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Letters to the Editor

Close the achievement gap

Iowa is failing to close its achievement gap and raise its standards up to national grade level. Iowa’s poorly-trained educators continue to falsely blame various student groups because these false theories are as much a part of their training as ineffective teaching methods.

Iowa’s first ESSA plan for closing the achievement gap called for further lowering standards to pretend to be helping students, and this plan was rejected by the national government. The replacement plan Iowa submitted this fall calls for closing the gap one-tenth of one percent a year, which means in ten years the gap could be closed one percent, but those students would be out of school by then and not up to grade level while educators continue to repeat the source of the problem.

Using math as an analogy, here is what Iowa’s educators — including the Iowa Reading Research Center ­— are getting wrong. Iowa uses the national Common Core math curriculum, written by individuals who actually know math concepts and processes. Unfortunately, Iowa’s educators are trained at the elementary level to have students memorize math facts — repeating them at an ever-faster rate — and rationalize that this will help students do higher-level math in spite of the fact memorization fails to teach the underlying processes of the concepts that are what actually needs to be applied at higher levels.

In a similar manner, Iowa educators are using memorization with the five components (concepts) of reading, thus failing to help students learn the underlying processes.  Phonemics and phonics are two of these. 

If dictionaries can use complete phonics rules for every word in them, then so can teachers, instead of telling students they have to memorize whole words just because the teachers do not know the phonics rules.  Fluency is another reading concept Iowa teachers are getting wrong. 

Having students read faster and faster, in the false belief this is teaching them phonemics and phonics, is holding back progress but Iowa’s teachers do not know this.  In a 1969 study in California, a group of students closed their achievement gap by 1.9-grade levels in 24, fifteen-minute sessions by reading more slowly so they could think through the underlying processes they were applying. This process works for English language learners.  How many people, when trying to understand content, read a passage as quickly as they can?  The idea is ludicrous, but Iowa’s educators fail to understand this. 

Sue Atkinson

Baxter

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