Saturday, March 6, 2010


     I knew going in to the testing -- the No Child Left Behind testing -- that Kevin* might not pass. In fact, there was every reason to assume he wouldn't. His answers during reading class, during science and social studies and anything that required reading comprehension were all over the board, and usually they showed how little he really understood what he read. How did he get some of his bizarre answers we never knew.
     Of course his score wouldn't really affect him personally. It would not be posted in the grade book, and we didn't have to tell him whether or not he passed. Or we could always lie.
     But his passing, of course, did matter to the school. There was very, very little room for kids not to pass or major money would be lost to the district. With our large population of minority students, we were always on the edge.
    And Kevin's parents were so concerned about his abilities. He had often enough scored Ds or Fs. They vacillated between encouragements and reprimands.
    I could always use more training -- I'm always open to that -- but I did had one major strategy I had practiced over and over with the students: read only 2-3 lines, stop, paraphrase the reading. Do not, do not, I lectured, continue until they could restate what they had read. Do not. Work through the passage, no matter how painful.
     But at the testing, I couldn't tell Kevin what to do. I couldn't stop him when he barreled through a passage, not stopping once, typical for my students. Besides, if anything, we teachers want to know if what we are doing with the kids works. Stopping every few lines doubles the time it takes to read a passage. Was it worth it? Besides, sometimes this seemed to help; other times, he still missed so many.
     Wonders be, Kevin followed through. Stopped after the first three lines. Looked away. Tried to recite. Couldn't. Reread. Still couldn't. Reread. Never once looked over at me with his usual questioning face, just looked ahead and recited to himself. For each passage he may have reread it  4 times, sometimes 5 or 6. Amazing his inability. (Hadn't it improved any with all our practicing?) Amazing his tenacity. Exactly what was he thinking about the first 3 or 4 times he read the lines?
     And when he came to the questions, he only looked back twice to check his answers. No! That had been my second strategy I had hammered into the students. I was ready to, well, bang his head a bit -- a lot! (If only doing so would help!)
     But wait, he was getting the answers. Really. Well, almost all of them. Usually, by now he would have missed half. Hey, were we on to something? Could Kevin actually be taught to read -- and concentrate -- at the same time, something so basic for so many of us, yet apparently so out of his reach?
     And would the solution be that simple? How could it be?
     * Name changed.