To the Editor:
Regarding proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act (“No Child Left Behind Act Changes Weighed,“ Sept. 22, 2004): While the use of value-added assessments would offer improvement on the current assessment approach, this suggestion still falls short of leveling the playing field.
Scientific research has well demonstrated the differential impact of summer-vacation periods on the academic development of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds: The reading development of poor children reliably falls about three months behind that of their more advantaged peers each and every summer. A combination of reading loss among poor children and a small gain by more advantaged children creates an achievement gap of from 1½ to two years across the elementary grades alone.
The source of this gap seems to be substantial differences in the reading activity of poor children and their middle-class peers. This reading-activity gap stems primarily from poor children’s limited access to books outside of school.
Regardless of the source of the summer reading loss, however, poor children begin school each fall substantially behind where they were in the spring when they were dismissed for the summer. More advantaged children begin school ahead of where they ended the school year. Value-added assessments attribute reading growth, or the lack of it, to schools, even though out-of-school periods have a significant impact on reading development.
While an improvement, value-added assessment formulas continue to penalize schools that enroll many children from low-income families.
There is no simple answer to the issue of poor children’s summer reading loss, but penalizing high-poverty schools for a situation they have little control over is simply unfair.
We have nearly completed a large-scale, longitudinal, randomized field trial that involves providing poor children with a dozen self-selected books each summer. This study will tell us whether enhancing poor children’s access to books for summer independent reading might begin to level the playing field. But even if our study shows that such access does ameliorate the summer reading gap, the issue of how schools will provide similar access is yet to be resolved.
Until the summer gap is eliminated, penalizing high-poverty schools for something they have little control over is simply bad policy.
Professor of Elementary
and Special Education
Professor of Literacy
College of Education
University of Florida