineffective testing programs that, in my opinion, are destroying education.

July 31, 2011

Dr. John Barge, State School Superintendent
2066 Twin Towers East 205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive SE
Atlanta, GA 30334

Dear Dr. Barge:

I am writing to you as a concerned parent, public librarian and citizen. My concern is with the Lexile Framework for Reading that was adopted by Georgia in 2006. Since that time students have had their Lexile scores reported as part of their CRCT scores.

Lexile claims that their system is superior, because rather than listing books by grade, it makes a unique match by scoring books and scoring kids and them matching books and kids based on these scores. As a parent and children’s librarian in the metro-Atlanta area, I thought this might be a very useful tool, so I began to research it and use it so I could better help my child and patrons.

The more I have researched and the more I have used it, the more concerned I have become. Enclosed you will find two books, both have a label affixed to the front of them that says 860. This the Lexile score that MetaMetrics has assigned to these books. You can verify this at www.lexile.com. What you will notice is that these two books couldn’t be more different and for more different ages. I recommend one of them to second, third and fourth graders. The other is a challenge for most high school students to read. One is a very simple light read. The other is very challenging. Yet they have been given the same score. How can this be? I wish I could say this is the only anomaly I found, however I have started a list and it continues to grow.

After making all of these discoveries, I decided to go back and check something else. I collected all of my daughter’s CRCT score sheets from 4th – 7th grades. I discovered that her Lexile score has grown every year. Yet, when I checked the scores of the books she has been reading for her leisure reading, I found that most of them fell below her Lexile. Not surprising considering that most fiction for 4th – 8th graders does fall below the benchmarks given for these grades. Really, so does most adult fiction. Charlotte’s Web has the same Lexile score as John Grisham’s The Firm. My point here though is that my daughter’s score increased without her having been forced to read books “at her level”.

Yet, everyday I have students come in to the library that are being expected and pushed to do just that. Some school districts are replacing Accelerated Reader with Scholastic’s Reading Counts which is Lexile-based. Maybe this was not the intent of adopting lexile, but it is a result. We have always had reluctant readers, but the number is increasing. The magic of reading is being lost in the quest of having to find a book at the “right lexile”.

Here are two things I would like for you to consider:

1. Reduce the emphasis and usage of the Lexile Framework. It may be useful as a diagnostic tool for truly struggling readers, and as a way to gauge the difficulty level of a textbook, but it has no value and can actually be damaging as a tool for selecting leisure reading. In their own videos describing the Lexile Framework, MetaMetrics admits that the only factors Lexile considers are word frequency and sentence length. Interest, appropriateness, and even the quality of literature are not considered. I realize they have a wizard that allows you to incorporate these factors, but the reality is that by the time you have entered the score you have ruled out so much age-appropriate and quality literature that the wizard is of little value. I know that the state must pay to have these scores reported on our tests. Perhaps, only have them reported on critical years instead of every year. Use the extra money to be sure our school libraries are well-stocked with quality literature.

2. Strongly advocate that our schools apply a 50/50 approach to reading. That is that 50 percent of the reading kids do not be required books or things they will be tested on, but rather material they have selected on their own from a wide variety of choices. Let’s return the magic and wonder to reading. Even if our kids will only be reading from e-readers and I-pads in the not-too distant future, we want them to be readers for life.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I am very interested to hear what you think of the scores on the two enclosed books. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions. You can also read my blog at rescuingreading.blogspot.com.

Sincerely,


Ada E. Demlow
adademlow@gmail.com
678-876-0820

Mr. Barge did not respond directly to my letter, but had one of his staff members do so. Here is the response. You have to click on the images to see them more fully.






And here is my follow-up reply sent via email.

Dear Judy Seritella,


I appreciate your response to my letter. I find myself in 100% agreement with you when you say “Students should never be discouraged or prohibited from reading a book based solely on the book’s reading level.” While I agree with your statement, it is completely out of sync with what is happening in our schools. School libraries are set up by levels and many, if not most, elementary students are only allowed to choose books from their “level”. This means they are discouraged from picking other books in the library “solely” on the book’s reading level. So, it seems as if, on some level, we agree that things need to change in how we are encouraging reading in the schools. (Yes, I realize there are many kinds of leveling systems. Right now Lexile is the prevalent one.)

While we agree on that important point, I will however admit that I am very disappointed that the remainder of your letter really did not address my matters of concern, but largely repeated a lot of what I have already read on the MetaMetrics website. Information I have spent hours studying, and with which I strongly disagree.

When you address my issue with the two books I sent you, you really don’t address it at all, but rather say “there are other important factors to consider when selecting a book for a particular reader….” Okay, I get that, but what about the strange scores? If we are to ignore this fact and just look at the other important factors, why have a Lexile score to begin with? MetaMetrics claims time and again that ALL they look at are word frequency and sentence length. But let’s addresses the basic question of why these two factors are so important. How do these factors make lifelong readers? If they are so important, why do they leave such a strange disparity in how books are scored? Just because the Lexile score is only ONE factor among many, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t thoroughly examine its value before using it. As an adult I could sit down and read Bunnicula Strikes again in less than an hour. Yet, I still find the Fellowship of the Ring to be very challenging. So why do these books have the same measure? This question deserves an answer, not diversionary tactics.

In your third paragraph you talk about my illustration of how my daughter’s scores increased without reading fiction above her level. You say “In addition to her love of reading fiction, some of her growth likely can be attributed to her class-assigned readings from textbooks and articles that may have been at a higher level.” To that, I say, of course! That was my point. We didn’t need to be interventionists into her leisure reading for her scores to improve. In our family we make a distinction between academic and recreational reading. Yet, every day, I deal with students and parents who have been sent to choose their child’s recreational reading based on their lexile score. There is no such distinction being made in their minds. They have printouts from a wizard that leaves them with reading choices that have them shaking their heads. Most of the time, I quietly put the piece of paper down and help them and their child find some really good books. I don’t need numbers to make this match. I do it by making it my habit to know books and know kids. We talk, they tell me what they like and don’t like. I have book clubs for elementary kids, and I spent a great deal of time going out into the schools doing storytelling, book talks and other programs. Maybe it is harder than using a number to match kids with books, but it is way more effective.

Your fourth paragraph has one particular statement, also stated often by Metametrics, that I find really bothersome. While emphasizing that Lexile is only one factor, you still call the Lexile measure a “starting point” in the process. Actually, it is closer to the opposite. The other factors should come first. We should start with books that are interesting and age-appropriate for our students and ONLY factor in Lexile if there are issues that seem to warrant it. Why do I feel this way? The main reason I feel this way is that in my hours of research I discovered that most children’s and young adult fiction (and really much adult fiction) falls in a score range under 1000 and many readers have scores higher than this by the 4th grade. This means that if you factor in the lexile score FIRST, you automatically preclude a lot of great literature for children and young adults. This fact is born out in the dismal results fiction readers get when using the Lexile wizard. Again, the best way to avoid this is simply to allow recreational and leisure reading be that. Leave Lexiles for the textbooks and tests.

Another point I would like to make, is that while the list of books suggested on the CRCT may be suggestions, this is not how parents perceive them. When they hear an educator say that their CRCT score sheet has some suggested reading, many hear this as a mandate. If you don’t necessarily endorse the suggestions, then why make them? It is sort of like not taking credit for your homework.

At the conclusion of your letter you make it clear how strongly Lexile is connected to our state standards. I do understand this. It is unfortunate, but I understand. I recognize that the DOE has to work to uphold its standards. However, in a democratic society we should also always be questioning our standards and the results of the laws we make. As a parent and professional who is engaged with kids and books day in and out in the real world, I am not happy with what I am seeing. I will push for change not just for the sake of change, but because I truly feel that the future of our children depends on changing our course.

Thank you again for your response, consideration and your encouragement in my passion for helping children become lifelong readers. This is a passion born of a deep belief that the best way to really live in a peaceful world is to understand yourself and others, and one great place for that understanding to begin in within the pages of a book.

Sincerely,


Ada E. Demlow, M.L.S.


I haven't heard anything back, and really don't expect a response. The original response did not really open up a dialogue, but basically took the party line on all of this stuff. It looks to me like our state has sold out to MetaMetrics and is not interested in logic or discussion. If anyone, anyone out there can tell me how sentence length and word frequency create lifelong readers, please share this with me. Until then, I just won't be able to have a lot of respect for our State Department of Education's decision to adopt Lexile.

I still plan to send further letters to local media and other parties who might be interested, and I will report on that on my new blog and on facebook. I hope that others will also start dialogues on this topic with educators, politicians, parents and the community at large. I welcome any comments and insights that are gleaned from these conversations.

Well I guess this blog is already long enough. I will close for now! Thank you and Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preaching to the Choir?

I took a week off from work and this blog to spend 5 wonderful days at the beach with my daughter. It was our fifth annual trip, and this one was especially sweet after a long, exhausting (and yes, fun) summer.

I did send a letter to our State Superintendent of Schools. Along with the letter I sent copies of The Fellowship of the Ring and Bunnicula Strikes Again. I will very likely post my complete letter on this blog, but first I want to wait and see what kind of response I get. That way I can post my letter along with (hopefully) his response. I tried my best to write a letter that would inform not inflame. I had a little help in editing and several colleagues gave me the thumbs up, so I hope I will be able to make some small impact.

I encourage readers from other states being affected by this to write letters to both state and local agencies about Lexile™ When I bring these issues up on list serves, I sometimes get told I am preaching to the choir. But my thoughts are this. If there is a choir out there – why aren’t we singing on the front lawn of our state capitol? I don't really want to preach to the choir, but I don't mind singing with the choir! I realize that there are so many issues out there, that it is easy to let this just be a little nag that gets ignored. However, I think that we did this we Accelerated Reader for years and the result of inaction was to get something even worse.

This will be only the first of other letters. I have been noticing that No Child Left Behind is starting to get more coverage that questions the practicality of the law. This is because we are closer to the 2014 deadline in which all schools are supposed to meet the goals at 100%. The standards keep getting higher. Fewer school systems are making the cut. It is now more obvious what a sham the whole thing is. It is a great time to write to the press and show them how this law is impacting our children’s reading. So I am thinking in some upcoming weeks, I will also write to our local media and see what interest can be generated that way as well.

I do want to share a celebratory story of something that happened just before I left for my vacation. A rising 5th grade boy came into the library about four days before the end of our vacation reading program. He had a little more reading left to do before he can finish his goal. He was really pushing his mom and me to help him find something short and simple – didn’t care if he would really like it – just to make the goal. I reminded him that if he found a good book he really liked – even if it was longer he would still make his goal and have something to keep on reading for that last week before school got out. I handed him a copy of my summer pick that I had been stashing copies of behind my desk all summer – Gregor, the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. This young man took the book. He came in on our closing day of the program and asked where I was. He couldn’t wait to find and tell me how much he loved the book and that he was already bugging his Mom to buy him the whole series. He had already finished his goal and was still reading. I went and got our director and had her give him and extra pat on the back. He left the library with the biggest smile and was telling his Mom – I am a reading champion! That was a gratifying moment. We can still focus on what is most important and have some success. Despite the barriers that are being placed in front of us, no one can change the magic that happens when children are encouraged to read good books.

Now, off to prepare for my first day back to work after 8 days out. It is also the first day of school for our local kids - so a big day all around. Happy Week and Happy Reading everyone!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Small Steps in Hopes of Big Change

It has been a busy few weeks trying to wrap up the Summer Reading program. However, my mind has still been actively working on all of this Lexile™ and Reading Counts stuff. I wanted to catch everyone up and what I have been doing and where things are headed. I am making the slow crawl to activism on this!

Today ordered used copies of Bunnicula Strikes Again and the Fellowship of the Ring. It is my goal to send a letter, along with copies of these books, out at least every other month to a public official, media outlet or other party of interest. I am looking at this as planting seeds. I don’t know what is going to come of all of this, but I do know that if only one person can make a change, then I want to inspire as many people as possible so big change can happen in this area. I am starting with a letter to our State Superintendent of Schools, since that is the department that brought the Lexile™ system to our state. I hope this will inspire some of you to do the same thing. In the coming weeks I will be publishing a list of other weird Lexile™ score comparisons. There will be plenty of pairs of books you could choose to send to those you feel need to increase their awareness.

This week I am going to have a few colleagues look at my first attempt at a letter. I am also trying to learn a little bit of the logistics and etiquette for sending these letters and posting them openly on my blog. I want these communications to be as effective as possible. If I determine that publishing these letters openly is a good idea, then they will put on this blog site. I also have to learn a bit of the etiquette in posting any responses I might receive. It seems these kinds of things are widespread on cable and the net these days, but I still feel the need to read and learn a little protocol first! I am more interested in effectiveness of the letters than in their ability to inflame.

In the past two weeks I have finished two books that I think readers of this blog should know about. One is called Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, and the other is Many Children Left Behind by Deborah Meier and others.

You can read my thoughts on these books at goodreads.com. Here are the links!

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/181662239

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/185380470


Finally, I have decided that to keep from letting all of this stuff get discouraging, I need to think about and share positive courses of action that can be taken by parents, teachers or librarians to inspire reading despite what is going on around us. I have a kernel of an idea sparked by a little something I did this summer. When I did my school visits in May I did book talks on a couple of favorite titles. Then I requested extra titles of these books and had them at the children’s circulation desk. Some kids came in and asked for them, others I was able to recommend it to them when they came in asking for help in finding a good book.

So, this fall at the library I am going to start having Mrs. Ada’s “Read of the Month.” I will see what schools will let me come and do book talks for their morning announcements, and I will request extra copies of these books to have on hand at my desk. Whenever the opportunity arises to recommend these books, I will. I am still thinking of other ways to promote the books AND perhaps recognize the participants. It needs to be something fairly simple to manage as we are understaffed and very busy. However, in my mind having something like this in place will actually save me time in the long run because I will have an easier time making recommendations for those kids that just don’t know what they want to read. The big thing will be that the recommendation won’t be based on lexile or tests or anything like that. Yes, there will be parents and kids who won’t participate because of that, but they will also keep seeing these cool books be recommended and might start to realize that there is more to reading than tests. And I will get the gratification that comes from putting great books into the hands of eager readers, at least once in a while!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Teens Blog About Lexile

Today I would like to share a couple of links with you. Blogs written by students about books they are reading. From the looks of things these blogs have been written somewhat as part of a literature or English class, but the content seems to be mostly up to the students. What I found here are students pretty engaged in reading who are frustrated by lexile, but working on ways to work around the system so they can read what they enjoy and still get the required lexile reading done for their grades. The biggest issue that they face with lexile seems to be limited choice.

http://hhlitblog5.edublogs.org/2011/04/13/lexile-and-r-l/
http://piknik.edublogs.org/?s=lexile

I think the thing that struck me most in reading these blogs, is that they were clearly written by students who already love books and reading. So they have the motivation to actually to think through and write about what they see as a roadblock to doing something that interests them.

But I am only left to wonder, what about all the others who didn’t already have this motivation? If engaged readers are this frustrated, what do you think happens to those who weren’t that motivated to read in the first place? Do you think lexile has motivated them to give it a try? Somehow, I just don’t think so.

If you are a parent or teacher I encourage you to give your students the freedom to write and express their feelings on reading programs and just reading in general. Their voices matter. If a student who says they hate reading is encouraged and allowed to think about and express just what it is that they hate – it might help them to discover that it isn’t really reading they hate, but more the system and methods that have been used to get them to do it. I would love to hear from your students and children on what they think of reading and what they wish could be different.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Off to See the Wizard! Six-Minute Lexile Video Part 3

Okay, I don’t want to have to watch this six-minute Lexile™ video any more, so I am going to finish my discussion on it today. Not that the reader who is hanging with me really needs any more assurance that MetaMetrics has loaded the BS*?!# pretty thick in their video. Still there are a couple more salient points to be made, and I thank you for your indulgence as I make them.

If you have just now found my blog, you can find the 6-minute video to which I am referring at the link below:

http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-video/

The first almost third of the video tried to convince the viewer that Lexile™ is a more personal and precise way for a reader to find a book and that their system can be deemed worthy because it is backed up by 20 years of research and usage throughout the nation. You can read my thoughts on that in earlier blogs. The rest of the video explains how the system works with continued push as to why their way is the best and most proven. Here is where the rubber meets the road, or doesn’t in this case.

Your child takes a standardized test. For a fee, Metametrics has started adding Lexile™ scores as part of the test results for many national tests. Publishers also pay Metametrics to run their books through their proprietary software and assign books a Lexile™ score based on the results. So now you have readers with scores and books with scores. You are given an image of a scale in which the books are on one side and your child on the other. Your child scored 940 on their test? Great, let’s find some books that also made this score! Metametrics argues that since your child’s score and the book’s score have been derived the same way, it makes matching very precise and highly personalized. It seems clear that this venture is profitable for MetaMetrics who collects all the dollars. But precise and personalized? We will have to see about that!

The video explains that one easy way to do this is to use the Lexile™ Book Database – a kind of wizard. You put in your child’s score, along with their age and interests and voila is shoots out a list of recommended titles. They call it a quick and easy process with an unbelievably powerful outcome. So I decided to try it with my daughter’s Lexile™ score. She is a rising 8th grader whose score is 1210.

I went to their book database and put in my daughters score. The next screen asked me for interests. She chose Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction, and Romance. (Yes, she is a Twilight and Harry Potter fan!) When we got to the next screen it said the database had found 947 books. However, this was not broken down by age. On the right hand side of the screen there was a sliding bar where you could put an age range for the books. We chose 12 – 15 since she is 13. This narrowed the choices from 947 down to 72. Yes, according to MetaMetrics there are only 72 appropriate books for my child.

Don’t look behind the curtain, Dorothy! Turns out that wizard is a fraud! Here are the first 10 books of the 72 recommended. I included them as Amazon links so you can read more about each title. You can use the database with the same parameters to get the rest. This list is utterly ridiculous!

http://www.amazon.com/Amish-American-Religious-Experience/dp/0531112756/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309723281&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Cruel-Summer-Alyson-Noel/dp/B002LITRXU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309723309&sr=1-1


http://www.amazon.com/King-Mild-Frontier-Ill-Advised-Autobiography/dp/0060502517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309723349&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Albert-Camus-Thinker-Artist-Man/dp/B000JLAGM2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309723376&sr=1-1


http://www.amazon.com/Savage-Satire-Story-Jonathan-Swift/dp/B002AYAMRA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309723405&sr=1-1


http://www.amazon.com/Surprising-Stories-Saki-Tales-Twists/dp/0590745689/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309723434&sr=1-1


http://www.amazon.com/Fulani-Heritage-Library-African-Peoples/dp/082391982X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309723467&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Heritage-Library-African-Peoples-Africa/dp/0823919773/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309723493&sr=1-3

http://www.amazon.com/Latinos-Beisbol-James-D-Cockcroft/dp/0756773474/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309723519&sr=1-4

There were a few authors on the complete list that I thought my daughter might enjoy including Gary Paulsen and Robin McKinley, but for the most part the recommendations were just terrible. Nothing that she has read or enjoyed in the past year or that she has read this summer appeared on this list. That is because most fiction for young adults scores at 1000 or below.

The video points out that these scores are not intended to replace the valuable role of teachers and librarians, they do support them in their selecting appropriate reading materials for students. They also support parents who are now able to come into the public library armed with this very useful score and be a partner with you in selecting materials for their child. As a librarian, I can only consider these statements to be ludicrous. Lists like those written above don’t support my efforts, especially when they lead to parents who become frustrated with their kids for actually wanting to read a book that isn’t on the “list”, or become frustrated with the library because we don’t have the books on the list and instead have a wonderful treasury of time-tested very appropriate recommendations that, of course, are not on the list.

Towards the end of the video they start spouting platitudes about the importance of reading to lifelong success and the critical role Lexile plays in this success. They give you what I guess is supposed to be a warm fuzzy image of how we measure our children’s height with pencils marks on the wall and how the Lexile scores can also be a visual reminder of reading growth. I think I will stick with saving my kid’s favorite books so they can share them with their own kids. I know that I don’t get any warm fuzzies looking at my old test scores, but there is nothing like pulling out the copies of the books I read as a child and reading them, once again. I suspect it will be the same for my kids.

Clearly this 6-minute propaganda video has raised questions for many parents. MetaMetrics has even begun creating additional videos to address these questions and issues. I think you will find it is very amusing and interesting to watch these sideline videos designed keep parents fully informed. Ha! You can find them by clicking on the link for the 6 –minute video and then looking on the right hand side of the page where there is a box for more videos. A few examples are listed below.

What does lexile tell you about age appropriateness of a book?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr0jQzrDafw


You don’t have to watch the whole thing, but at least click on it. You will be so impressed by the researcher standing against a blank white wall and letting you know that actually Lexile can tell you absolutely nothing about age-appropriateness!

What do some great books have low Lexile measures?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjWWNdH_fig&feature=related

Because Lexile doesn’t indicate quality making it possible for really bad writing to get a high score and really good writing to get a low score. (Come on people, do you really want your kids to read QUALITY literature??)

Doesn’t the Lexile measure limit what children can read?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmLw0gyaI-I

All I can say for this video is that at least the presenter added some color to the wall by a placement of a fake tree. This video doesn’t really address the true nature of the question only tackling the question of children wanting to read above their level. Never the very real problem that most juvenile and young adult fiction is written at a Lexile level lower than most tests will assign students in this age group. The presenter points out that the value of Lexile is in preventing reader frustration. What about all those readers in my library who are frustrated because they are being told they can’t read the things that interest them most because those books are not in their score range. Talk about frustration!

In an upcoming blog I will address an important question. Even if you assume that Lexile score are highly accurate, is it necessary to read books at a certain level in order for growth and improvement in reading to occur? Again, my daughter’s real life results tell a much different story than Lexile does!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Over-Diagnosed Reader: Isn't Motivation the Best Measure?

As a children’s librarian in the midst of summer, I should have known better than to think I would have gotten two blogs done last week. I am just so fired up and passionate about increasing awareness about what is happening with reading in our schools that I wish I could do a blog a day. This passion didn’t keep me from coming home every day this week too dead on my feet to write. Probably I should stick to Sundays as that seems to work, and if from time to time there is a surprise addition – great!

Today I want to share with you one of the readings I was led to from the research links on lexile.com. The citation was found by clicking on the research button on the home page and then choosing “Research using Lexile measures”. While you can’t link directly to the article, I was able to read it online using my public library account access to Galileo. Check with your local library or college for the best way for you to access this article.

Turning a new page to life and literacy
Rosemarye T Taylor, Richard McAtee. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Newark: Mar 2003. Vol. 46, Iss. 6; pg. 476.


This article describes a literacy initiative called Turning a New Page that took place in a correctional facility among struggling adult readers, many who read at less than a first grade level. The biggest challenge faced by those trying to help these adult readers was in the area of motivation. When you have reached adulthood without being able to read well there is a lot of built in resistance to reading. This is due to the risky nature of trying and failing again, a general apathy at times, and also the practical reality that it becomes difficult to find interesting material to match the needs of an adult struggling reader.

The study quoted a previous study which found that older reluctant or struggling readers generally have a negative attitude toward reading, read less frequently, and consequently fall further behind their peers. "A positive attitude towards reading, although not associated with higher performance in beginning reading, may sustain an interest in reading through upper grades." (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998, p. 206).

The Turning a New Page project involved having the inmate record audiotapes of children’s books for school children in a nearby community. Recording these tapes required finding children’s stories that the inmates could successfully read, and having them practice many times in order to get to a point that they could record the story on the tape. This initiative was proven to be successful on many levels and was continued beyond the scope of the study.

The primary reason this initiative was successful was that someone took the time to really look at the readers in question here and what their inner motivations for reading might be. Given the fact that their personal reasons for wanting to read were thwarted by an inability to read materials of interest to them, the next alternative was to find another motivation, not an external motivation forced on them, but rather another internal reason the inmates might have for reading. Someone in the process realized that these prisoners were motivated by a strong desire to see that other children didn’t end up like them. Someone realized that these inmates would likely be motivated by the opportunity to provide other children something that was not part of their childhoods. It was this motivation that got the inmates to read children’s books that would have otherwise seemed “beneath” them, and the fact that they would be recorded for other children motivated them to practice the stories repeatedly, an important part to building their fluency.

Once the inmates were open to this project, they were also more positive about receiving explicit reading instruction from their teachers and were willing to actively participate in classroom reading instruction. The end result is that some of the inmates now report to reading adult novels with ease and have been able to find enjoyment and pleasure in reading. On top of that, some lucky kids out there have gotten a better start on their reading journey through listening to the stories taped by the inmates.

I think one of the reasons that this research study really touched me was that it reminded me of a couple of service projects I got some children involved in while involved in church ministry. One was a project in which our older children made books on tape for children staying in a local homeless shelter. Another was a fundraiser in which we collected monies to send to Aunt Mary’s Storybook Project, an initiative that helps incarcerated parents create audio books for their children in order to build better relationships and futures. The link to that project is below

http://www.cjtinc.org/auntmary.html

Projects like these that tap into inner motivation and service to others get to heart of what it means to be on both the reading journey and the human journey.

So what about Lexile™ in all of this? The only real role that Lexile™ played in this scenario was diagnostic. The inmates took the Scholastic Reading Inventory which gave them pre and post study grade level reading equivalents, and also provided Lexile™ scores which were used to help match the readers to books. These tests did show an average growth of 2.6 years in one calendar year. No indication was given as to whether the inmates were required to choose all of their reading material based on Lexile™ , or whether Lexile™ played any ongoing role in the selection of their personal reading material as they moved into being able to read novels. There is also no indication of how much a role the teachers played in the actual selection of books. Were the lexiles™ used as a guide or as a hard and fast decision-making tool? Were the educators allowed to use their own professional experiences and judgments in selecting materials for the inmates? I couldn’t tell that from reading the study.

I think none of this was mentioned because it just wasn’t all that important. Even the researchers admit that the most important results of the study could not be quantified – positive changes in confidence and attitude. These changes were noticed by the wardens, the inmates, and even family members who only had contact with the inmates by letters. This study was not about the value of Lexile™. It was about the power of inner motivation to bring about profound personal transformation. It was also about the power of reading to inspire empathy for others and the ability to get into and understand the viewpoints of others. For me, this is one of the reasons that I see reading as so vital to our society, and a big reason why its decline causes me great concern.

If I had to guess, you could have taken Lexile™ out of the equation in this study and gotten the same results. Give the person a strong inner motivation to read and help others, and they will tackle the work and materials you give them to the best of their ability. It is both as simple and as powerful as that.

So, if what this study shows is that finding a reader’s inner motivation is important to building success, how does this measure up to Lexile's™ formula for reading? Does forcing children to only read books that match a certain score affect their motivation? The parents I have talked to in my library answer that with a resounding yes. And the affect is not positive. In future blogs I will point you to other research that supports these parents’ experiences, but if you are a parent or teacher who has tried to force a reluctant reader to read something based solely on some external requirement, you have a pretty good idea of what the research will say.

And if the positive value of Lexile™ in this study was in the area of diagnostics, why are we putting such premium value on it as an every day tool for readers who are not struggling? As a tool to see how our kids are progressing from year to year, it seems like it could be one way to alert us to possible trouble. But why would we use a diagnostic tool to help a typical reader select their recreational reading on a regular basis? I mean, do we require a healthy child to have a physical each morning before preparing their breakfast? Do we really have to “intervene” that much in the daily reading decisions kids make? I really believe in the adage, “if it’s broken, don’t fix it” and it seems to me that overuse of Lexile™ is an attempt to fix problems that are not there. It is also a good recipe for creating a new generation of reluctant readers. We have begun to confuse the tools we use for measuring progress with the tools needed to inspire reading and this is a dangerous confusion.

Next week I will wrap up my review of Lexile's™ 6-minute video. In that segment they will try to convince you that their magical wizard can factor in things like interest and age to help students find reading material. It will tell you how Lexile™ doesn’t have to be one of those test results that you put on the refrigerator and forget, but rather is one you can really use regularly. The real-life results of using their wizard, and additional videos posted on the site, will tell a much different story.

After next week’s blog, I will shift gears and move into some ways to take action.