In honor of state testing in two weeks, my first graders will be asked to read an end-of-year passage to a total stranger who's holding a stopwatch in their hand. They have to read 53 words per minute or more in order to score at or above grade level.
During the next two weeks, I refuse to:
- ask my readers to read random, meaningless passages
- let them see me with a stopwatch in my hand
- talk to them about words per minute
- tell them that they're going to be tested
Instead I will:
- continue on with balanced literacy instruction (shared reading, mini-lessons, independent reading, guided reading, etc.) using real, authentic literature
- give them opportunities to practice fluency strategies with familiar rereads and favorite weekly poems
- encourage them to read with a storyteller's voice, to put their words together like they're talking, and to scoop words together
- say these words the morning of the test: "Hey kiddos. Some good friends of mine are going to check your smart parts today. They'll take great care of you. Just be brave and do your best."
In the face of the inevitable mandated test, I still believe in the power of excellent literacy instruction and quality literature. Passages and stopwatches squeeze the life right out of our readers. Some might argue that those tools prepare readers for a better testing experience. Even if that's the case, and I have my doubts, I'd rather prepare my readers for a better reading life.
In this testing season, stop and reflect. Excellent teaching trumps all.