Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 13 2012

EVERY child can learn. Yes, really.

Since it is almost the end of the year (??!!? When did this happen?), I am trying to get all my kids tested using the IRI reading test. I tested them at the beginning of the year, too. The IRI is a test of reading ability. Basically the kids read a short leveled passage and then I ask them questions about it. They are monitored for fluency (though with my kids the issue is always comprehension, not fluency) and you are looking for the level they get about 70% comprehension. This is their “instructional” level, meaning that this level is hard enough that they are pushing themselves but not so hard that they are frustrated (compared to their “independent” level, which they can read by themselves and understand). The test is similar to the DRA, if you’re familiar with that.

One of the annoyances about the IRI, and one reason that I actually like the DRA better (but you use what you’ve got), is that it is pretty nonspecific. The levels range from Primer (Kindergarten) on up, one grade at a time, meaning that you don’t really see growth of smaller than a year in anything but a vague way (i.e. 6 questions right rather than 3 on a fourth grade text). So some of my IRI testing is a little bit of a bummer, because a kid has moved from a 50% on a fourth grade text to 80% on the same text, which I guess is technically a year’s worth of growth according to the test. But it’s a little anticlimactic.

Then you have kids who are so climactic that you’re just blown away. One of my munchkins, who coincidentally is one that I would take home in a heartbeat, got 45% right on the first grade text in August, which means he was really at a kindergarten reading level coming into fourth grade. He didn’t know his vowel sounds. I tried to talk to his third grade teacher, and was informed that, “He’s just not that bright, but we managed to pull him through third grade.” At which point I nodded, went back to my room and fumed. This kid is also the most dyslexic child I’ve ever met and, inexperienced untrained teacher that I was, I still saw enough that I started preparing his referral packet for Special Ed on Day 3 of school. I recently had to write a paper on dyslexia signs, symptoms and interventions for my useless grad school class (but that’s another story), and the whole darn paper was this kid, over and over again.

He’s also the sweetest, hardest-working kid ever. I say this all the time, but this kid is my hero. He comes to school every day and works at the same things he’s been doing for five years. They are boring, they are repetitive, and they are really hard for him. (Or at least, they were…I’m realizing as I write this that they aren’t that hard for him anymore!) But he never complains. He never gives up. He has some focus issues, but he takes his mistakes with a chuckle; oops, I wrote a b instead of a d again, now it says pubble instead of puddle! He is such a good kid.

He got 90% correct on the fourth grade level text on Friday.


Holy cow! First of all, this means he made at least four years of growth in one school year. Whoa. In terms of why that happened, I’m totally prepared to be excited that I had something to do with it, but he also had half an hour of intensive, back-to-basics reading instruction with my awesome mentor teacher every single day, which was so helpful. Another great thing was that with all our hard work in school he managed to get to a point where he really could read some things independently, which he couldn’t do in August. This meant that his mom could make him read every night at home and rather than being an exercise in frustration, it was productive and helpful.

I’m also wondering, however, why he did so well on this test when he routinely does terribly on multiple choice and open-ended reading tests. I think I figured it out, though, courtesy of info learned in my dyslexia paper.

Dyslexic students have specific impairments in phonological processing (hearing and differentiating sounds), reading, and writing. He had to do this whole test out loud. That meant he was forced to really sound out the words and say them aloud to read the story, which he obviously can do and it will help him understand the story. The disconnect for him must typically come at the question level. If he has to read the question, understand the question, read each answer choice and understand those, and then finally pick the right answer, it’s all too much reading and comprehending. And if he has to write his own answer, forget it. His writing ability is severely impaired. But if all he has to do is read and understand the story (which, by the way, usually has much less academic language and not as many “trick” situations to fall for, compared to the test questions), and he can hear the question out loud and then think of his own answer out loud, it cuts out most of the testing pieces that are affected by his (at this point, still alleged) learning disability. Don’t get me wrong, his receptive and expressive language abilities are low, as are those of almost all my kids. But relatively speaking, he’s much better at listening and talking than reading and writing, so doing this test out loud really helped him show what he is capable of. Which, third grade teacher take note, is a lot!

The trick of it now is to a) get this kid an IEP, which has not happened yet even though it is ILLEGAL for him not to get tested before the end of the year and b) put on it that whenever possible, he should be given reading tests out loud. Of course, this won’t fly on the NMSBA or other big tests. But for weekly tests or tests on passages and novels, he could definitely be given tests out loud. Give him the written test too, because developing written language is important, but do it out loud and grade him on his ideas and thinking as well as his (very limited) ability to express them on paper. Or at the very least, future teacher of his, I’m begging you, don’t look at his writing and decide he’s dumb. Look at what he can do! He CAN learn, and he can do a darn good job of it! But he needs a little extra, and I’m scared to death that he won’t get it.

***UPDATE! He’s getting tested next week! His IEP date is already set, provided that testing shows he qualifies! And my awesome Sp.Ed. friend is writing his IEP. This is about as good as it gets.***

3 Responses

  1. Tee

    Isn’t it great when it all clicks?!?! Yay!!! And good work advocating for him with the special ed referral! I hope all goes well!

  2. Michelle

    I actually really hate public school for all of the reasons you listed above about the other teachers that boy has worked with before. I now home school my kids because, for whatever reason, they’d have 1 good teacher that would really get them and the rest had no clue…saw the behavior problems that came as a result of other mis- communications and that would set the rest of their year….I have amazing kids that are well loved by all, but them and public school did not mesh. I hope this boy one day recognizes what a Gem you are and that you keep on helping these kids on your journey even if it doesn’t always feel rewarding!!!! Thank you!!

  3. TB

    Congrats! You can also look into getting him a 504 Plan through his physician for test accommodations and extended time if for some reason he doesn’t qualify for SPED services in school. Best of luck!

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In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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