Archives For NAEP 2013

The “Nation’s Report Card” is released by The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every year where students are tested at ages 9, 13, and 17. This past year, the testing results for readers at age 17 were abysmal, demonstrating only a 2% growth in reading scores over the past 41 years.

I was bemoaning this statistic to a friend who responded, “Well, they are just seventeen…”
Almost immediately, I heard the voice of Paul McCartney, the voice of my youth, respond in my brain, “…you know what I mean….”

Well, she was just seventeen,
You know what I mean,
And the way she looked was way beyond compare.
So how could I dance with another, (Ooh)
And I saw her standing there.

Seventeen is that age of great contradictions…you know what I mean? For example:

  • Seventeen is the year before legal adulthood in the USA;
  • Seventeen is the age at which one may watch, rent, or purchase R-rated movies without parental consent;
  • Seventeen is the age at which one can enlist in the armed forces with parental permission;
  • More 17-year-olds commit crimes than any other age group, according to recent studies by psychiatrists.

Nature also provides an example of frenetic activity that can happen in one seventeen year cycle. Consider that cicadas remain buried for seventeen years before coming out and breaking into their mating song. Coincidently there are quite a number of songs, mating or otherwise, that center their message on how it feels to be seventeen.

There is the raw sexuality in Paradise By the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf:

Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night
I can see paradise by the dashboard light
Ain’t no doubt about it we were doubly blessed
‘Cause we were barely seventeen
And we were barely dressed

Similarly, the Cars exhort the passions of seventeen in their song Let’s Go:

she’s winding them down
on her clock machine
and she won’t give up
’cause she’s seventeen
she’s a frozen fire
she’s my one desire

Glam rock band Winger also offers a robust cicada-like mating call for their song Seventeen:

I’m only seventeen
But I”ll show you love like you’ve never seen
She’s only seventeen
Daddy says she’s too young

There are songs that address the restlessness of seventeen such as Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks:

He was no more than a baby then
Well, he seemed broken hearted, something within him
But the moment that I first laid eyes on him all alone
On the edge of seventeen

While Rod Stewart adds a cautionary tale of runaway seventeen-year-olds to his song Young Turks:

Billy left his home with a dollar in his pocket and a head full of dreams.
He said somehow, some way, it’s gotta get better than this.
Patti packed her bags, left a note for her momma, she was just seventeen,
There were tears in her eyes when she kissed her little sister goodbye.

Emotional pain is explored in Janis Ian’s heartbreaking  At Seventeen 

I leaned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

In contrast, however, adults are nostalgic for the age in Frank Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year:

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year
for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

Seventeen is an age of complications. Don’t even get me started on Rogers and Hammerstein’s I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music; poor Lisel has Nazi problems in her secret romance!

Each song, (and yes, I know there are many others) explores the multitude of contradictions in being seventeen. Collectively, the lyrics show how seventeen is a seething ferment of frustration, experimenting, wishing, waiting, and wanting; a potent potion for those tipping into adulthood.

And this is the targeted population for nationwide testing?

Therefore, when the annual sample of seventeen year olds is selected to take the NAEP test in order to diagnosis the reading level of the nation’s seventeen year olds, I wonder, how invested are they in this task? These are the students who have been state standardized tested at every grade level, they have been PSAT, SAT or ACT tested, and maybe Advanced Placement tested. What does this extra test, with no impact on their GPA, mean to them?

I wonder if they simply fill out the letters A-B-B-A on the multiple choice just to have test done? Which reminds me,  ABBA also has a seventeen themed song, Dancing Queen: 

You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen

So what did the Beatles mean when they sang, Well, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean?

On the compilation album Anthology, Paul admits that he and John were also stumped in trying to define the complexity of being seventeen in the lyrics to I Saw Her Standing There:

We were learning our skill. John would like some of my lines and not others. He liked most of what I did, but there would sometimes be a cringe line, such as, ‘She was just seventeen, she’d never been a beauty queen.’ John thought, ‘Beauty queen? Ugh.’ We were thinking of Butlins so we asked ourselves, what should it be? We came up with, ‘You know what I mean.’ Which was good, because you don’t know what I mean.

Maybe we should take this advice from Paul and John and all the other recording artists. Maybe the only thing we are testing for the past 41 years is how seventeen year olds test the same in every generation. Maybe just being seventeen means confronting more immediate problems, and these problems do not include taking a NAEP test.

Maybe there should be some variable or some emotional handicap considered for testing at age seventeen …you know what I mean?I saw her

This past week, I wrote a blog post that critiqued the results of The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 test. There was a 2% growth in reading scores over the past 41 years for students at age 17.
A 2% increase.
That’s all.
Billions of dollars, paper piles of legislation, incalculable time…..and the result has been an abysmal 2% increase.

In a subsequent post, I wrote how NAEP also provided data to prove independent reading was the key to improving test scores. NAEP reported that students who claimed to read for fun scored higher on standardized tests with the obvious conclusion that the more time a student spent reading, the higher the student’s score. This information, included in a report that demonstrated a failure of reading programs, offered a possible solution for increasing reading scores: adopt a no-cost, read for fun initiative in order to improve results.

I tweeted out the the link to my post:

2013 NAEP Tests show only 2% growth in reading by age 17 UNLESS students “read for fun”

I received this tweet in response: is a lovely site to use when you want to encourage kids to read for fun

So, I went to the Reading Rewards website, but I had some concerns. The headline banner read:“The Reward is in the Reading”, certainly a noble sentiment. However, below this banner was the text that read:

Parents & Teachers:
We know all about the rewards that reading offers, but sometimes our more reluctant readers need a little extra incentive. The Reading Rewards online reading log and reading incentive program helps make reading fun and satisfying. Find more about Reading Rewards’s benefits for parents and teachers.

The concept of an incentive program or reading for “rewards” is not reading for fun. Reading for pleasure should be the only incentive, and offering incentive programs can be counter-productive. Consider education advocate Alfie Kohn‘s explanation of his research that illustrates why incentivized reading programs are not successful:

The experience of children in an elementary school class whose teacher introduced an in-class reading-for-reward program can be multiplied hundreds of thousands of times:

The rate of book reading increased astronomically . . . [but the use of rewards also] changed the pattern of book selection (short books with large print became ideal). It also seemed to change the way children read. They were often unable to answer straight-forward questions about a book, even one they had just finished reading. Finally, it decreased the amount of reading children did outside of school.

Notice what is going on here. The problem is not just that the effects of rewards don’t last. No, the more significant problem is precisely that the effects of rewards do last, but these effects are the opposite of what we were hoping to produce. What rewards do, and what they do with devastating effectiveness, is to smother people’s enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy.

Kohn’s explanation in his A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs (Excerpt from Punished by Rewards 1993/1999) illustrates the problems that develop for late middle school and high school teachers (gr 7-12) experience once elementary students have experienced a reward program with their reading. Students who are conditioned to read for any kind of reward develop a Pavlovian response. They learn to expect a reward; once the reward is removed, however, they lose interest.

Sadly, most students are already in a “quid pro quo” educational experience. Even in elementary school, students are conditioned to want a grade for every activity. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons poked fun of this conditioned response for constant feedback in one episode when Springfield’s teachers went out on strike, and a distraught Lisa begged her mother, Marge, to “grade her”:

“Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me!
I’m good, good, good and oh so smart!

LISA: "Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart! GRADE ME!"

LISA: “Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart! GRADE ME!”

While grades are not the currency for this website, Reading Rewards is perfectly positioned to be a commercial enterprise with language on the site promoting the RR “store” and “e-commerce”.  This initial shopping experience may be for some trinket in a teacher’s box, a homework pass, or a pizza party, but the potential for “shopping” on this site is certainly a possibility.

Here is the promotional text for teachers:

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 10.43.43 AM

The website advises teachers what items to have for students to “purchase”, and even suggests major retailers i-Tunes and Amazon:

Reward Ideas
Teachers and parents can create any reward they want and define how many RR miles are required to “purchase” each reward. Here are some ideas of Rewards selected by many of our users:

  • Movie night at home
  • Movie in the theater
  • Family game night
  • Sleepover with friends
  • Trip to the dollar store
  • Prize draw from a treasure box
  • Extra tickets for a classroom raffle
  • The right to choose the dessert after dinner
  • Make/decorate/eat cupcake session
  • Amazon credit
  • iTunes credit
  • Game console time

Again, Kohn believes that in teaching students to read, incentives should not be used. Instead he notes:

But what matters more than the fact that children read is why they read and how they read.  With incentive-based programs, the answer to “why” is “To get rewards,” and this, as the data make painfully clear, is often at the expense of interest in reading itself.

So while the key to independent reading is the key to raising reading scores, students should not be raising profits for software companies as well. There are other features on this software that are admirable. The site includes places for reading logs, creating reading wish lists, and peer sharing reviews, but those features could be accomplished on a (free) blog or wiki without the distractions of prizes or rewards.

I do not fault the teacher who was well-intended when she tweeted out this website. She wants students to read for fun. The NAEP report proves that independent reading can effectively raise scores when the reading is self-motivated reading for pleasure. Teachers should question, however, when reading for fun is linked to reading with “funds”.