kitchen table math, the sequel: the sick twisted world of modern report cards

Monday, January 29, 2007

the sick twisted world of modern report cards

My son got his mid-year report card on Friday. This is first grade, BTW.

Under the heading of "Reading." there was listed the skill:

Uses a variety of decoding strategies

His grade was a P for Progressing. First of all, don't get me started on the wacky grading scheme E (Excelling), P (Progressing), I (Improving with support ), N (not Progressing). It doesn't matter what code gets used, parents (and likely students to0) are going to automatically equate E, P, I, N with A, B, C, D/F. So what's the point, except perhaps to soften the blow when little Johnny comes home with a bunch of C's.

In any event "uses a variety of decoding strategies" is also code. Code for "whole language."

A quick review.

There is one legitimate way to decode text--using phonics skills to match up the graphemes (symbols in print) with the phonemes (the speech sounds they represent) to decode (i.e., identify) the written word and then, hopefully, extract meaning from it (i.e., match it up with a word in the child's oral vocabulary). Whole language proponents mistakenly believe, however, that text can be decoded using context cues such as word order, word endings, tense, intonation, phrasing (syntactic cues) and using the meaning of what has just been read (semantic cues) to identify an unknown word in text. In first grade, what this means is that when a child comes to a word that is unknown he is encouraged to look at the picture on the page (context cue) to guess at the unknown word. Since the text is designed to be predictable ("The cowboy rode on his horse" matched with a picture of a man dressed like a cowboy riding a horse.)

The mistake is that skilled readers don't use context and syntax cues to identify (i.e., decode), they use these skills to determine the meaning of words they have properly decoded but whose meaning is unknown. Whole language educators mistakenly conflate the decoding and meaning parts of reading with the inevitable result being the creation of children with poor decoding skills once the pictures are taken away (fourth grade) and the text becomes less predictable.

In any event, we had instructed my son not to use context cues when he's reading at home; however, when he's reading for his teacher at school and comes to a word he doesn't know it's OK to look at the picture to make the teacher happy.

So while I would have preferred to see an N (Not progressing) for this "skill" on his report card, I was satisfied with the P (progressing) since he had learned a very important school skill -- keep the teacher happy.


Tracy W said...

"It is is the duty of the student,
Without exception to be prudent.
When smarter than his teacher, tact
demands that he conceal the fact." - Anon

Very good advice for any student.

Catherine Johnson said...

I looked up Christopher's 5th grade TONYSS scores for a reporter & discovered he'd done quite well on "Uncertainty."

Anonymous said...

We have "Consistently Demonstrating" as our "A".

Then's there's "Progressing", and
later, "Having Difficulty", followed by, "Are You Kidding?" or something like that I'm sure.

Tex said...

Thank you for the quick review on whole language.

In the last few weeks I’ve had two parents comment to me that reform math is ”like the whole language debacle” and I’ve been using “intonation, phrasing (syntactic cues)” to help me understand what they meant.

Now you have brought additional clarity to my understanding.

Tex said...

Catherine --

“ . . . for a reporter . . .”??

Do you care to expand on this?

KathyIggy said...

Up until 3rd grade, we have E (exceeds district expectations), M (meets expectations), P (progressing toward expectations), and N (needs additional support to meet expectations). Of course, even my first grader says, "the E's are like A's and the M's are like B's". The grading scale switches to the A, B, C, D, F in 3rd grade, but the grades have 2 definitions. One is the usual percentage definition, but the others are "greatly exceeds expectations, exceeds expectations, meets expectations, progressing, and does not meet expectations." I think the district wants to switch to a "standards-based" format next year, whatever that means. We do have the "uses a variety of decoding strategies" on our 1st grade report as well.

Catherine Johnson said...

Are You Kidding?