I’m writing a series of educational blog posts from a “Mythbusters” perspective this month, to shine a light on some of the disinformation that is out there regarding speech, language, and literacy development. If I could find a cool hat and learn how to grow a beard, I would love to dress up as one of the guys from mythbusters to do a video! Alas, neither of those things are likely to transpire ☹
I want to help parents and educators gain a new perspective on how to assess for and teach speech, language and literacy. I also want to help parents and educators select an appropriate learning plan for their child or student. Mostly, I want parents to find a value for their time and money, and be able to recognize when they are NOT.
There are some myths to dispel. There are some cautionary tales! There are some part-truths. There is some perversion and abuse of evidence. And there are some dangerous misconceptions, programs, and service providers out there! Prepare yourself for a lot of ALL CAPS because I get a little fired up by all this!
In my previous blog post here, I made a case for using dynamic performance assessment in addition to (and sometimes instead of) standardized testing.
In this blog, I will rant about the first two of four major pitfalls with standardized testing (and by association, diagnosing and labeling). I frequently encounter the effect of these pitfalls with my students, and I feel that we need to be conscious of them. More than conscious. We need to be downright diligent about it because it can COST KIDS THEIR LIVES! (Don’t believe me? Review some of the writing on my blog and website pages about the lifelong effects and outcomes when children take on SHAME here, here, or here).
1.) The First Pitfall: Losing track of the PURPOSE and DESIGN of assessment
I see this constantly. People lose sight of the reason that we assess – and the reason that we assess the way we do. In standardized testing, you are testing a child to compare their performance scores against a normed sample of the population. That means that when a test is created, they gather a couple thousand kids of the same age, and test them. The resulting scores create a range that most of the kids fall in. This becomes the average range of scores for a child of that age.
When we complete testing, we are seeing how your child compares to other kids of the same age. Does he/she have average skill development, or not? That is IT! Problem, or no problem. That is really all a standardized test can tell us. It is great for giving us a diagnosis. It is great for telling us when a child has a delay, disability, or disorder.
Where I sometimes shake my head is that these children get referred for testing because they aren’t reading. So, somebody has ALREADY recognized that there is a problem! Then we test, and we CONFIRM that there is a problem!
How useful is that? That is really, practically, all that a standardized test can tell us. Problem/no problem. How much time and energy are put into referrals, wait lists, paperwork, hours upon hours of testing batteries, writing/reading massive reports, and debriefing the report verbally?
Make no mistake about it, friends, standardized testing and diagnosing has become an INDUSTRY. Funding depends on it. Kids get coded, organizations get funding. Professionals and consultants get rich from it. And for what? Confirming that there is a problem – which you knew anyway – which is why you started the whole referral, paperwork, etc. process!
We like to believe, that pretend, that testing, and scores, and a label or diagnosis is going to provide a solution, and answer. We pretend it is going to mean something. Sadly, it usually has little outcome in how a child is being taught, or how they are learning.
2.) Interpreting Assessment
The testing environment is very artificial. It’s quiet, the child is sitting at a table, there is no movement, no activity around them. The assessment tasks that children complete during testing are often artificial (e.g., recognizing when two words rhyme, recognizing and labeling a letter – these tasks are broken down and far removed from the functional process of “reading”).
As such, testing really gives very little information about how a child processes information or how they perform in the “real world”. And therefore, a test will tell you WHAT a child struggles with. It may show you WHERE they struggle. But it really doesn’t answer WHY they struggle, or HOW they learn.
So where is the problem? We test. We diagnose. Then, even though we don’t know WHY or HOW they learn, we PRESCRIBE. This classroom. This group. That program. This “method”. Books from Level C reading level. Reading activities from the “red” kit.
This is a shotgun approach. It is firing something against the wall to see if it sticks. It is the most unscientific and illogical approach to addressing a problem I can think of! Is THIS what you want for your child??
Are you following the lunacy at play here? We test, we diagnose, and then we lump them into a category – “kids that don’t read well” – and we give them the same thing we give “all the other kids that don’t read well”.
This is a broken system. The test compares your child’s score on some task or sub-task to the average score from a group of kids. All that tells you is how good your child is at a certain series of tasks that make up the test. And if the test looks at COMPONENTS of reading, it doesn’t even tell you how good your child is AT reading! It merely PREDICTS who good they may be at reading, or why they may struggle (more on that in part 2 of this blog series!).
A standardized test doesn’t tell us how children learn. It doesn’t tell us how to effectively teach students. Therefore, a test shouldn’t determine what a child’s learning plan or learning intervention will look like. But it often does.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2
I hope you are finding this valuable. It is challenging to write about. It is frustrating being part of a system that has lost sight of the big picture, while at the same time also losing sight of children as individuals. Education has been industrialized and is being churned out to the masses. This is very unfortunate for the child with the unique brain, the learning difference, the one with a different learning profile.
Note that I said “different learning profile”. Not CAN’T LEARN. That is what I think is at the root of this whole issue. Kids get divided into those that can learn in the mass-produced learning classroom environment and those that can’t. And kids take on a message of I CAN’T.
I firmly believe most kids can learn to read, write, and spell. It starts with understanding how their brain learns and processes information, and then presenting information in a way that makes sense to them. The access is giving them information in a way that they can access it, and then teaching them to apply it. That’s it. It’s not even that complicated! It just takes TIME. And time is a resource – someone has to sit with these children and teach them! And there is a further problem – the financial foundation that underlies our education system. It takes time to train people and have them work individually with children.
Give me a call – I have the knowledge. I have the patience. And I have the TIME.
Please watch for part 2 of this blog post coming soon!!