Journal Review: Balanced Literacy

Danielle V. Dennis’ article, “’I’m Not Stupid’: How Assessment Drives (In)Appropriate Reading Instruction,” shows the drawback to standardized testing because of generalized results.  While some students struggle on tests pertaining to verbal aptitude, her experiences lead her to contend with the belief that an all-purpose reading instruction program is inadequate to those individuals.  An analysis of four students reveals to her that each student possesses different strengths and opportunities for their reading levels, and a general program to improve scores is costly and potentially ineffective if it does not address each individual case separately.  She modifies a grade school model of implementing a “multitiered intervention plan” (288) for the adolescent’s unique needs, and encouraging educators to better instruct the student readers.

What stands out most, I believe, is the anecdote with which Dennis starts her article.  It is a poignant statement from the most important aspect of the education system: the student.  If the idea of high-stakes, standardized tests is to measure the effectiveness of learning, then the remedy to the problem appears to be a disservice to the student.  Isolating an area of educational opportunity should better allow the teacher to help the student improve, but statement’s such as “just because I don’t always understand what I read doesn’t mean I’m stupid” (283) add a new perspective on how poorly the solution can be provided.  In Javaar’s case, a sixth-grade student is being relegated to perform exercises generally aimed at a much younger age group.  From a student’s perspective, this can have a detrimental effect on morale and ultimately the desire to learn.

Policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as individual state responses to it, are inherently designed to measure the capabilities of various students through standardized testing.  The primary downside to such exams (in the context of reading aptitude), however, is that “they do not reveal why struggling readers are testing below grade level” (284).  The solution by institutions is overly simplified, which is to purchase reading programs to help these students, without discerning the abilities of the individual.  Dennis’ modified action plan requires that “all school personnel must be involved in the instructional process” (289), which is crucial to the proper development of the student by bringing an separated, external requirement (high-stakes exams) to the individual students, each of whom have their own diverse strengths and opportunities.


Dennis, Danielle V. (2009, December/ 2010, January).  “I’m not stupid”: how assessment drives (in)appropriate reading instruction.  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 53(4) 283-290.


About rinwhyte

Aspiring writer, born and bred in New York. I love to write fantasy and science fiction, as well as poetry.
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