Attack of the reading tests

Rachel Levy hoped to teach history and geography while developing her high school students’ reading and writing skills. But the principal of her inner-city D.C. school — pre-Rhee — told social studies teachers to spend one-fifth of class time teaching the reading test, Levy writes on Core Knowledge Blog.

Teachers were told to make a chart for each student showing how well he or she did on each skill, such as “context clues.”

Then I was supposed to target my lesson plans to teach and remedy each student’s individual weaknesses. . . . such instruction and data collection had to be documented in our lesson plan books and during classroom observations.

Teach and remedy each student’s individual weaknesses?

While testing doesn’t require such stupidities, few educators have the patience to rely on a “well-rounded and knowledge-rich curriculum” to raise scores gradually, Levy writes.

She tried to persuade colleagues that the way to raise test scores was to “teach content and have students read and write as much as possible.”  No one agreed.

Now raising three children, Levy blogs at All Things Education.

Update:  You need to know how to teach but you also need to know your subject very well, writes Michael Bromley, a social studies teacher who guest-blogged for Rick Hess on Ed Week.  “No matter the teaching strategy, if you don’t have something valid, interesting, and important to teach there will be no learning.”

In June, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released a report showing core historical illiteracy among American school children. In response, famed historian David McCullough told the Wall Street Journal, “People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively because they’re often assigned to teach subjects about which they know little or nothing.”

Wait a minute, there, David, hold on: modern pedagogy states that qualified, education-proficient teachers can teach anything, so long as the correct strategies for student engagement are followed. Isn’t that the problem? David replies, “You can’t love something you don’t know any more than you can love someone you don’t know.” Amen, brother . . .

If you don’t know the subject, your students won’t either, Bromley concludes.

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing my post and I think Bromley’s post was outstanding. We should all know well the subjects we’re teaching, especially at the secondary level. In the classroom as well as with my own children, I’ve found that expertise in and passion for a subject matter is contagious.

  2. The worst teachers I’ve ever had were the ignoramuses.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    When people start taking their kids to merely certified teachers to learn Kung Fu and computer programming, I’ll start paying attention. Until then, I believe the following maxim:

    One can only give to others what one has one’s self.

    And I concur, EP — all of my worst teacher stories from my life (and I’ve quite a few) all concern morons who were desperately reading the curricular materials a few hours ahead of the class.

    Nevertheless, while I think content mastery is necessary for teacher excellence, I don’t think that teaching content is the point of teaching, as such.

    That sounds like it makes no sense, so let me explain.

    The best teachers I’ve had weren’t actually that interested in teaching “content” — they were teaching method and skills. But they were teaching methods and skills that they possessed: research skills, writing skills, logical analysis. By and large, I tend to think that teachers can leave actual content (“Cornwallis surrendered and Yorktown in 1781”) to the students to learn themselves. The job of a teacher is to show the student what to do with that bit of otherwise sterile information. Of course, being able to do interesting things with content requires mastery of it. If you want to talk about the geopolitical significance of the Yorktown surrender, you can’t be hung up on trying to remember when it happened.

    The content, then, is never really the point of education. It’s a pre-requisite. The point of education is action and experience: what can the student do when he’s finished the class that he or she couldn’t do before?