Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The points of reading, or why I'm probably really unpopular with my kid's teacher

Ben remains a reading champ, plowing through books at a sometimes astonishing rate. He reads before breakfast and at breakfast and, if there's time, before we take him to school. He reads at school whenever he finishes his work -- and sometimes, I fear, rushes to finish his work so he can get back to his book. He'll read at dinner if I let him and after dinner, as soon as he is free from homework. In short, he reads a lot, and that's all mostly good. I love to read, and it gives me great pleasure to see my kid lost in a book.

His school uses the Accelerated Reader program, which assigns books points based on difficulty and length and has kids earn the points by taking computer-based tests. Kids have to set "AR goals" and are suppose to earn a certain number of points per marking period. This year, the school is even issuing certificates to celebrate kids who have 10 points or 50 points or 100, etc.

The whole AR thing does not thrill me. First, it has turned reading into a competition, and frankly Ben can turn pretty much anything into a competition anyway, but I'm not sure this is a trait I really want to encourage. Second, it means non-AR books are not read. Now most books that I might suggest for my fourth grader do seem to be part of the program but not all -- or they are not at the right "level."

Which brings me to today's problem or why I am no probably on his teacher's list of Most Annoying Parents. The teacher told Ben he had read several books below his level. Ben told me this but said he didn't know his level -- or, therefore, which books were too low. I emailed her. She got back to me, explaining she had told all kids their level -- and had them write it down -- at the beginning of the year. Not surprisingly, Ben just tuned that out. She also said that she'd deleted three of the books Ben had read from his record -- making him lose points -- because they were too easy. One of the books was The Cricket In Times Square. According to her note, it was a 4.3. Ben needs to read books at least at a 4.6 level.

Really? A .3 difference and we're saying this book is no good? I recommended the book because I remembered reading it as a kid and loving it. It is a classic, listed as appropriate for kids ages 9 to 12. And now Ben, because he's too good a reader, can't read it? Isn't this a bit nuts? Okay, it was kinda easy for him, but he really enjoyed it. Doesn't that count? I mean it wasn't like it was a Magic Tree House book (man, I hated those).

So then I was looking through the list of AR books and saw that, wait a minute, Cricket was actually a 4.9. Then I wasn't sure what to do, but I finally emailed the teacher back saying, oh, I could be wrong, but I think this book was okay, wasn't it? I'm sure she thinks I'm totally over the top, but it just galled me that according to this crazy reading program he wasn't "allowed" to read this classic, well-loved book.

I haven't heard back from her yet, but whatever her response, I'm dropping the issue. Ben, frankly, is way past his goal anyway and leading his class in points, and if he loses the Cricket ones, well, oh well. And, I realize, this program isn't her doing.

Besides, Ben has, hands down, the worst handwriting in the entire fourth grade (okay, maybe, maybe some of the vision-impaired kids have worse, but I wouldn't concede that without seeing writing samples), and that's what I probably need to focus on right now.

Slow and careful, kiddo, and stop making P's that look like e's. Please.

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