Thursday, January 8, 2009

And the award goes to.....

Today I posted a new book to my "Recently Read" list over there on the left side of the blog. It is a children's book entitled Esperanza Rising. I read it because that is the book currently being read by the seventh grade English classes at the Johnson Creek Junior High School. I occasionally read what Nicholas reads in school because I love to read and am curious about what the younger generation is reading now. The book takes place around 1930 and is about a young, wealthy Mexican girl, who, through a large bit of bad fortune, ends up in a migrant camp in California. The title is a reference to the Phoenix, who rises out of the ashes, as Esperanza must do given the new life that has been dealt her. Not a bad book (probably better than the drug addict stuff I read when I was in Junior High) - in fact, it is an "award winning" book. (Note that phrase - it's important later on in this post.) However, in checking places like Amazon, various library web sites and the lexile rankings (this is the scoring system that the elementary school here uses to track the kids' reading progress), I find that it is geared toward the age group of approximately 9-12, with a lexile score in the mid 700's. Nicholas just turned 13 and his lexile score was over 1000 when he left sixth grade. Now Nicholas is intelligent, but I know he is not at the top of his class, so there are probably at least several girls whose lexile scores were probably 1200 when they got out of sixth grade. And, since I am not overly organized, I can only get my hands on his fourth grade lexile scores - he started fourth grade with a score of 802, which, according to the form, was spot on for someone at that grade level. So by that indicator, it seems to me that this book, with a score in the mid 700's, is more suited to the 9-year old age group - or maybe a third grade reading level. All this is leading to - why isn't the seventh grade English class reading something a little more challenging? If our kids aim for mediocrity, that is all they will achieve.

I know, you are probably thinking I should take this up with the teachers or the administration. And maybe I should, but I have this lingering fear that if I make trouble, Nicholas will be the one to suffer. And Nicholas reads other, more challenging things on his own, so I really don't worry about Nicholas' reading future being in danger. It's more the principle of the thing that bugs me.

Which brings me back to that phrase "award winning". He is currently reading a teacher-approved book for the next book report. It had to be "award winning", which it is - and it may be the greatest book ever written - for that 9-12 year old age group - another lexile score in the mid 700's. I can't really offer an opinion, as I haven't read that one. But get this. He asked his teacher if he could read The Hound of the Baskervilles instead (you know, that's one of those Sherlock Holmes things, written by that English guy - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Larry has a complete set - that's where our late Beagle, Sherlock got his name and then our oldest cat, Watson, but I digress). That particular book has a lexile score over 1000. A bit more challenging to a seventh grader. But that choice wasn't acceptable - it isn't "award winning".

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