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The East Hampton Star. (East Hampton, N.Y.) 1885-current, September 15, 1977, Image 13

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Persistent link: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83030960/1977-09-15/ed-1/seq-13/

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THE EAST HAMPTON STAR, EAST HAMPTON, N.Y., SEPTEMBER 15, 1977 THIRTEEN The Star Talks To Mrs . Semiear , About Reading To those women who, after years of child-rearing, go back to school and begin new careers, Mrs. Teddy Semiear says “bravo.” Mrs. Semiear, wife of a Sag Harbor doctor, mother of three, became, by her account, “a geriatric Ph.D. candi­ date” in the late 1960s, after having spent 12 years as a mother and occasional substitute teacher, and a decade as bookkeeper and answering service for her husband, Robert. “Then he got a nurse, I retired, and got bored,” the intense, thoughtful Mrs. Semiear said one day recently. That boredom was quickly turned aside with her decision to enter Stony Brook’s “continuing education” pro­ gram through which she won masters’ and doctoral degrees in the field of developmental psychology, while, at the same time, teaching graduate courses and doing research. Project Work she did with a Harlem project which pointed up the value of early learning intervention led her to under­ take a doctoral dissertation study, both in New York and here, with the Scholastic Aptitude Test’s reading section, to try out several theories: 1) that girls were better readers than boys, at least until sixth grade, when boys “catch up;” 2) that reading tests at times called for “sex-specific” re­ sponses, and 3) that left-handed child­ ren were, in general, poorer readers than right-handed children. Aside from the generally-accepted opinion, to which she subscribes, that children don’t read as well as they used to, Mrs. Semiear said she knew, “empirically,” from teaching, largely in the early years of her marriage, that girls read better than boys. The theory, she added, was borne out in her study in New York and in the study here, which was administered with the help of an East Hampton reading teacher, Barbara Doyle, to fifth and sixth graders in the Middle Crossed dominance, that is, domin­ ant hand opposite dominant ear, would almost certainly indicate reading prob­ lems if the subject were a boy, she noted: “Crossed dominance means the brain hasn’t made up its mind whether to process language in the left or right hemisphere.” “They’ve found,” she said, \that crossed-dominance is related to read­ ing disability in boys, but not in girls . . . If I found a left-handed boy with a right ear advantage, i would say he needs work.” Statistics While her studies had so far not confirmed the left-handed reader theory statistically, she had found “a trend” indicating that it might be so. “I don’t have any answers, just clues,” Mrs. Semiear said, leaning forward in the chair, arms crossed. “More research needs to be done on everything. You do these things so you can spend the rest of your life answering the why of it.” An “error analysis” she had made of the tests had revealed that “where errors were made, they were sex- specific responses. For example, they were asked, ‘What is texture?’ The boys said ‘brick,’ the girls said ‘cloth.’ “In many cases,” she said, leafing through the 100-page dissertation, “the response was scored as incorrect, yet it was a very logical answer . . . For instance, in the vocabulary section, the test asked, ‘A person who seems perfect to you is your: companion, identity, ideal, or twin.’” Companion “Seventy-two per cent of the girls answered it correctly—‘ideal’—and ten per cent of the boys. The girls who got it wrong said ‘twin,’ and the boys who got it wrong said ‘companion.’” “There are lots of other examples . . . Mrs. Semiear: She Knew, Empirically, That Girls Read Better Than Boys. Jack Graves School, and to their counterparts in Sag Harbor. Why? As to why girls were better readers in the early years, Mrs. Semiear said possible answers, which required more r exploration, included maturational ad­ vantage (earlier brain “lateralization”) and social factors, such as the view that reading is a passive, feminine activity. “Girls, they think, ‘lateralize’ sooner than boys, and, therefore, are more verbal earlier,” she said, adding that listening tests with young children— as early as three-years-old—could point to reading problems. On the question, To work very hard is to: employ, toil, succeed, or serve,’ the major incorrect answer, for both sexes, was ‘succeed.’ It’s an understandable response, perhaps, but it’s still scored incorrect.\ “In one of the paragraphs in the reading comprehension section, words like ‘amigo’ and ‘manana’ were used, calling for an area response. Many of the city kids probably knew what was meant, but the country kids, for the most part, probably had no idea.” “So the question becomes: are these tests measuring reading ability?” Different Kinds “You find,” Mrs. Semiear continued, “by analyzing errors that there are different kinds of readers . . . Being unable to read Piaget rapidly and understand him one year, and being able to read him rapidly and under­ stand him the next, doesn't necessarily make you a better reader; it’s just that, after a year of reading him, you’re familiar with his vocabulary style and his concepts.” Besides finding fault, at times, with what was being asked, she criticized methods of reporting reading test scores. “The manuals all warn you not to use ‘grade equivalency’ in reporting scores, and yet it's almost always done.” “If a third grade .child takes a reading test and is told that he has scored at a sixth grade-five month level, his parents will probably preen.” “A Fake” “But that test,” she said, gesturing with her hands for emphasis, “was a third grade test. If he were given a test at the level of sixth grade-fifth month, would he be able to perform at that level? The whole thing is a fake; it’s arbitrary.\ “The same goes with the math tests. Say a fifth grader scores ninth grade- fifth month on a math test. Could he do algebra?” Mrs. Semiear said that “a much more reliable measure is the percentage- correct—the percentage correct of the NOTICE TO BIDDERS » NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN, that the Town of East Hampton will receive sealed bids for one (1) 1977 12 Passenger Vehicle. All bids to be submitted in sealed envelopes accompanied by a non­ collusion clause. The Town reserves the right to reject any and all bids. Bids to be opened in the Town Clerk’s Office, 159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton New York on September 22, 1977 at 10:00 A.M. Specifications to be picked up at the Town Clerk’s Office. Dated: Sept. 2,1977 By Order of the Town Board Town of East Hampton, N.Y. CHARLES T. ANDERSON Town Clerk 2-1 questions the child has answered.” “When you get a very low grade, at an early stage, it’s predictive; that’s clearly so. Boys are slower readers at that age, and are poorer at combining word segments—this was evident in the reading comprehension and word study skills sections. So this might contribute to early defeat. On the vocabulary section, which, unlike the other two parts, was not timed-locked, there was no sex difference.” Television , “I don’t debate the empirical evidence that kids are poorer readers nowadays and there’s no question that television has had a lot to do with this,” Mrs. Semiear said in answer to a question. “But I think one reason for the poor scores is the measure; the tests are not in all cases tests of reading.” T m not saying give tests later . . . you have to measure reading some way, but there has to be a better way of getting at reading ability or dis­ ability.” She was, she said, working on devising “a new measure.” At another point in the conversation, Mrs. Semiear said, ‘The lower reading scores can’t be explained away by saying, ‘It’s the test.’ There are all sorts of reasons for it. You try to get at them to reverse the process.” “You can't blame it on sex differ­ ences, though you can say, These are some of the variables.’ You can’t blame teachers, television, parents, or bud­ gets. You have to look, to see where you can do something to change the downward trend.” The Ticket She added, with conviction, “I think reading is the ticket to everything. It’s a trip to everywhere. You can learn anything out of a book. You’re cheating children intellectually by denying them the joy of reading. Television is used as a babysitter; put the kids in front of it and they’ll shut up. We use it because it’s the easy way, just as it’s easier to dump your garbage into the sea.” “I think,” she added, “that if reading were considered as important to sur­ vival as talking—and I’m not sure teaching children how to talk doesn't require as much adult intervention as it does to teach children to read—then there would be more readers.” “I remember,” she said, with her light blue-grey eyes lighting up, “the first word I ever figured out. I was three or four years old. We were at the Third Avenue El, by Goldfarb’s Florist. On a sign nearby was the word, ‘CORSETS.’ I looked at it and I knew what it meant. I don’t know how I did it, or how I came to do it. But I felt like, Aha! I’d broken the code.” Jack Graves

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