Thursday, November 1, 2007


November 2, 2007

Education researchers have discovered a new correlate to high performance on the TAKS. For you non-Texans TAKS stands for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Public school students in grades 3 through 11 take subject matter tests to demonstrate proficiency in various subject areas. The TAKS is the model for our country's No Child's Left Behind. And what I have never understood is why we would care about a Child's Left Behind and not their Right Behind. I say, it should be Both Behinds or No Behinds, not one or the other.

Butt, I digress.

I learned about the research applicable to the Reading TAKS when I recently had a conversation with the learning specialist at Erin's school. Apparently, at each grade level, reading aloud at a particular speed is an uncanny predictor of success on the reading TAKS. Therefore, fluency has become a crucial part of reading preparation at Erin's school. Each student receives a grade-level appropriate passage on Monday. They practice at home reading the passage out loud, and on Friday, they read as much of the passage to their teacher as they can in exactly one minute. The plan is to continue doing this each week through February, so that all the students can become fluent readers. The first Friday, when Erin had finished her minute and recorded her result, she had read 263 words per minute. This was three words more than the chart she was supposed to record her results on could accommodate. (If you want to measure yourself against Erin, take a look at the October 29th entry below. Turn on your stopwatch and read for a minute out loud. If you made it to the word "lack" as in "lack of hand washing facilities" you matched Erin's first effort.)

The next week, she practiced a little more (actually a considerable amount more. Every evening, after dinner when Walter and I sat down to catch up on the events of the day, Erin sat in front of the microwave, time set to twenty minutes and read and re-read the passage at top speed.). At the end of the week, she sipped through 304 words in a minute. That would be the equivalent of reading this entry from the beginning through the word "little" in the first sentence of this paragraph in sixty seconds. That may not seem so difficult to you when you are reading silently, but do it out loud. Listen to yourself. If you could really talk that fast you would have a career as an auctioneer (and not many other opportunities).

So, when I was visiting with the learning specialist about another matter, I asked about fluency. I was pretty sure that I had stumbled upon the unintended consequences of a well-meaning change in the curriculum. What the teachers (and researchers) expected was that having children read out loud would improve their silent reading, giving them a better chance to finish reading passages on standardized tests with enough time to answer the questions posed. What they got was a goal-oriented child, who already reads waaaaaay beyond her grade level, who is also a motor mouth. If you have ever heard Beaker, from the Muppets, talk, you can imagine what Erin sounded like reading out loud at the speed of sound.

When Erin got home this afternoon, she told me she was done with fluency. Her teacher told her she didn't have to do it any more. She was happy about it, but promised that she would start doing it again, if anyone in the fifth grade reached 305 WPM. Whose child is she?

This whole episode cracked me up.

On to Halloween. . .

For years, Erin has wanted matching mother/daughter outfits. This is not really my thing. I'm a business school professor. I wear suits and sports coats. It's my uniform. There are NOT a proliferation of suits and sports coats available for little girls. Erin wears young girl stuff: capris, skorts, you know the gig. Finally, this fall, she made me a deal. She told me she wanted to dress up for Halloween as a Congresswoman, would I help her get a costume, preferably a suit? Plus, she said, if I would buy her a suit, she would wear it for her Christmas outfit, her Easter outfit, and as her dress-up clothes on Sundays. I cratered.

I can actually picture her as my representative or Senator in a couple of decades. Can you? The lapel pins she is wearing is the gold ribbon for support of childhood cancer! She had a grand time, first hanging with her buds, Jesse, the Egyptian pharaoh, Ian, the bumblebee, Nico, the Ketchup bottle, Adam the skeleton, and Shelby, the lady bug.

We met up with the Mystic '97 soccer girls and got more trick or treating in. I don't think Erin actually understands that Halloween is to dramatize your greatest fear (thus a lot of dead guys trick or treating) or embody something beautiful or funny. Erin thinks you Halloween is a dress rehearsal for your later life. She looks ready to serve.

One other thing before I sign off for the night (can you tell that Walter is out of town. . .academic trip to a conference in Richmond, Virginia?), thanks to you the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2007 will receive its Senate markup next week, if all goes according to plan. As of tonight there are 44 Senators and 160 representatives already committed to the bill's passage. If it makes it through committee in both houses (this is where it found its untimely death last year), it will go for a full vote, then to the President for a signature. If it makes it that far, I will call on you again, because this bill is only an authorization bill. If it passes, the Appropriations Committees will have to find funds to make it happen, and that won't be easy.

Check back again soon. Lunch for Life is launching again soon, and as always. I'd like you to give up your lunch for Erin.

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