The long-standing view has been that the first several years of elementary school should be devoted to basic reading skills. After all, the argument goes, if kids haven’t learned to read—a task that is theoretically accomplished by third grade—how will they be able to gain knowledge about those subjects through their own reading?The federal No Child Left Behind legislation, enacted in 2001, only intensified the focus on reading.
The tests then ask questions designed to assess comprehension: On a daily basis, teachers have their students practice skills and strategies like “finding the main idea” or “making inferences.” And teachers select books that match the given skill rather than because of the text’s content.
Rarely do the topics connect: Students might read a book about bridges one day, zebras the next, and clouds the day after that.
In countries that specify the content to be taught at each grade level, standardized tests can test students on what they’ve learned in school.
But in the United States, where schools are all teaching different content, test designers give students passages on a variety of topics that may have nothing to do with what they’ve learned in school—life in the Arctic, for example, or the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
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