Extensive And Expensive: Bad Reading Tools In Alberta Schools

While Alberta school boards are constantly telling parents they don't have the funding to pursue the priorities we care about, they spend tens of thousands of dollars on reading assessments, resources, and training that hurt kids' progress in reading and poorly align with the curriculum.

Alberta school boards are training teachers in methods generally referred to as “three-cueing”.

At a very basic level, this approach teaches children to ask if a sentence makes sense, if it sounds right, and if it looks right, rather than systematically decoding the sentence based on the sounds represented by all of the letters, taken together (phonics).

Functionally, this is teaching kids to guess words, not read.

These are strategies that poor readers often use to get by without the phonics skills to read a sentence.

As such, it can often seem - superficially and temporarily - that these strategies that paper over the deficiencies of poor readers are delivering real results!

The most popular system - Fountas & Pinnell - even sells Alberta schools leveled readers (think the small, short books in each classroom, not the library) that maintain the delusion that kids are advancing their skills - sometimes for years.

But an increasing number of studies into these “three-cueing” systems show that the artificial sugar-rush of apparent reading ability wears off.

Sadly, this “leveled literacy intervention” is shown to actually leave children who receive the most intense version of this reading instruction worse off in the long-run than students who receive no extra help in reading.

That’s, unfortunately, not surprising, since “three-cueing” runs directly counter to insights from neuro-science into how kids actually learn to read.

This growing body of science - dubbed the Science of Reading - is showing that age-old ideas about how kids learn to decode sentences, that you’ve probably seen referred to as “phonics”, were correct all along.

Neuroscientists equipped with fMRI scans have shown that the language centres of not-yet-reading students light up when they are shown words after being taught the relationship between letters and sounds.

The fMRI scans show those same students are stumped without those foundations.

Advocates of “three-cueing” will sometimes call their approach “balanced literacy” and imply that a focus on phonics or Science of Reading principles is imbalanced.

But even if “balanced” was the right word for their approach, balance between teaching that works and teaching that doesn’t work is no virtue.

That’s why Ontario, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida have all banned the use of “three-cueing” outright.

With all those bans coming just in the last two years, more states and provinces will follow.

Unsurprisingly, then, Alberta’s Language Arts curriculum, despite fierce opposition from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, follows Science of Reading principles.

That makes the use of “three-cueing” in Alberta schools all the worse, since it conflicts with the approach of the required provincial curriculum.

That’s why it’s so surprising how many school divisions in Alberta use training, resources, and assessments based in “three-cueing” practices.

In 2022, Alberta Education surveyed school authorities to produce the “Early Years Standardized Assessment Report”, which showed 55.7% (or 39 school authorities) use the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.

Fountas & Pinnell was easily the most popular assessment in Alberta, and other assessments with their foundation in “three-cueing” systems were also represented.

Edmonton Public Schools features both Fountas & Pinnell and Lucy Calkins (another “three-cueing” approach) in their Strategic Plan.

Wolf Creek Public Schools is featured in a promotional video marketing the full Fountas & Pinnell intervention - assessments, training, and leveled readers - to all of Canada.

Calgary Catholic, Edmonton Public, Edmonton Catholic, Grande Yellowhead Public, Medicine Hat Catholic, and Peace Wapiti are also prominently featured in marketing of the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention.

The Calgary Board of Education just publicly committed to de-implementation of Fountas & Pinnell and other leveled readers as “not aligned with current research” earlier this year.

This is the only public commitment to ending these practices we were able to find from a school division, while we found many examples of school divisions continuing to use their professional development time to push Fountas & Pinnell, Lucy Calkins, and other “three-cueing” approaches.

Lethbridge School Division, as an example, are so committed to Fountas & Pinnell training that they, just last month, held a session pushing it on teachers who joined the school division since they conducted the training in the Fall.

School board governance is about priorities.

Our school boards are setting the wrong priorities.

The cheapest way for a school division to purchase the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System itself is to pay $16,000 up front.

Then, one day of online professional development in how to administer the assessment is $3,300 for each teacher.

That’s not to mention the cost of having the teachers spend a day learning this and the cost to families of the school they missed that day.

Each set of 110 to 144 leveled readers cost between $5,000 and $8,500 per classroom.

If that seems too pricey, you can always spend $48,543 to establish a shared bookroom for all K-6 classrooms.

Professional development in the Leveled Literacy Intervention will set school divisions back anywhere between $3,300 (online, 1 day) to $11,400 (in-person, 3 days) for each teacher.

All this, remember, for an intervention shown to be worse for kids than doing nothing.

And the chances are, your kid’s school is paying for this while telling you they don’t have money for - as one example - a reading intervention that works.

Parents trust school boards to implement the priorities we elect them to pursue and that we ask for in our engagement with them.

The widespread use in Alberta of Fountas & Pinnell and other “three-cueing” and “leveled reader” interventions is just one example of how school board priorities and the priorities clearly communicated to them by parents do not match.

These school boards should be more responsive to parents than vendors with magic beans to sell.

And they should start signaling their commitment to parents and taxpayers by dropping Fountas & Pinnell.

Championing Your Priorities,

Jeff and the Alberta Parents’ Union Team


Showing 1 comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Secured Via NationBuilder
  • Alberta Parents' Union
    published this page in News 2024-04-10 16:22:29 -0600