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December 8, 2017

US 4th-graders earn a B+ in reading

American fourth-graders are good, not great, readers. But they clearly know their way around the Internet. At least that’s one of the lessons to take away from the latest international assessment of nine-year-olds’ reading ability.

PIRLs

Earlier this week, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released the results of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Our fourth-graders scored 16th out of the 61 participating countries and jurisdictions, although just 12 countries outscored us by statistically significant margins. The five top performers in descending order were Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland and Finland.

Although we can’t claim number one status, our young students once again show they are more competitive internationally than either their 15-year-old siblings or their parents and grandparents, who barely register at the international average on tests of literacy. (As though the nation needed more evidence that we Baby Boomers need to get over ourselves.)

Yet the report was not without troubling signs. For one, the overall average was not significantly different from 2001, and we actually saw a decline from 2011 even while scores increased in ten countries. As we often remind CPE readers, one year’s data does not make a trend. But it does bear watching, particularly since the decline in this case was most pronounced among our low scorers, producing a widening gap.

As in past administrations of PIRLS, our fourth-graders performance is largely driven by their proficiency with reading literature. Only six countries outperformed the U.S. when reading for “literary experience.” In comparison, 14 did better than we did when asked to “acquire and use information.” The relatively weak performance in informational reading extends through adulthood in the U.S. — an issue CPE addressed three years ago in our report Beyond Fiction, which highlighted the importance of including non-fiction texts in the school curriculum.

Interestingly enough, however, our fourth-graders are really good at locating and using information online. For the first time in 2016, PIRLS assessed students’ ability to navigate the internet for information. IEA developed discrete web pages that students accessed through computer, and navigated through them to answer short multiple-choice or open-ended questions. (You can test-drive ePIRLS sample items here.) Out of the 16 participating education systems, only three — Singapore, Norway and Ireland — outperformed the U.S.

This begs the question: Why can our students read for information online, but aren’t as proficient in print? Hopefully, ePIRLS will prompt researchers to take a deeper look into this area. And while they’re at it, we need to know more about why U.S. schools seem to be able teach kids to read, interpret and analyze literature, but the skills aren’t transferring to their approach to printed informational texts. There’s an urgency to finding answers. Our nation has entered an era when consumers of information must increasingly rely on their own judgment and skills in order to discern fact from fiction. We need to figure out how to make sure our next generation is up to it.

CPE will soon be releasing a report that examines differences in the perceptions teachers in the U.S. have about their profession compared to their peers in high-performing Finland. The report, written by our research analyst Annie Hemphill, doesn’t specifically address reading instruction. But it does highlight some issues important to preparing and retaining good teachers who, after all, are a key ingredient in students’ academic development. So keep watching this space.






November 17, 2017

Mind over matter? New evidence on the impact of growth mindset

Growth mindset – the belief that intelligence is changeable, rather than fixed –  has been promoted in classrooms across the country for years. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged to praise children for their effort and grit in solving problems rather than their innate intelligence. The widely recognized importance of a growth mindset in students has even spurred some to emphasize the characteristic as a potential element of school quality, to be tracked alongside test scores.

Until now, the evidence in support of the growth mindset has relied on studies of high school and college-aged students, and has provided little insight to development of the characteristic in historically underserved students. A new study presented this month at the fall conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Measurement tackles these issues, and provides some intriguing new evidence about the academic impact of growth mindset.

The study examines 125,000 students attending 4th through 7th grades in five urban California school districts. In order to examine the impact of growth mindset on students’ learning outcomes, the authors linked student test score data to a measure of growth mindset that reflects responses to the following questions:

Please indicate how true each of the following statements is for you:
(1) My intelligence is something that I can’t change very much;
(2) Challenging myself won’t make me any smarter;
(3) There are some things I am not capable of learning; and
(4) If I am not naturally smart in a subject, I will never do well in it.
For each of these questions, students choose: Not at All True, A Little True, Somewhat True, Mostly True, or Completely True.

Their findings are substantial: historically underserved students were less likely than their peers to hold a growth mindset, and students that did hold a growth mindset showed significantly more learning over the course of a school year than did students with a fixed mindset.

The authors find that what they call the “mindset gap” impacts a variety of historically underserved student subgroups. Students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, English Language Learners, and both Hispanic and African American students all show lower degrees of growth mindset across the 4th-7th grades than did their peers. Female students were more likely to maintain a high level of growth mindset than their male peers until the 7th grade, when the gap closes. The authors note that these gaps are larger across schools than within an individual school, possibly highlighting the power of the school environment to shape beliefs about learning among students.

The authors’ findings on the impact of growth mindset on academic achievement are particularly striking. Students who had a high level of growth mindset measured in one year, when compared to demographically and academically similar students, achieved higher test scores and showed greater learning when tested in the following year. Students in all subgroups – including students of all races and ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and genders – who held a growth mindset saw higher test scores in both mathematics and language arts (by 0.04 standard deviations and 0.07 standard deviations, respectively). These higher test scores reflect significant additional learning over the course of a school year. The average student who moves from a fixed mindset to a neutral mindset experiences learning growth reflective of approximately 19 school days of learning – about one additional calendar month in the classroom.

Evidence continues to build on the effectiveness of growth mindset. Teachers and administrators already know that developing this attitude can help build students’ learning, but now current research tells us just how significant that impact may be. It is particularly important for schools serving underserved populations – those students who may be less likely to hold a growth mindset – to cultivate these beliefs about learning in their students. With nearly one month of additional learning growth on the line, developing and promoting growth mindset may bring significant achievement gains for all students.

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,equity — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 4:44 pm





November 13, 2017

ESSA growth vs. proficiency: a former teacher’s perspective

Right now, state education departments are working to try to come up with a plan that meets all the requirements of the Federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One area that has received a lot of attention in ESSA is the student accountability section and the required indicators that hold schools accountable for student learning.

The first indicator under ESSA is known as the academic achievement indicator and requires states to annually measure English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math proficiency using statewide assessments. To simplify, I would call this a proficiency indicator, where states use the information from state standardized tests to see if students are meeting grade level standards. When I was a 4th grade teacher, this information was incredibly useful for me. I needed to know what level my student’s were performing at in language arts and math so that I could scaffold lesson plans, create student groups and understand which students needed to do the most catching up. These scores helped me also talk to parents about where their child was performing in relation to where he/she should be performing as a 4th grader. However, a student’s proficiency score was only a part of the puzzle, which is where the second indicator under ESSA comes in to complete the picture.

The second ESSA accountability indicator is the academic progress indicator, which looks at the growth or progress that an individual student or subgroup of students has made in elementary and middle school. States have created different policies to measure this, but the general goal is to measure an individual student’s growth over a period of time.

When I was a teacher I also had a method of measuring this for each of my students. For example, in reading I would assess their starting reading level at the beginning of the year and then map out an individual plan for each student. Each student would have to grow between 6 or 8 reading levels, depending on where they started, with the overall goal of growing the equivalent of two grade levels. Some of my students did grow two grade levels, but they would still be below where they should be at that grade. For others the two-grade boost would put them way above the 4th grade reading level.  It is important for teachers and students to understand and celebrate their progress at multiple checkpoints throughout the year that are not in the form of state tests. In my classroom, this gave students a sense of purpose for their assignments because they wanted to meet the individual goal that we had set together. As a teacher, I also would constantly adjust assignments, homework, student pairs, etc. based on the new levels that students reached throughout the year.

For me, both proficiency and growth measures were crucial for the success of my students. The growth measure made learning real for students as they saw their reading levels steadily increase throughout the year. But I couldn’t rely on growth measures alone. The proficiency measure provided that benchmark to help me know what level fourth grade students should be able to perform at by the end of the year. Without this, I could not have identified the achievement gaps in my classroom and would also not have been able to communicate these to the parents of my students. After understanding the difference between growth and proficiency indicators and how to use the data from each to inform my instruction as a teacher, I do not think that it is a matter of one being more important than the other, but rather both working together to paint a more holistic picture of student learning.

data tracker picture

Filed under: Accountability,Assessments,CPE,Testing — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 3:28 pm





October 25, 2017

The new gender gap

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has focused a lot of its efforts into analyzing the science data portion of the most recent round of the international comparative assessment known as PISA.  In particular, they analyzed some of the gender differences that were found related to sciences.  The conclusion that many could come to when looking at the general data from the assessment is the gender gap has closed significantly in the sciences. The OECD average science score for boys in 2015 was 495 and girls was 491, resulting in a mere 4 point gender gap.  Another indicator to assess the gender gap in science is the percent of boys versus girls expecting to work in a science related field.  The OECD average for boys is 25% and girls is 23.9%.  The United States has a different gender gap with 33% of boys and 43% of girls expecting to enter a career related to science. These data points give a false sense that the gender gap in science no longer exists.  However, with deeper analysis it is clear that the gap is still very present but now is no longer about whether girls are interested in the general concept of science but which areas within science each gender finds more interesting.

The OECD broke down science-related fields into five categories to see if girls were more dominant than boys in certain types of sciences, which is exactly what they found.  For example, 14.4% of girls compared to 5.9% of boys expect to work as a health care professional.  It is important to note that this title includes professions ranging from nurses to surgeons, since nursing tends to be a heavily female profession.

gender gap graph 1

The opposite was true for the engineering and natural science fields.  According to the OECD average, boys were 2.4 times more likely to enter these fields compared to girls.  The gap was even wider for the United States where boys are 3.3 times more likely to enter the engineering field than girls.  This clearly show that a gap persists depending on the type of science- related profession a student wishes to enter.

gender gap graph 2

The third point that I want to highlight is the difference in “enjoyment of science”.  As you can see from the graph below, boys report higher than average enjoyment on all questions about learning general science.  Girls, on the other hand, report lower than average enjoyment on all questions.  When people enjoy learning about a subject, they tend to look for more opportunities to gain exposure. This is very concerning for girls, because while they may dominate in select science related professions, they do not enjoy learning about science as much as boys.  The OECD gave recommendations to help girls see the fun in science at home and at school.  Simple activities like encouraging girls to read nonfiction, which is read by significantly more boys, is one example of introducing girls to the interesting explorative side of sciences.

gedner gap graph 3

This shows how important it is to dig deeper into data and information about gender gaps to see where disparities lie.  With deeper analysis, the gender gap is undeniable and shows that boys and girls still view science very differently.  While the gender gap persists in the United States, it is obvious that it is an international problem that many nations are trying to solve.  This is an area where policy makers could look to their international peers to devise and test different solutions since it is a universal problem that everyone is trying to solve.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,science — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 11:11 am





October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.

hanscom-new-rethinkrecess-istock

As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.






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