MUCH coverage of state third-grade reading tests has focused on anecdotal claims of student test anxiety. In some instances, parents even called it “unfair” that children could be forced to repeat third grade if they failed the test.
In sports, citizens often mock the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality or refusal to keep score. But in academics, some find it shocking that officials would acknowledge any students trail their peers. Some critics take things a step further by suggesting there should be no consequence when a child isn’t taught to read.
That’s the wrong approach. Fostering an entitlement mentality provides children no academic benefit. A child’s self-esteem should be based on actual achievement, not social promotion. Self-image improves most when a child initially struggles to achieve a goal, not when “accomplishment” is handed to them.
Keep in mind, the law only prevents students from advancing to the fourth grade if they are reading at a first-grade level or lower. Such students are unable to read and comprehend a Dr. Seuss book.
Some claim “one test” shouldn’t have such consequence. They blame poor scores on “test anxiety.” But the law already provides additional methods to demonstrate reading mastery should a student fail the test. And test anxiety claims are overstated.
According to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine’s Office of Academic Resources and Support, “Test, or performance anxiety, is often related to inadequate course work preparation.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America cites “lack of preparation” as a major cause of test anxiety. On its website, the American Test Anxieties Association states, “Test-anxious students tend to have lower study skills and lower test-taking skills.”
In other words, most people are “poor test takers” for a simple reason: They don’t know the answers. In truth, tests aren’t the source of the anxiety; the root cause is a student’s belief that he’s not prepared for the test. The solution to this problem isn’t automatic advancement regardless of test scores, but to improve a child’s reading skills.
Some critics of the reading law suggest “high stakes” testing doesn’t occur outside K-12 schools. Not true. The driver’s license exam is certainly high stakes for most teenagers. College admission is often tied to a student’s ACT or SAT score. Those wishing to serve in the military must achieve a minimum score on the ASVAB to enlist. For what it’s worth, a 2010 Education Trust report, which examined ASVAB results from 2004 to 2009, found 23.2 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates (and 39.5 percent of black applicants from Oklahoma) did not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist.
Those wishing to work as attorneys must pass the bar exam. Failure on that test means years of college education and thousands of dollars in tuition have been wasted. Talk about high stakes! The same scenario is true for accountants. Even those wishing simply to work a cash register at a retail outlet must typically pass a skills test.
In short, high-stakes testing isn’t rare. It’s routine.
It’s easy to empathize with children worried about a reading test. But school is supposed to prepare students for the realities of life as an adult. The third-grade reading law helps do that. Social promotion, which implicitly condones illiteracy, does not.