When this school year began, the students were evaluated and tested and categorized. Our school uses the 100 Book Challenge Program, a standards-based reading and accountability program from American Reading Company to keep our students reading. Each week, students are expected to read a certain number of “lines”; each line represents 15 minutes of reading at the students’ just-right reading level.
This year, as the students reading levels were decided, some teachers chose to put the students back one level. Of course, the students chafed at being held back, they were embarrassed that they were forced to read at a lower level. However, now that a month has passed, these students are excited about reading, and are eager to jump ahead into books that are on their reading level. They have had a month of “fun” reading, easy reading, and fast reading. They have understood what they read, and enjoyed the “easy” books. Now they can move ahead with ease, and build on their strong reading abilities.
While this may seem as a waste of time and a month of progress lost, the confidence that it has instilled in some shaky readers has been remarkable. It has helped them strengthen the foundation on which their progress will be made, and it has boosted their confidence as readers. They have had the chance to enjoy books that they would have skipped in favor of more difficult, and perhaps more socially attractive titles. Perhaps it is worth the time spent to give them the chance to enjoy books that they might never have taken the time to read.
Perhaps moving a student along through reading levels simply because they can sight-read vocabulary or read a paragraph with few errors is premature. Perhaps reading isn’t about sounding out the words after all; maybe it is about easily understanding and enjoying the text that is read. Perhaps we are cheating them by assigning reading levels at all.