Success?

[Response to Chapter 1 of BPR’s “Adolescent Literacy:  Turning Promise into Practice”]

I immediately connected with the frustration of one student’s improvement seen as “inadequate” to an educational system that focuses solely on state tests. This particular student had increased his reading score by 160 points, but was still viewed as unsatisfactory. How do we explain to our students that even though they jump up in points, the state education system still doesn’t view them as progressing and are in fact remedial? I use the term remedial loosely here; to me, at least, these remedial learners are often some of the most creative and brightest learners around. But they can’t pass a test, so I guess that just means they are out of luck. (Again, I hope you sense my sarcasm here!)

For me, this chapter made me realize even more that our students are getting left behind. True, NCLB provided a foundation for schools to acknowledge the fact, yet even it doesn’t take all of the issues (i.e. wage issues, childhood poverty, school spending) into account when deciding what AYP is all about.

It also amazes me that some educators refuse to adapt to their students’ evolving needs. Many cannot even fathom what 21st century literacy skills are, while the others who want to adapt face budget cuts that do not allow them to attend professional development conferences, workshops, etc. Who’s to blame here? Administrators who don’t take the time to understand? Or the failing economy? Government officials? In the end, these problems are not going to stop the changing literacy demands in our classrooms. In fact, “Literacy is a set of skills that reflect the needs of the time” (7). Thus, the question is not why should we implement change, but how can we best adapt to change?

Another point the authors made in this chapter concerned “underground literacy” (10). This secret, rather unacknowledged, realm of literacy is fascinating to me. This realm flashes the brilliance that are students are capable of, even if they are “remedial.” Though not all of our students will fit into the academic norms, as decided by state mandated tests, they are using their “underground” skills and talents to be successful in real-world settings (which is what are schools are supposed to prepare our students for, right?).

So, how do I define success? To be honest, I think it’s a definition that changes as I learn about more examples of how students are successful (especially in underground realms!). To me, success isn’t about how well one performs on one single test, on one single day. Success is a combination of measures assessed over time.

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