Headlines scream…. “50% of America’s Children Read Below Grade Level.”

They could have just as well said: “50% of America’s Children Read Above Grade Level.”

Grade level is defined as average reading achievement level for any grade. So since it is defined as the average, of course 50% are going to be above, and 50% will be below. That’s what Grade Level is.

That is why Students are classified as either Basic, Proficient, or Advanced. Yet these classifications have problems of their own. In fact the GAO and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences have requested changes, saying these classifications are misleading.

In the early 1990’s when these terms were created, Basic was denoted at the point where half were below and half were above. To be above basic means one has to be above average. So by definition, 50% of all American students must be below Basic.

The confusion comes from public perception. Until I knew, I thought basic level would be what we used to consider an F… So when you say 50% are below basic, I’m interpreting that as 50% of our students are failing. But that is not how that designation was intended to be interpreted. Basic would be a C+ grade. Proficient would be up to a B+ in old parlance. And Advanced would be at “A” level and beyond….

So when Pat Heffernan in his News Journal piece decries that only 1/3 of Delaware students are proficient, I thought that meant 2/3rds couldn’t read at all…

NO, it means that 2/3rds read under an artificially pumped up B level….. It disallows the vast majority of the bell curve, which would be in the C or average range….

Likewise the term Basic sounds like it means the minimal standard. That is how proponents of Common Core and RTTT say it with snarled up noses. That is not how it was envisioned by the scientists making the study that set the standards… To a scientist, “basic” means normal. It it he standard to which all others are compared. If you have a chemical reaction, you do it several times to determine the basic line… The average. The one that most likely will happen.

But American marketing has given us a different interpretation. Why get “basic” when you can upgrade to “supreme”? This is why those two respected fact-based organizations called for a different labeling system.

All we know about students who fail to achieve basic levels is that on a certain day, they were not able to read texts with literal comprehension. That is all. Maybe they can read accurately without comprehension. Or maybe they can read accurately with comprehension, but at a pace too slow to beat the clicking clock. Or maybe they can read only some of the words in their selection, but do fine on a test from the previous grade. Or maybe the questions are so confusing even an adult would have trouble deciphering what the test was asking. Or maybe they can answer correctly on topic they have familiarity with, but not on topics that are completely foreign…. All these cases would fall under the headline, “50% of Children fall below Basic Standards”

Well they should, it was based on the average which is… 50% below and 50% above.

But it does not mean what the educational reformers then go on to imply… That 50% of students can’t read…

Think for a minute. What if 50% of students couldn’t read. At all. The menus of McDonalds would all be Greek letters to them. The CD’s would be identified by their artists pictures, not the labels on top. Smart phones would not even be desired. The ads on the sides of busses, would never be read… Of course that is not how it is… It is probably dishonest to suggest it is.

Our literacy rate is 99%. What kind of knucklehead is coming up with a 50% figure of students who can’t read?

When it comes our current educational crises, it is all fan and no flame….