For the past few days, Sara Wottawa, of Long Island, has heard these frightening words at bedtime from her tearful eight-year-old daughter: “Will you be here when I wake up?”
More and more parents are reporting increased fear, anxiety, frustration, behavior problems, and even physical symptoms this year, mostly having to do with school. Social media groups are awash in stories like this, and PTA meetings have become a hotspot for complaints. What’s so different about this school year? Parents say it’s the Common Core and the learning modules that teachers are being forced to use.
When Sara finally got to the bottom of her daughter’s fear of losing her mother, she found out that she had been reading a book--Nasreen’s Secret School--in class, which brought about these feelings of dread. The book is part of a “close reading” assignment in New York’s EngageNY teaching modules, which were rolled out this year are being widely used throughout the state–and the country.
According to TeachingBooks.net, an information site for teachers and parents, Nasreen’s is appropriate for grades 1 – 5, a wide age spectrum based on a Lexile score of 630. This means, simply, that a child who “owns” a Lexile score of between 530 and 730 can read this book without too much frustration or, conversely, without being too bored. What the Lexile score doesn’t measure is how well a child is prepared to emotionally handle certain content.
That’s what has parents upset.
“Everything is so based on test scores–on hard data–that no one is taking a step back and thinking about what kids are ready for, what they can handle at their age,” says Wottowa. According to parents, just because a second-grader may be ready to read at that level, doesn’t mean that the content is appropriate. Many readers agree that Nasreen’s Secret School is a fantastic story; it’s just not necessarily a story to which eight-year-olds can, or need, to relate.
Parents don’t always want to shelter their children from socially or emotionally challenging material. For example, The Diary of Anne Frank has been taught in middle schools for ages, but with a Lexile score of 1060, it’s not even considered until 5th grade (it was never considered for elementary schools even before the objective Lexile system was used).
Parents want to know that real people are vetting the books their young children are reading, rather than relying on simple test scores. If teachers had more time to do this important work, and if parents were invited more often to be a part of the selection process, the cold, hard data from test scores wouldn’t be the only deciding factor.
“Those kids could have read The Breadwinner, instead,” says Meg Norris, a former elementary teacher in Georgia, “it’s generally about the same topic, with much less trauma.”