Are read alouds cheating?

Over on his Science and Education blog, Dan Willinghom, a friend of LD Blog, posted an intriguing examination of this question: “Is Listening to an audio book ‘Cheating?’” Consistent with Professor Willingham’s perspective, he takes a cognitive psychology look at this question. It’s worth reading.

He says he’s heard this question often, and I wonder whether there’s been a hint of objection to the idea of having students listen to audio books. Now maybe it is just about whether one is slighting her- or himself by listening to books on tape.

But, I wonder whether at least some of the objection to listening to audio books being a form of cheating reflects concern about children who receive special treatment in school testing situations. I can imagine a conversation in which a parent might say, “I heard that the Smith’s boy gets to have a teacher read the test to him. And it’s not just the story, but the teacher also reads the answers, too!”

Parents of students with disabilities will recognize this situation as a “read-aloud accommodation.” (People who conduct a lot of research on accommodations such as Rogers, Lazarus, and Thurlow, 2016, refer to read-alouds as “oral delivery,” by the way.) Whether they are called “read alouds” or “oral presentations,” these accommodations are pretty common. They were provided to approximately 33% of secondary students with disabilities who took standardized tests in the early 2000s, according to a report by the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004).

Does having someone read test content and items convey an unfair advantage? Ahh, herein lies a rub. Two meta-analyses (Buzick & Stone, 2014; Li, 2014) both reached similar conclusions. Studies that compared the effects of oral presentation for individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities found that “read alouds” helped the students with disabilities and those without disabilities, but they helped those with disabilities significantly more. The benefits were more substantial in reading or language arts areas than in arithmetic or mathematics areas.

So, is it cheating for those students who do not have fluent decoding skills? Apparently, it allows them to show what they know and can do when the handicap is removed.

For my money, the evidence is also a strong argument for doing a very good job of teaching decoding skills very well right from the beginning, thereby eliminating or reducing that handicap.

References

Buzick, H., & Stone, E. (2014). A meta‐analysis of research on the read aloud accommodation. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 17-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12040

Li, H. (2014). The effects of read‐aloud accommodations for students with and without disabilities: A meta‐analysis. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 3-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12027

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004, April). Standardized testing among secondary school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. http://www.nlts2.org/fact_sheets/nlts2_fact_sheet_2004_04.pdf

Rogers, C. M., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2016). A summary of the research on the effects of test accommodations: 2013-2014 (NCEO Report 402). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. http://www.cehd.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Report402/NCEOReport402.pdf

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