The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 12, 2014

Are you smarter than a third-grader? Reading is fundamental

ENID, Okla. — Imagine you had to take a test that could have a huge bearing on the rest of your life.

Imagine failing that test just might impact your very future.

Imagine that test could hold the key to your dreams and ambitions.

Imagine failing that test would have serious ramifications for your continuing education and any future career plans?

Imagine failing that test could cause you embarrassment and loss of social status.

Now imagine you are in the third grade.

That is the dilemma facing Oklahoma third-graders between now and May 2, as they are tested under the Oklahoma Reading Sufficiency Act.

Students not passing the test, who receive a mark of unsatisfactory, will not advance to fourth grade.

Reports from around the state indicate this has produced no small amount of anxiety among the 8- and 9-year-old set, not to mention their parents.

I’m sure we had standardized tests when I was in grade school (sometime between the Paleozoic era and the space age), but they were largely used to monitor students’ progress, not to help determine their futures.

My grade school days were prior to the era of social promotion, when there were plenty of anxious moments the day the final report cards came out.

That was the day we learned whether we had passed or were being held back. Today they would make that more palatable by referring to it as “redshirting.”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of reading. It is the key that opens the doors of education. It is a passport to worlds nearly beyond our imagination. It is a time machine and a magic carpet that can transport us from realms as diverse as the bottom of the deepest ocean to the outermost reaches of the universe.

But one test that determines whether or not you are passed on to the fourth grade or relegated to another year in the third? Is that really necessary?

Of course, there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, it seems. A portfolio of the child’s work can be submitted, another test can be taken or the child can take a summer reading academy.

Reading is a joy. It comforts, enlightens, instructs, entertains, amuses, disquiets, disturbs, inspires, provokes, uplifts, challenges, infuriates, frightens, saddens, convicts, relaxes and affirms.

Tragically, many Americans are unable to read.

The U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy say there are about 32 million adults in the U.S. who can’t read, about 14 percent of the population.

Some 21 percent of adults read below a fifth-grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

Even if you are not an avid reader (and if you are reading this, you must be), consider how many times a day you read — food labels when you are cooking breakfast, business names as you are shopping, emails and memos at work, texts from your friends, and many others.

In the interest of fairness, I have decided to take a small portion of the third-grade reading test, much of which involves reading stories and poems, and answering questions about them.

This poem is titled, “Play day.”

“My friend and I went out to play on a bright and sunny day.

We jumped and skipped and then we ran.

We twirled and dipped and made a plan.

My friend and I went out to play.

It was fun to swing, swirl and sway.”

And the first question is, “What is the best summary of the poem?”

A. It is fun to swing, swirl and sway outside.

B. One day, two friends make a plan to have fun.

C. Jumping, skipping and running are ways to play.

D. On a sunny day, two friends have fun playing together.

Well, this is completely subjective. Swinging, swirling and swaying outside are fun, whether or not you are sober, but jumping, skipping and running are ways to play, though not for someone my age.

And these two friends did make a plan to have fun, and they had fun playing together on a sunny day. So I have written in, E, all of the above.

Wrong? What do you mean, wrong?

OK, let’s try another. “Lines 2 and 3 have the same sound at the end. What is this called?

A. Rhythm.

B. Rhyme.

C. Tone

D. Beat.

Once again, I’m going to write in E. Redundant.

Drat. Well, here’s another. “In line 10, ‘swing, swirl and sway’ are examples of A. Beat, B. Rhyme, C. Rhythm, D. Alliteration. That’s pretty rhythmic, so I’ll say C.

I don’t believe it.

Last one. “Which lines of the poem rhyme?” A. 1 and 3, B. 2 and 3, C. 4 and 5, D. 5 and 6. Well, play rhymes with day, ran rhymes with plan, play rhymes with sway, and skipped rhymes with dipped, so I say E. All of the above.

I see.

In the wake of this exercise, I have only two questions.

Just what does one wear to third grade these days, and do they have a desk that will fit me?

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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