Could SAT reading scores be dropping because . . .

Students aren’t reading?

The usual suspects have been rounded up to comment on the latest drop in SAT reading scores. Standardized tests are at fault; schools are destroying a love of reading. Poverty is at fault. Diverse test takers are at fault, or, in blunter terms, more minority and disadvantaged kids are taking the test and driving down the scores.

Standardized tests take the rap for most education failures these days. I personally think much of this discussion fails to distinguish between “teaching to the test” and acknowledging what tests reveal. But I agree that students don’t learn to read by taking practice reading comprehension tests. They learn to read by . . . . reading.

So I applauded a blog post by Anthony Rebora in Education Week’s Teacher website. After reviewing the litany of explanations (and providing some useful inks), he suggests:

“One potential factor we haven’t seen mentioned, however, is the question of whether kids today–perhaps especially kids who are on the college-going cusp–just aren’t doing enough quality independent reading. A much-talked-about National Endowment for the Arts report from 2004 warned about a general decline in literary reading among young adults. More anecdotally, the widely respected author and English teacher Kelly Gallagher recently told us he has seen a “very large change” in kids’ reading habits in his 25 years in the classroom, particularly in the past 10 years: “Students are reading a lot less.”

That’s my unscientific classroom observation as well. Electronic media has replaced books in the lives of many students. And maybe this should give a little pause to the many educational reformers who see computer-based online education as the wave of the future.

For those of us who came of age before the Internet (or even, gasp, personal computers), the Internet is a vast library available at just a click, without the waiting time and trouble of interlibrary loan. But many of my students don’t see computer-based education that way. They get irked when I ask them to read an article in PDF form — without video content, without game-like interaction. Maybe there’s simply a transitional generation that still distinguishes between electronic and print media, and feels a little cheated when an electronic assignments turns out to be, well, reading. Or maybe the next generation of students will have little connection with books at all.

In our rush to recapture what seems our students’ waning attention with interactive, video-based computer instruction, are we accelerating this trend?

As I’ve said before, I teach online, and I believe that online classes can expand educational choice and opportunity. But those of us engaged in this enterprise need to be careful that we’re helping students read more thoughtfully and interact with their readings more actively. . . and not just giving them an excuse to retreat from the written word.

Here’s the link:

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