A new app called Newsela may help classrooms read and discuss the same current events stories despite the differing levels of reading ability among the students. The app works by adjusting and creating versions of the same news story in varying difficulty levels. It operates in a discreet way, so students with the easier version of the story will not get embarrassed. Students also have the option of leveling up or leveling down the story themselves to adjust the material if they find it too hard or too easy. Newsela creator Dan-Cogan Drew states that this new technology will facilitate social learning by enabling all students to be able to participate in class discussion.
While it is certainly valuable for students to be able to tackle readings in order to participate, I wonder if these technologies and teacher’s expectations will prevent students from being challenged with their reading. There have been many studies that prove a strong correlation between a teacher’s expectations of a student and the student’s achievement. This NPR blog discusses the first experiment that demonstrated teacher’s expectations of their students affects their daily interactions with them, and students expected to succeed are more likely to succeed. The reverse is also true: students expected to fail are more likely to fail. Relating this research to Newsela, if a teacher has low expectations of students’ reading abilities and assigns easier versions of the article, then students may actually do worse than if they were all assigned the same reading. However, this does not mean that technologies such as Newsela are not valuable in the classroom, but it does mean that teachers should not blindly rely on this technology. Instead teachers should strive to make sure all students are being challenged in their reading.
As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.
The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.
The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:
- First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
- Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
- State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
- Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.
While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. – Patte Barth
We gave you something to watch earlier this week with the release of our newest video, Making Time, now we’re giving you something to read.
Much like our video, Beyond Fiction: The Importance of Reading for Information, is concise but packed with data and analysis on a really concerning trend in the American populace: we’re good at reading for pleasure and entertainment but not so good at reading for information. What exactly do we mean by reading for information?
It’s everything from being able to read and understand a newspaper article (which about 30 million American adults can’t do) to being able to decipher a street map (which some 27 million American adults can’t do). We don’t mean to pick on the adults here, but international surveys conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, show we get progressively worse at informational literacy the older we get.
Just four countries ranked higher than the US when it came to fourth-graders’ ability to acquire and use information. In contrast, 14 countries ranked higher than our 15-year-olds in terms of their ability to acquire and use information. Not good. But new standards, particularly the ones touted by Common Core, aim to fix this disparity by expanding and restructuring the way literature is taught. So, take a moment to dig into our latest study which, yes, is a form of informational text. Aren’t you smart! – Naomi Dillon
Restructuring the school day or year is an evergreen topic in school reform debates, as the expectations for what students should know continue to rise while the time required to meet these new standards has not kept pace.
The Center for Public Education has studied the subject of time both directly, and indirectly. Clearly, time is ubiquitous and (should be) embedded in every attempt to improve schools and student achievement. In what ways, you ask?
Enter our latest CPE video, titled appropriately: Making Time. It’s a high-level and abbreviated (don’t worry it’s only four minutes long) look at the areas where schools must invest time if they expect to see any positive growth. Enjoy!
In a departure from past releases, this year’s SAT results included results from the College Board’s two other testing programs— the PSAT/NMSQT and their Advanced Placement (AP) exams— providing a more complete picture of student progress towards college readiness throughout high school.
This year’s picture provides evidence that more students, especially poor and minority students, are taking more rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement (AP), yet such improvements have not led to an increase in college-readiness rates. Unfortunately, it is not clear why this is the case especially since the AP test-taking rates for the nation’s largest growing population, Hispanics, make up a large portion of the increase in AP test-taking.
Although Hispanic students made tremendous strides on the AP, as a group, they were less likely to reach the college readiness benchmark on the SAT. While nearly 43 percent of the Class of 2014 who took the SAT reached the college readiness benchmark score of 1550, just under a quarter of Hispanic test-takers did so. Moreover, black students who took the SAT were even less likely to be considered ‘college ready,’ as just under 16 percent met or exceeded the college readiness threshold.
- Nearly half (43 percent) of the test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2014, which is unchanged from the year prior and slightly lower than in 2009 (44 percent).
- The SAT College-Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
- Minority students are less likely to be college-ready.
- Just 15.8 percent of black students and 23.4 percent of Hispanic students were college-ready, according to the SAT’s Benchmark.
Core Course Rigor
- Three-quarters of SAT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.
- Just over 1.67 million students from the Class of 2014 took the SAT sometime during their high school which was a 4 percent increase from 2013.
- More minority students are taking the SAT.
- Nearly half (48 percent) of test takers were minorities in 2014 compared to 46 percent just a year earlier.
Advanced Placement (AP)
- In 2014, 22 percent of the nation’s 11th- and 12th-graders took at least one AP exam which is nearly double the number of students from just a decade ago, when 12 percent took an AP exam.
- Even though more students took an AP exam, passing ratings improved as well. In 2004, just 8 percent of 11th- and 12th-graders passed an AP exam; that rate increased to 13 percent in 2014.
- Hispanic students (19 percent) are taking AP courses at nearly the same rate as the overall national average (22 percent), yet black (13 percent) and Native American (12 percent) students are still less likely to take AP.
- According to the College Board’s PSAT/NMSQT results, nearly 40 percent of PSAT/NMSQT had the potential to succeed in an AP course but never took an exam. However, such students may have taken other college-level courses such as International Baccalaureate or Honors programs.