As I drove past my daughter's elementary school last week, the exclamation of "READ! READ! READ!" appeared in the small brick billboard standing just outside the school's soccer field. This command epitomizes the skewed direction that educational leaders follow in order to boost scores and proficiency.

The 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading at grades 4 and 8 examines results for students in the nation and in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools. The verdict? The average reading score for eighth-graders was up 1 point since 2005.

For all the wonders of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and other programs deemed necessary to increase the intellectual level and the ability to compete in a global marketplace, how many books one reads and the quality of the books themselves fail to help our kids. So, what do we do?

Read to make meaning. Much of our educational system still values what I call the "book's stock." Story structure, characterization, climax. And while these elements are important for understanding how plots function and what authors use, they do not help our children make meaning for themselves. The question becomes this: How can I relate this book to my own values, beliefs, and perspective?

Now, there is challenge. A typical test, for example, asks questions like Identify how suspense is used in Chapter 3. But is you want to make meaning, and therefore purpose, pose a question that challenges higher level critical thinking: If you were Romeo's friend, what advice would you give him to stop his suicide? Not only do you have to "know" the story, but you have to know yourself.

While teachers continue to teach to the test (local, state, and national), "better" readers are defined in such a way that reading more books and reading worthy books becomes a substitute for the excellent understanding of meaning for each individual reader.