A response to PISA results

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Changes needed in way schools deal with subjects

Guest opinion by Don Glendenning


These days, the media is full of news about PISA results. I view a low level of basic skills as a community issue; schools play a role but schools cannot solve the problem alone any more than hospitals can solve the obesity problem.

 Having said that, however, here are some thoughts on changes in the way schools deal with reading, although the same approach could apply to other subjects as well.

1. “What gets measured gets taught,” therefore, reading should appear on school transcripts and report cards.  

2. Switch the focus of curriculum development from outcomes to competencies; competencies are more widely used in life outside school, and are easier to define, explain and assess.

3. Develop a master list of reading competencies. Since education helps students prepare for various life roles, we should involve the community in the identification process. In this way, we’ll all be reading from the “same hymnbook” although not necessarily singing the same hymn.

4. Decide how reading is to be measured; the likely criteria are vocabulary, range of material, comprehension, fluency, independence, flow and speed; but there may be others.

5. Design a rating scale; not easy but it can be done. A couple of options come to mind; one is to develop a rating scale that can be applied to all reading competencies and the other is to develop a rating scale for each competency. Most scales I’ve seen have from 5-7 levels.

6. Set benchmarks; this is a tricky matter and one that relies mostly on judgment – but it is absolutely critical. A benchmark is a level of performance that is widely recognized by the community. A benchmark might say, “On a 7 point scale, a 4 in reading would reflect a person who can read the morning paper, including the editorial page, and carry on a conversation about the contents.” Not a very precise benchmark but one better than a simple number and one that appears to link what is taught in school with what is expected by the public.

7. Arrange competencies roughly in the order that they will be used, needed or encountered in real life; add a rating scale and publish them preferably on a single sheet or in a small booklet. Provide space beside each competency to record levels achieved, date achieved and teacher’s initials.

8. Give a copy to anyone who wants it. Students can use it as a map of required and optional reading skills, and also to track their progress.  It should help parents understand what they can do to help; if shown to an employer, it may help secure a first job.

9. And finally, we should let each school decide how to organize resources to best support learners and the learning process. Given the importance of reading, I still like the idea of all students studying reading at their own level during the first period every morning.

The above is only one approach but the subject is worthy of public discussion and I am sure that readers will have their own list of ideas. Let’s hear your suggestions; talk with your family, your neighbours, your teacher and principal or your MLA; discuss it at your next WI meeting or at your seniors’ gathering; write a letter to the editor and, of course, your views are always welcome at standards2020@gmail.com

Don Glendenning, Charlottetown, is the founding president of Holland College and a long time student of education.

Organizations: Holland College

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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