Wednesday, April 20, 2005

STAR Testing

It's strange. I always loved test days when I was in school. To me they were a day where I could zoom through a bunch of easy questions to an easy high score and then get a chance to take a nap at my desk or read a book. My students, however, find them much more trying. Some get fed up quickly and hurry through the test just to look eagerly around the room for someone to try to talk to. No one brings a book they're reading on their own, because most of them don't read outside of their assigned school reading (and some don't even do that).

I wonder if this is an effect of not having been read to as a child. I've always loved reading ever since I can remember. Some of my first memories are of my mother reading the baby-bee-bee bird to my brother and I. Soon after that we were reading to her out of our word bird books and berenstein bears books. To this day, I think that is part of the reason that I feel very at ease and comforted when I'm reading a book. I could even read War and Peace on the 2 hour bus ride to my first summer job and feel completely calm in a bumping crowd of bitter morning commuters.

This is part of the reason I feel that more attention needs to be paid to early childhood education. Once they enter High School with a 4th grade reading level, the best you can do is get them to an 8th grade reading level in 4 years. There is a vicious cycle in place in homes with parents that do not read to their children:

1.Parent's who don't read don't have higher degrees or high paying jobs.
2.Without high paying jobs they have to work longer hours
3.Their children are on their own more. Parents can't read to them, help them with their homework, or encourage positive academic activities as they didn't participate in them when they were in school.
4.Their children fall behind, dropout, or only graduate high school.
5.Their children have childrens (go to 1)

More money for preschool and after school elementary programs help to provide surrogate parent figures who can instill a love of reading and learning. Many parents of my most frustrating students, ones who have a quick wit which betrays their academic potential but have little interest in school, can only pay lip service to the idea of academic achievement. "I tell them all the time. Study, study, study but he never listen." "I tell him to do his homework but he say its all done." They lack the academic skills it takes to understand what is being asked of their children so they can't follow up on them very well. After school programs are the best solution for this. Even after school jobs are a good start. It's the unstructured free time after school that is giving these students an alternative to academic achievement. They hang out with other recent grads or dropouts who have little or no interest in improving their own condition and they start to set their standards by that measure. I hate seeing a whole generation of minority youth being lost to nothing more than TV, Video Games and Weed.

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