September 23, 2017

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My Principal Is ‘All Over the AR Points.’ Readers Respond to Leveling.

Our feature story on reading levels “Thinking Outside the Bin,” by Kiera Parrott quickly proved to be among our most popular stories so far this year. As expected, there was plenty of feedback from readers, many of whom had bumped up against leveling in their own experience as librarians and media specialists. Patty Zody, commenting on Facebook, called leveling an “ongoing battle,” which led to her decision to retire. Georgie Camacho, however, is taking the opportunity to raise the issue with their district. Georgie, we hope you report back.

Myra Zarnowski 
Thank you for this clear discussion of a very important issue. Leveling books and directing children to bins that match their supposed level can be a very hurtful practice. As you mentioned, it is better to show children how to select books than to restrict their access to only certain books. I have met children who wanted to read certain books, but were told those books were not on their level. They were upset and so was I. This issue deserves our attention.

Linda S. Levstik
We’ve known for ages that such labels do damage, but persist because labels allow for the illusion of education without the hard (and more interesting) work of actually educating for a love of reading.

Georgie Camacho
Thank you for starting this discussion. I will be sharing it with the literacy department in my district. I really love the discussion about putting the librarian between a rock and a hard place, because that is often the case.

A teacher
So much thinking based on feelings, and so little based on data. Of course all children are different, and their mileage will vary. But can’t some unbiased education Ph.D. candidate do the following: Pick five schools with AR leveling and five comparable schools without leveling. Then, figure out the check-out rate per student from each school’s library? Either one approach or the other will have greater library checkouts on a per capita basis, or they will be a wash. Then there will be a basis for discussion, instead of this anecdotal thinking largely based on people’s individual experiences.

Another teacher
Would be interested to see those numbers as well! However, I would emphasize caution regarding what conclusions could really be drawn from those numbers. From my experience what student’s check out from school or classroom libraries and what they actually read are two different things. There is also the variability of how many books teachers ask students to have at one time for independent reading influencing those numbers. Some say one or two books at a time and others want five books in a bin at a time. Again, not all of those books are actually read. Therefore the data you propose collecting wouldn’t necessarily be a reliable measure of the effectiveness of these strategies to change reading habits or ability.

Linda Manchester Higby
This drives me crazy. I am a media specialist for an elementary school. Our principal is all over the AR points. I recommend to our teachers to let the kids choose one at their level and one free choice. Unfortunately, there is so much pressure for the points that some teachers have their students choose two within their range. I would love to do away with this program completely. While we do see improvement, I also see way too much reading only for points. As a lifelong reader, it breaks my heart.

 

Lauren Barack’s news piece, “After a Member’s Ouster from Newbery Medal Committee, a Closer Look at Social Media Rules,” found its way through social media. The incident will no doubt continue being discussed, as we enter a new book awards season. Some of the more measured reader responses follow.

Rjones2818
Of course, the point of Angie’s tweet might have been to encourage the person who told her that they liked the book! Kid sees tweets, feels empowered, reads some more in hopes of feeding their new thirst for notoriety. Librarian, knowing that she’s getting the kid hooked…well, you get the idea. Part of being a librarian (at least on the public library side) is encouraging non/reluctant-readers to read more. Tweets and the like play a role in that. The committee needs, probably, to have a bit wider view, or it should not have active librarians on as members.

Penny Markey
Just because a child loves a book or doesn’t like a book does not qualify or disqualify that book from consideration as a Newbery contender. Removal from the committee should depend on how the tweet was written and specifically what was said. Sorry guys, during my Newbery year, I was delighted to recommend high quality, newly published books to kids and colleagues, titles that I thought that they would appreciate knowing about and enjoy reading and sharing. The books were never discussed in context of the Newbery Award. I didn’t tweet or use social media. But, should I have been disqualified?—maybe…

Julie Corsaro
There are specific rules for members of these committees. Whether these rules are fair or reasonable is certainly something we can debate. But when members agree to serve they agree to follow these rules; if they do not follow the rules, then they can no longer serve.

Tess P.
First, there are many ways that serving committee members can and do continue to do their jobs extraordinarily well within the current guidelines. Suggesting that 21st century librarians can’t serve and work at the same time is utter nonsense and not at all reflective of the actual work of librarians.

Second, Angie is well-known, well liked and an outspoken advocate of diversity in children’s literature. These are valuable attributes and I hope she continues her good work. It is clear many people never read, or do not clearly remember, the content of the tweets about an eligible book that led to Angie’s resignation. She has accepted responsibility for her error, and admits it was her fault. Sadly, I believe she crossed the line into territory that would cast a shadow on the entire award this year. As unfortunate as it is, she then took the only appropriate step, out of respect for the award itself, and I respect her for that.

Third, and most importantly, the committee will deliberate without her and that is no doubt very sad for her (and the remaining committee members). However, rest assured there are others on the committee who are also fierce advocates for diversity in children’s literature. The books that deserve to be recognized will be recognized.

Finally, although the rules as they stand now may need some tweaking, in no way to do I endorse a set of rules that would allow committee members to tweet @ authors and publishers of eligible books during their year of service.

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Nancy Eskridge says:

    Re: Teacher’s comment–the real question should be ‘how many books do those kids check out after they’ve left AR schools?’

  2. It is worth taking the time to look for the research supporting programs like AR. Last time I went on a hunt, the research did not exist. It didn’t surprise me, but being able to say that I was making a research based decision NOT to have a reading leveling program in our new middle school and to instead focus on interest and choice provided the magic words needed to move forward. Having circulation statistics that far exceeded those in the AR schools was the icing on the cake.

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