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Reading Incomprehension – Common Core Standards in Action

Reading when not in school

Published in ChicagoNow, March 27, 2014

You would think a former teacher and English major with a master’s degree in early childhood education could help her 7-year-old granddaughter do her first grade reading homework packet. Think again. Last week I spent a few days taking care of my grandkids in Indiana and was really stumped by a first grade assignment.

My granddaughter read a non-fiction passage about the moon from her McGraw-Hill reader, Wonders. The homework was a series of reading comprehension questions laid out in boxes labeled “cause” and “effect.” The boxes were too small for the handwriting of a left-handed 7-year-old, with no lines to anchor her printed responses. She had to shorten her answers to fit the boxes.

When I tried to see if she truly comprehended the reading about why the moon waxes and wanes and how astronauts landed on the moon, she admonished me. “No Grandma,” she said. “We just look for a sentence in the book and copy it exactly.” I can assure you no reading comprehension took place.

If there is one issue that unites members of the Tea Party and Progressives, it is dislike of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that are part of the also disliked Race to the Top. On March 24, 2014, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a bill withdrawing the state from the Common Core. The motivation was to develop “academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers,” according to Pence. Indiana teachers’ union members would not disagree that the CCSS cookie-cutter approach to education is more harmful to kids than helpful.

Putting all political motivations aside, my Hoosier granddaughter just wishes her excellent teacher were free to, well, just teach. Here’s what my granddaughter thinks playing teacher looks like after two years of Common Core public school education:

After she read a fable about How The Bat Got His Wings, she made the above drawing on her white board. To talk about the story, we had to divide it into first, next, then, and last. That’s sequencing, which is fine, but it did not show me that she truly comprehended the story. She really loved the story, but who cares about that or why it is so. When I tried to relate the fable to her life, she laughed. “Grandma, just raise your hand for my list. What you are saying is not in the story.”

Maybe I misremember, but I am pretty sure this is not your Mama’s first grade. So let me break it down for the educational-industrial complex and politicians who think they are educators.

  • First: Expose children to books. Read to them.

  • Next: When they are developmentally ready, teach them letter sounds and some sight words.

  • Then: Let them learn to love reading by having them read about things that interest them.

  • Last: Find out if they comprehend by letting them tell you what the story was about in their own words and what it meant to their lives.


by Laurie Levy
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