Faster Isn't Better
In reading as in driving, speed isn't always the best indicator of skill. But the nation's NCLB-induced testing frenzy now often includes periodic classroom assessments of elementary students' reading fluency. The problem, experts say, is that these tests often don't get down to the real nitty-gritty of reading fluency—instead, they focus mostly on speed. So children who can read fast and score well on such tests may be missing out on understanding what they read. "They read so fast, with no punctuation and no expression, that we'd go back and ask comprehension questions and they weren't very successful answering them," said one middle school principal. The rebirth of reading fluency as a curriculum area can be traced back to a 2000 report from the National Reading Panel that became the basis for President Bush's Reading First program, a cornerstone of NCLB. The report recommended a focus on reading fluency, but didn't define "fluency," so federal Reading First funds were often awarded to programs that stressed speed over comprehension. "Fluent readers are readers who know how to dig into a book and pull out just what they are looking for," says longtime teacher Susan Marantz of Columbus, Ohio. Looks like it might be time to apply the brakes and start focusing on the scenery.