Why ‘life without levels’ can inspire a love for reading

By Margaret Allen, Strategic Education Manager

Having recently visited schools around the country in my new role here at Renaissance Learning, I’ve learned many things… but one of the most hotly debated topics (not surprisingly) is the new Primary curriculum, and more specifically – Assessment without Levels.

Opinion still seems to be very mixed as to whether it is a positive move or not; but as far as I am concerned, the removal of Levelled Assessment has opened up a world of potential when it comes to primary reading development… and here’s why:

Levels the playing field

In a world without Levels, we can concentrate on what children actually know rather than trying to squeeze them into a pre-definied category or ‘level’. This gives all children the opportunity to develop at a pace that works for them – for which they can be meaningfully rewarded and feel like they are truly achieving progress.

In doing so we remove the risk of making reading feel like a chore – especially for those who need to put in a lot of extra practice just to reach the minimum standard for their chronological age. Obviously key development milestones still exist that we will benchmark against, but ultimately the child is now assessed against their personal progress and potential (which I believe to be a much truer development yard stick). Equally importantly, we are given the freedom to engender a love of reading at the same time.

Supports inspiration not intervention

The removal of Levelled Assessment in primary education means that teachers can encourage their pupils to experience the joy of reading without the fear factor of not meeting the required level. By encouraging pupils to read for pleasure and to read the books that they¬†want to read; vocabulary and comprehension will develop accordingly (as long as they are engaging with books appropriate to their ability). This is where schools using Accelerated Reader are finding that the programme adds real value, because it monitors a pupil’s progress through formative assessment and helps the teacher ensure that the child is reading within their correct Zone of Proximal Development (think back to your teacher training days and Vygotsky’s ZPD…).

Reduces reluctance

For the reluctant readers (who we all know can be especially difficult to engage) there’s the additional challenge of trying to make books appealing – especially compared to gaming technology and iPads. The introduction of the new Assessment framework has given us more ways to get through to them. We can now encourage them to read anything – fiction or non-fiction – just to show them that reading can be enjoyable and fun. Using a programme like Accelerated Reader, which has over 27,000 reading practice quizzes on books from more than 300 publishers and imprints, they can read virtually anything they like and then take a fully validated quiz. As individual progress monitoring goes, this is an excellent way of combining pupil interest with reliable formative assessment.

I know from my time in the primary classroom that there just aren’t enough hours in the day, and while Assessment without Levels clearly brings opportunities for children’s personal development – for teachers it has the potential to significantly increase workload. This is especially true for reading and comprehension, where you can’t clearly see what they have understood in the same way you can perhaps with more written based subjects such as math and writing.

Fortunately, Accelerated Reader is already widely used by primary schools to monitor and support children in their reading development and was developed long before the latest change in the assessment landscape. Combined with STAR Assessments, which offer a standardised ‘point in time’ measure of progression, Accelerated Reader can really support teachers and schools in making informed decisions about their pupils’ progress and potential. And, after all, isn’t that what we’ve always wanted – something that lets us check our professional judgement and validates our assessments?

As teachers we are on a bit of a curriculum rollercoaster which requires use to be extremely flexible and constantly adapt. However, we also need to remember that for our young pupils, education is a journey, not a destination – and one which we need to guide them through, using the best ways we know how.

Margaret Allen
Strategic Education Manager

Margaret Allen is Strategic Education Manager for Primary schools at Renaissance Learning. She uses practical experience from her time teaching in primary classrooms to help teachers across the UK to get the most out of Accelerated Reader.

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