The idea that reading skill is largely a set of general-purpose maneuvers that can be applied to any and all texts is one of the main barriers to our children’s overall low achievement in reading, argues Policy Perspectives author E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
It leads to activities that are deadening for agile and eager minds, and it carries huge opportunity costs. These activities take up time that could be devoted to gaining general core knowledge, which, according to Hirsch, is the central requisite for high reading skill. Writes Hirsch:
“We need to help create a public demand for the kind of knowledge-oriented reading program that is needed. If that demand arises, then the rest can safely be left to the cunning of the market, for most of us in the United States desire the same democratic goal—to give all children an opportunity to succeed that depends mainly on their own talents and character and not on who their parents happen to be. We also need to encourage an early curriculum that is oriented to knowledge rather than the will-o’-the-wisps of general, formal skills.”
In 2017, Dallas Independent School District’s (ISD) Ben Milam Elementary school began slowly, but radically, to change business as usual at their school. To promote agency, equity, and academic achievement for all students, they implemented formative assessment as the foundational principle of teaching and learning. Starting with a handful of teachers, then spreading to nearly all, they rethought how to meet the needs of their diverse student population, ranging from middle-class suburban kids to those living in a downtown Dallas homeless shelter.
The questions they asked themselves to inform their work were, How can all students be both learners and leaders at our school? How can students better support and learn from one another? In working towards these agency and equity goals through the daily practice of formative assessment, the school is promoting learning and academic achievement advances for its students.
View this archived webinar to hear their remarkable story.
- Nancy Gerzon, Project Director, WestEd
- Anna Galvan, Principal, Ben Milam Elementary School, Dallas Independent School District
- Gina Maffucci, Instructional Coach, Dallas Independent School District
- Kierstan Barbee, Assessment for Learning Coordinator, Dallas Independent School District