Authors: Testing kills love of reading

Testing kills children’s “love of reading,” according to a bunch of children’s authors and illustrators who signed Fair Test‘s open letter to President Obama. Judy Blume, Maya Angelou and Jules Feiffer are the big names.

. . . requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations.

If children’s love of reading has declined in recent years, blame multimedia, responds Patrick Riccards in Are you there, God. It’s me, Eduflack.

Do we blame the bubble sheet, or do we blame the multitude of options now competing for a young learner’s attention?

Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of testing being blamed for all that is perceived wrong in our country.  . . . We ignore that testing has been a part of our public schools for as long as we’ve had public schools.  We overlook that testing data can play a meaningful role in improving both teaching and learning.  We avoid the true debate, a discussion about ensuring the value of testing and the use and application of high-quality assessments.

You know what really kills the love of reading? Not being able to read very well.

E-textbooks: What’s the rush?

Don’t rush to adopt e-textbooks, advises Daniel Willingham. It’s not clear they’re better, at least as currently produced, and students prefer traditional textbooks. “Some data indicate that reading electronic textbooks, although it leads to comparable comprehension, takes longer.”

Further, many publishers are not showing a lot of foresight in how they integrate video and other features in the electronic textbooks. . . . multimedia learning is more complex than one would think. Videos, illustrative simulations, hyperlinked definitions–all these can aid comprehension OR hurt comprehension, depending on sometimes subtle differences in how they are placed in the text, the specifics of the visuals, the individual abilities of readers, and so on.

What works for e-books — putting the same words in a new format — may not work for e-texts, Willingham writes. “Textbooks have different content, different structure, and they are read for different purposes.”


What Elroy Jetson needs to learn

We can’t predict the future, but we can teach “timeless knowledge and skills that all students must master to succeed in any environment,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee on Flypaper. She doesn’t think much of Virginia Heffernan’s call for a “digital-age upgrade” to education in the New York Times’ Opinionator blog.

“…fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet…For those two-thirds of grade-school kids, if for no one else, it’s high time we redesigned American education.”

For example, teachers and professors should stop asking students to write research papers, Heffernan argues, citing Duke English Professor Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It. Davidson’s students write “witty and incisive” blog posts and terrible term papers. She blames the term papers.

What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

Old fogies shouldn’t insist that students write if they’d rather make a video, Heffernan believes. It’s the 21st century!

Heffernan misses her own point, responds Porter-Magee. We can’t predict what today’s elementary students will be doing in 20 years. Therefore, “our job as educators is not hitch our wagons to the latest education fad in response to changing—and often fleeting—technology.”

After all, that students can produce “witty and incisive” blog posts for their peers on topics of their choosing says nothing about their ability to write and speak to multiple audiences or about a variety of topics. (Most multimedia products are necessarily limited and we need to ask more of our students.) And the ability to synthesize complicated information in a persuasive way—grounded in facts, research and reading—is critical and timeless.

Students need to learn to write about more than their personal feelings, Porter-Magee writes.


Research papers went out of fashion long ago in high schools, points out Robert Pondiscio, who quotes Will Fitzhugh of the Concord Review. He also links to a thoughtful post on All Things Education by Cedar Riener, a college psychology professor, who assigns both long research papers and short responses.

Hanna Barbera thought that Elroy Jetson, age six, would study space history, astrophysics, star geometry and math at the Little Dipper School. No reading or writing in the future?