The problem with reading ages

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Testing for reading ages has always been a large part of school culture but more recently it has become almost a must in schools.
I have absolutely no issue with this at all, in fact I would go as far as to encourage schools to make sure they do undertake some sort of reading and spelling age testing for their students. Without this how can they ever be able to understand where their students are with regards to their literacy and specifically their reading abilities.
The problem with reading ages is that they do not tell the whole story. Unless understood that reading ages are a marker for highlighting where there may be a weakness then they can become misleading.
Reading tests take a lots of things in to account: a students ability to decode words; an ability to comprehend a section of text; the speed of analysing a text; accuracy of spelling common and uncommon words; speed and accuracy of dictation via computer and written methods. The list, depending on the test, is endless.
What then happens is a calculation adding all these components together and coming back with a reading age. Without analysing this result a student, whose reading age comes out below their chronological age might get put through a number of intervention strategies. Strategies that that student might not need. That student might be a good decoder of words, they might be good at comprehending text, but they might be slow and so take extra time to process words. This then suddenly brings down their overall reading age causing one to, wrongly assume, that there is something seriously wrong. Ideally what the student needs is their teachers to know that they take a little extra time and to make sure if they are setting text that they target some questions to check understanding.
What they don’t need is the same intervention that another student with a similar reading age needs because the second student has a weakness in decoding text and a weakness in their spelling.
Reading ages need to be the beginning part of the processes. Analysing the results need to come next so you can gain a better picture as to why the results came out the way they did. If a student has a lower reading age why is this? By doing this and understanding what has made up that reading age means that you can put together the most beneficial intervention or strategies to help that individual student. There is no one size fits all intervention because there is no ‘one problem.’

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