Geraldine had been at the Debating Michaela at City Hall, and it transpired that the NQT taught at a school which is White British in a seaside town (so not at Michaela School in North London, which simply hosted the debates on Saturday 23rd April).
So, how unusual is it have three extremely poor readers in a Year 7 class?
How are 11 year olds’ reading ages distributed?
I found a couple of pieces of research which might be of interest. The first is about reading ages, and is here. The key points here are as follows, with my emphasis in bold:
“The main problem with reading age tends to be a lack of understanding, which leads to a tendency to invest reading ages with a meaning and authority which is out of all proportions to their statistical origins. Their reference to age seems to imply something about the development of reading, as if certain skills and abilities were associated with particular reading ages in a hierarchical progression. In reality, a seven-year-old with a reading age of 7.00 will be very different, as a reader, to an eleven-year-old with a reading age of 7.00. It is wrong to believe that the reading age scale is developmental. It is also wrong to speak of reading ages like we do chronological ages. Chronological age changes at a continuous rate. Reading age does not. A reading age is specific to a subject’s performance on a given date. It is misleading to describe that subject as having that reading age months later.”
The paper gives an indication of the distribution of standardised scores, which are assumed to come from a standard normal distribution. I’ve written a little about these before, and it’s fair to say that they are somewhat confusing for a casual reader. In essence, however, most scores – about two thirds - are within one standard deviation (SD) of the mean. A further 28% of scores are between 2 SD of the mean, and just over 2% of scores are either above or below 2 SD from the mean.
So, what all this suggests is that, of a hundred children, 66 are fairly typical, 28 are more unusual, and 4 are very unusual, of whom, 2 are very low compared to their peers.
The law of truly large numbers, attributed to Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller, states that ‘with a sample size large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to happen’. So in any group of 100 children, the distribution of reading ages could be completely different to the expected distribution. I can highly recommend David Hand’s book ‘The Improbability Principle - Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day’, which discusses the law of truly large numbers in accessible and entertaining style.
It might seem unusual to have three very low level readers in a Year 7 class, but it would also seem unusual to have three children with the same birthday, or with the same first name. With roughly 25,000 Year 7 classes across the country, some groups of thirty will have highly unusual distributions of children simply by chance alone.
Is a reading age of 6 unusual for an 11 year old?
I found this paper, which suggests a mean reading age of 11.60 for 11-12 Year Olds, with an SD of 2.26. Using the distributions above, this would mean that roughly 68% of 11 year olds would have a reading age between 9.34 and 13.86, and that 28% would have reading ages from 7.08 - 9.34 and 13.86 – 16.12. 2% of children would have a reading age below 7.08, i.e roughly 6 years of age.
So, if these figures are correct, around 2 in 100 children in 100 have reading ages below 7. So whilst it is unusual, it clearly does happen. And since it does happen, and children aren’t evenly distributed in classes, it is therefore not shocking that three children in a Year7 class might have a reading age of 6.
Time to throw open the phone lines...
What's your experience? I'd be interested to hear of any unusual classes you've taught. I've had classes with three children with the same first name, and I've certainly had three children who struggled to read in the same year group. Your thoughts on this are welcome...