An article I co-authored in 2011 began with this observation:
IN 2001, THE NATIONAL Center for Learning Disabilities reported that 40% of our nation’s fourth graders scored below basic reading levels. Today, 10 years later, there has been some much-needed improvement. But before we pop the cork in celebration, it is important to note that the percentage of children reading below a basic level— 33%, according to the U.S. Department of Education website—remains far too great.
Further, despite the improvement shown in the bottom tier of readers, the New York Times reported that the reading levels of those in the mid-tier show almost no equivalent gains. The Times noted:
The average scores of fourth graders in the bottom 10 percent for reading increased by 16 points from 2000 to 2009. In contrast, the average scores of the nation’s best fourth-grade readers, those in the top 10 percent, rose by only 2 points during the same period.
“All the progress in reading is being made at the bottom,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Our worst readers are getting better, but our best readers are staying about the same.” (Dillon, 2010)
Reading Comprehension Has Improved - Slowly
It seems we are progressing, albeit too slowly, in improving reading for many of our lower performers. It also appears that we have a ways to go, especially for some of our more “average” performers. Perhaps we are satisfied with their performance, or perhaps reading success has to be defined as something that meets some sort of grade-level standard. But what does it mean to be at grade-level, to be average, say for fourth grade? For many norm-referenced standardized tests it simply means that 50% of fourth graders obtained “that” score on nationally normed tests. But is that good enough? What is it that we would like all our fourth graders to be able to do in order to be accomplished readers?
Efforts at establishing Common Core standards are attempts to provide these benchmarks. These are important steps. But, much is left to be accomplished. New assessments that go beyond answers to multiple choice questions will be required. We will need more immediate, formative evaluations and flexible, adaptive teaching practices. These improvements will require new tools for teachers - tools that go beyond dashboards and data. While increasing amounts of student data will be provided, it will be essential to make sense of that data and to have interventions readily available. One formative system I have seen extols the virtue of providing a page of data for each subject matter for each student. In a classroom of 30 students, that is 30 pages of reading. If one considers there are at least 4 subject matters taught daily, that is 120 pages of reading per day!
Adaptive Reading Software
This problem can be at least partially solved by finding programs that automatically and continuously adapt, on a moment-to-moment basis, to learner needs. Teachers can then be provided with reports that trace the path the learner is taking. There are applications that do this today - and as technology develops there will be more. If we are to ensure that all learners become highly proficient readers and meet our benchmarks, we will need all that technology, both hardware and software, can and will do for us. Simply providing more data will not be enough.
Mimio has created research-based, adaptive reading programs - both individualized and group – that cover Pre-K through eighth grade.