TFI reading tests
Ever since the first day I visited the sixth grade Teach for India classroom in the government school in Kurla, my students began the school day with a cheer. Their excitement and readiness to learn both surprised and impressed me. At first, I didn’t quite understand why these students were unable to succeed in school if they were so motivated in the TFI classroom. However, this week I helped my fellow administer the beginning of year reading evaluation tests for my students and began to see where my students were struggling.
The exam consisted of two portions: an oral reading section and a reading comprehension section. TFI put together a series of books, organized alphabetically by reading level, so that Level A was the easiest story to read and understand, and Level Z was the most complex. Each student began at the level they completed at the close of the previous school year.
First, the students read a selected reading passage aloud to me. If they read 90 percent of the words correctly, they took the book and read it in entirety to themselves to prepare for comprehension questions. If they scored again above a 90 percent, we moved to a higher reading level. If they scored between a 70 and 90 percent, we stopped the test, as that level was considered the appropriate reading comprehension level for the student. If they scored below a 70 percent, they tried to read and comprehend a reading level below. If the student failed to score a 90 percent on the initial oral reading section, however, they moved down a letter, until they reach the appropriate level to begin the reading comprehension portion of the test.
As much as helping with the diagnostic testing helped my TFI fellow, so she could continue teaching the class while the one-on-one tests could carry on in the hallway, this experience was also a tremendous learning experience for me. I began to understand where the students stood in relation to other students in the class, how the challenges of delivering individual tests with high student-to-teacher ratios, as well as how home life over the summer impacted the students’ retention of academic skills.
I do not have specific calculated data to examine how the children did on the tests overall, but I can share a few observations that will help put their abilities in perspective: Firstly, every child in my class moved down at least one reading level and several children slipped down over 10 letter-levels, or entire yearlong grade levels. Secondly, the students’ reading comprehension levels were far lower than their oral reading levels. When posed with the reading questions, it was obvious that they did not retain much of what they were reading. I presume that because they did not continue reading over the summer, their abilities simply faded.
Although the tests help to inform the fellows of their students’ levels, I wonder how the tests affect the students’ confidence levels. It must be really challenging for the students to continuously fail the exams and drop down levels. The tests could take several hours, and I could only see my students getting increasingly frustrated, rather than more motivated or determined to succeed, as I would have hoped.
Through administering the tests, I gained a better understanding of the disparity between the students in the class. While several students could read at a fifth or sixth grade level, other students were just learning the alphabet and letter sounds. Because it was the beginning of the school year, I was unable to see how this played out in the classroom, but I can imagine that it would create a tense atmosphere for both the students and the TFI fellows. Do all of the students benefit equally from the experience?
Lastly, this past week, my respect for the TFI fellows grew. Despite the heat, the less-than-ideal classroom setting, and the rambunctious students, my fellow always appeared happy and motivated. As I sat in the hallway flipping through reading exam after reading exam, uncomfortable by the heat, I really admired the work she was doing. By including me in her classroom for just six days, I could see how her teaching and enthusiasm had the potential to truly make a difference in the students’ lives.