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NIFL-ASSESSMENT 2005: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1178] RE: high-stakes te

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From: Nancy Hansen (
Date: Thu Jul 28 2005 - 16:47:01 EDT

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Subject: [NIFL-ASSESSMENT:1178] RE: high-stakes testing, state/federal accountability, and standardized tests
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Andrea, Howard et all:

So little time ... too much to say ... but here goes
.. "one-cannon-shot" for learners.  

BUT ... P.S. ... This post turned out to be far more
lengthy than I'd planned.  I suppose it's because I
view it as not a simple process, even though it is a
thoughtful process.  

Andrea, you wrote and questioned:
<<When you begin work with a new student, how do you
> begin?  Does the student go first to a
> tutor/volunteer?  Do you use the Challenger (I think
> this is what it is) books?  What do you do first
> when you enter "teaching mode?" >>

My first step is to use "a spoon" (from David Rosen's
post about a metaphor) to bring the new adult learner
into the place where learning can occur.  

I have chosen to forsake the "high-stakes funding"
because I believe on of the "high-stakes" of
submitting a learner to standardized timed testing,
when they have less than 1 GL, is the self-worth of
the learner whom I personally value.

So, using my spoon, I listen as they talk about their
background,scooping out their memories of previous
educational experiences, the personal goals they
wanted and now have, the reading/writing/spelling life
experiences they currently want to increase.  I keep
careful notes of all those shared experiences.
Remember now ... I'm using a *spoon* ... not a

I tell them, we have established the first page in
their personnel file and included with that page will
be an evaluation of their current reading skills and a
sample of their writing/spelling skills.  I tell them
that I will use an assessment tool for the series of
books that our Council uses for beginning adult

Yet even at *that*, I see the beads of sweat roll into
the furrows of their middle-aged worried forehead. 
Yes, even though I reassure the learner that they can
stop at any time and that I praise them each step of
the way, they worry they are failing.  And it's not
even a *test*!

You mentioned the "Challenger" series, which is
published by New Readers Press, the ProLiteracy
publishing division.  For the learners I serve, that
is considered a higher-level study material.  The
assessment I mentioned above is for the Laubach "Way
To Reading" series, a multi-sensory approach to

Actually our Council uses the study material that fits
the learner best.  I could name them all, but there
are something like 6 core series on our Council
library shelves that are possible study materials for
the learner. Besides some of them are listed in the
New Readers Press link at

Each of them used for 1-to-1 tutoring (with a trained
volunteer tutor) have an evaluation tool to determine
if the learner has a base of skills that will make
their first-return-to-an-educational-environment
rewarding for them.

The New Reader is going to be in a peer-to-peer
learning environment, so the next step is to show them
the program materials they could study.  If the
learner feels the materials look too easy, we return
to the registration table and do a "higher level"
skill assessment for another series.

This is the point I begin the match process (or the
"teaching mode" if you wish) and the tutor volunteer
comes into the picture.  I give the tutor
individualized guidance.  The tutor lines up the
weekly lessons at a local library or church.  They
call after the first lesson and, of course,
report-back each month.  I keep touch with both
parties of the pair on the phone.

I have strong feelings, and have periodically
expressed them in various places, about the fact that
standardized testing is *not* a "fair way" to gain a
baseline for the start of a Literacy Level 1 learner's

I also feel strongly about using portfolio
documentation as a much more accurate picture of the
learner's past and current base of knowledge.  *They*
can even see their own progress.  

My annual anniversary meeting with a learner and their
tutor is my opportunity to show them the New Reader's
personal growth - to review the book check-ups and
writing skill changes with them. To give praise and
congratulations for their hard work of the past year.

In conclusion, I try to keep in mind something that
Archie Willard said so well on another listserv today
(and I hope Archie won't mind my quoting him):

"... When you've grown up and have lost your childhood
dreams as a child, you become very defensive about
yourself, your life and many other things because of
your past experiences.  The bad memories and the
struggles of not learning to read clog your thinking
and you can't see all the beautiful little things in
life that are all around you. ..."

My genuine hope is that every learner, who registers
into this program and meets with me for that first
hour of a fruitful relationship that will last many
more hours together, finds one small beautiful "thing"
about coming for help - a smile, a positive comment, a
concern or a touch of the hand.  SOMEthing.  

I try not to put in their face  (or "at their throat"
.. as in "one sharp knife") any barrier that will
block that from happening.  And I believe standardized
timed testing is just *that*, Howard.  Frankly I
prefer a spoon over a knife.

Nancy Hansen
Executive Director
Sioux Falls Area Literacy Council
Sioux Falls, SD

--- wrote:

> Nancy,
> When you beign work with a new student, how do you
> begin?  Does the student go first to a
> tutor/volunteer?  Do you use the Challenger (I think
> this is what it is) books?  What do you do first
> when you enter "teaching mode?"
> Thanks.
> Andrea  

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