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May 7, 2014

U.S. 12th-graders make small gains on national assessment

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics and reading for our nation’s 12th graders.  While the nation as a whole has seen significant improvements at the 4th and 8th grade levels, the same improvement has yet to show up at the end of high school. In neither math nor reading did scores significantly change from 2009—the last time 12th grade NAEP was administered. However, scores in math are higher than they were in 2005—the furthest back math scores can be compared. On the other hand, reading scores have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade and were slightly lower than in 1992—the first year the reading assessment was administered.

It is important to keep in mind that results for our 12th graders are dependent on how many students remained in school. Unlike at 4th and 8th grades where students are required to be in school, at the 12th grade level most students have the option of dropping out. When our high schools retain a larger proportion of students it could impact the results. This indeed may be the case as it was reported last week that our national graduation rate is at an all-time high of 80 percent– with a significant improvement since 2006. So it is possible that scores would have been higher if graduation rates remained near 70 percent as they were for most of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Yet, higher graduation rates can’t fully explain why scores at the 12th grade have basically flat-lined while they have accelerated in earlier grades because scores have not changed much for most student groups. The exception is math where Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students made significant gains from 2005 to 2013 (5, 7, and 10 points respectively) although none of that increase is due to any improvements since 2009. Most scores were relatively unchanged no matter if groups were defined by parent’s highest education level, male or female, or high or low-performer.

What is clear is that those students who took more rigorous courses achieved the highest scores. Those students who took Calculus scored the equivalent to nearly 4 more years worth of learning than students whose highest math course was Algebra II or Trigonometry and nearly 7 more years worth of learning than those students who never completed a course beyond Algebra I. In reading, those students who say they discuss reading interpretations nearly every day achieve the equivalent to nearly two years worth of learning over students who rarely discuss reading interpretations.

Last week’s news about our historic graduation rate is certainly worth celebrating. Schools have also made strides at enrolling more students in high-level courses. But today’s NAEP results show that much more work still needs to be done. Simply earning a high school diploma is not enough. Students need to succeed in rigorous courses in high school to gain the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century labor market.– Jim Hull

 






February 20, 2014

High school graduation rate at an all-time high

NAEPSecretary Duncan proudly wore number 80 on his jersey at the NBA celebrity All-Star game this past weekend— as well he should’ve. It just so happens the number 80 represents one of the best kept secrets in education: our national on-time graduation rate.

This may come as a shock to many as popular perception tends to be the myth that our public schools are flatlining. But the facts show otherwise, as recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show our national on-time graduation rate for our public high schools now stands at 80 percent— an all-time high.  It’s quite an accomplishment considering the rate hovered around 71 percent for much of the 1990s.

And keep in mind, the 80 percent graduation rate represents only those students who earned a standard high school diploma within four years of entering high school so it doesn’t include students who earned a high school equivalency (ex GED) or certificates of completion. Nor does it include those students who took more than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As our report on late high school graduates Better Late Than Never found, including late high school graduates would likely add more than 5 percentage points to the national graduation rate. So the actual national graduation rate is quite likely closer to 90 than 80 percent.

What is even more impressive about these gains is that our high schools are serving an ever more diverse student population. Yet the overall graduation rate increased due to the substantial gains made by minority students. The on-time graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from 64 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2011. During this same time period the on-time graduation rate for black students improved from 61 percent to 67 percent. These are tremendous gains made in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s not overlook the fact that the graduation rate also continued to climb for white students during this same time period (81 to 84 percent).

While these are numbers worth celebrating they also show there is much more work to be done. The attainment gap between minority and white students needs to be closed. While they have narrowed in recent years, the narrowing needs to accelerate so minority students who are just entering school now will have the same chance to graduate as their white classmates.

Of course, simply giving students a diploma will not help them get a job or get into college. So, the diplomas they do receive must represent that fact that these students have completed courses they need to get into and succeed in college or get a quality job after high school. While there is more work to be done to ensure all students leave college and career ready, the data clearly shows our public schools are up the challenge. – Jim Hull






December 2, 2013

10 questions to understanding PISA results

The big day is almost upon us. Tomorrow the results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be released. The rhetoric pertaining to the quality of our public schools is certainly going to be amplified tomorrow, with critics lamenting how the results show our public schools are in dire straits while others will argue the results are meaningless. To help you understand what the PISA results actually signify, the Center for Public Education has answered 10 key questions about what PISA actually measures and what the results mean for our public schools.

1. What is PISA?

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an assessment of reading, math, and science literacy given every three years to 15-year-old students in public and private schools in about 65 countries. The international institution Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) coordinates the development and administration of PISA worldwide while the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducts the assessments in the U.S.

Unlike most state assessments that measure how much knowledge a student has acquired, PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply their knowledge to real-world situations. To measure such skills, the test items on PISA are primarily “constructed response,” meaning the test-taker has to write their answers to the questions, and there are few multiple-choice items. U.S. students typically do not perform as well on open-ended, constructed response items. This is one reason many states are adopting new standards, including the new Common Core State Standards, which are intended to emphasize how well students can solve problems and think critically based on the concepts, topics and procedures they have learned.

2. Why are PISA results important?

PISA is one of the few tools we have to compare the outcomes of high school students internationally.  PISA provides valuable information on how prepared high school students are for postsecondary success whether in the workplace, career training, or higher education.

3. Is the U.S. ranking on PISA negatively impacted because unlike other countries the U.S. educates and tests all its students?

No, this used to be true several decades ago, but is no longer the case. Every industrialized country now educates all their students, including language minority, special needs and low-performing students. Every country that participates in PISA must adhere to strict sampling rules to ensure the country’s results are nationally representative of all 15-year-old students. Indeed, the decision to test secondary students at age 15 was made in part because young people at that age are still subject to compulsory schooling laws in most participating nations, which provides more assurance that PISA will capture the broadest sample.

4. Where does the U.S. really rank on PISA?

In 2009, 30 countries had higher mathematics scores than the U.S. but just 23 of these countries significantly outperformed the U.S. Because only a sample of each nation’s students participate in PISA, much like political polls, each country’s score has a margin of error. This means that the score is actually an estimate of how the country would perform if every 15-year-old took PISA. In science, 21 countries had higher scores than the U.S., but only 18 scored significantly higher; in reading, while 16 countries scored higher, just nine countries significantly outperformed the U.S.

OECD reports statistically significant differences in performance between nations, which is a more accurate way to look at PISA rankings than a straight listing of average scores.

5. Does PISA measure the effectiveness of public school systems?

Not completely, for three reasons: 1) PISA results are representative of the performance of all 15-year-olds in participating countries including those  attending private schools; 2) PISA makes no attempt to isolate schools from outside factors such as poverty or high proportions of non-native language speakers that may have an impact on  performance —such factors are important to include in the mix when evaluating the effectiveness of each country’s schools; and 3) No single measure can incorporate every outcome we expect from our public schools. To gain a better perspective of the overall effectiveness of educational systems, you should consider multiple measures. NSBA’s Center for Public Education’s Data First Data Center is a good resource to get you started when examining public schools in the U.S.

6. How does the U.S. stack up on other international measures?

The U.S. fares much better on other international assessments.  U.S. 4th and 8th graders performed among the top 10 countries in both math and science on the most recent Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, which was administered to more than 60 countries (TIMSS, 2011). Moreover, only four countries outperformed U.S. 4th graders in reading on the 2011 Progress on International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Finally, U.S. students led the world in civics in 1999, the last year the CivEd was given. As of 2009, the nation’s 15-year-old students did not compare as well on PISA, especially in math and science. However, the U.S. performed better in reading by scoring among the “top 10.”

7. Has the U.S. shown improvement on PISA?

The U.S. saw a slight improvement in math scores between 2006 and 2009. It wouldn’t be surprising if such gains continued in 2012 as U.S. high school students continue to take more rigorous math courses. It is important to point out that the U.S. has demonstrated improvements on other measures since PISA was first given in 2000. U.S. 4th and 8th graders made among the greatest gains in math between 1995 and 2011 on TIMSS. The U.S. also made dramatic gains in on-time graduation rates by improving from 67 percent in 2000 to 75 percent in 2010 according to Education Week. Even on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), U.S. 4th and 8th graders have shown significant progress between 2000 and 2013, although high school students are not showing the same gains. The lack of progress on PISA appears to be the exception rather than the rule in terms of international comparisons.

8. How should the results be used?

We need to get beyond seeing PISA as a horse race by fixating on whether the U.S. finishes in win, place, or show. Instead, we need to see PISA results as an opportunity to assess if best practices in teaching and learning in other countries can also work for secondary schools here in the U.S. For example, we should  look at how much time other countries give teachers for professional development, how much they pay their teachers, how much time teachers spend in the classroom, how much flexibility exists at the local level, how special needs students are taught, and how much time students spend in school. Answers to these and others questions could be instructive for U.S. educators and policymakers. While PISA gives us an opportunity to learn from other countries it is important to keep in mind that just because a high-performing or high-gaining country does something does not mean it will work in U.S. schools.

9. Does poverty affect the U.S. performance on PISA more than in other countries?

Many analysts observe that poverty has a greater impact on student performance in the U.S. than elsewhere. For one thing, the U.S. has the highest child poverty rates among industrialized countries. For another, students in the U.S. who live in poverty tend to have less access to resources that research consistently shows impact student achievement, including highly effective teachers, access to rigorous curriculum, and high quality pre-k programs. Yet, poverty is just one of several factors that affect the standing of the U.S. In comparing the performance of top students around the world—where poverty is likely less of a factor—America’s top students still do not compare well to their peers in other countries. For example, in 2009 19 countries’ top students (scoring in the top 10 percent) outperformed the U.S.’s top students in science on PISA.

10. Are PISA results a precursor of America’s future economic competitiveness?

Our high school graduates’ preparation for postsecondary success certainly has some impact on the future economic competitiveness of the U.S. However, as stated in question 5, PISA is just one measure of high school students’ college and career readiness. In addition, many factors besides K-12 schooling contribute to the economic competitiveness of the U.S. and every other country, including, for example, a country’s monetary and fiscal policies. But for a country to maximize its economic output it needs a well-educated society which would lead to lower unemployment rates and less demand for government services. Stanford University Economist Eric Hanushek estimates that if the U.S. had scored 50 points higher on PISA in 2000 by 2015 GDP would be 4.5 percent higher than currently projected. Such an increase is the equivalent to the total expenditures on U.S. K-12 schools in 2015. Keep in mind, however, this does not mean that if the U.S. doesn’t improve on PISA that GDP will decline when our current high school graduates enter the workforce. However, it does show that education does affect future economic outcomes.






August 21, 2013

Good news, bad news from latest ACT results

ACT results for the Class of 2013 were released today and despite the drop in overall scores, more high school graduates are prepared for college. The decline in scores may be due to the fact for the first time ACT is including students who required accommodations, such as more time to take test, in the overall results as well as the fact that there as a dramatic increase in test-takers because both groups likely consist of a number of lower-performing students.

With that in mind, although scores declined it is important to point out that the percent of graduates considered “college ready” in all four subjects increased, and has been increasing for several years even though many more traditionally disadvantaged graduates are now taking the ACT. This shows our high schools are graduating more students ready to succeed in college.

But the results also show that progress has been slow and uneven between subgroups, requiring schools to double and even triple their efforts in making sure all students are adequately prepared for college-level work. To do so, high schools need to ensure that all students are taking the courses they need to succeed in college. Unfortunately, as CPE’s latest report Out of Sync found, most states do not require the courses students need to succeed in college for students to earn a high school diploma. As more graduates plan on enrolling in college, it is more important than ever that a high school diploma represent a student who is ready for higher education, whether it as a two-year or four-year institution. – Jim Hull

Below is summary of the major findings from the 2013 ACT report

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2013 had an average composite score of 20.9, which was a decrease from the 21.1 from both 2012 and 2009.
    • At this score, an average high school graduate has about a 72 percent chance of getting admitted into a good college.*
  • Scores decreased by two-tenths of a point on the reading (21.1), math (20.9) and science (20.7) tests between 2012 and 2013, while scores on the English (20.2) test declined by three-tenths of a point.
  • Scores declined for every ethnic/racial group.
    • White graduates saw a decrease of two-tenths of a point between 2012 and 2013 (22.4 to 22.2).
    • The average black graduate score was 16.9.0 in 2013, which was one-tenth lower than in 2012 but the same as in 2009.
    • The average Hispanic graduate score was 18.8 in 2013, which was a tenth of point lower than in 2012 but a tenth of a point higher than in 2009.

State Scores

  • Of the 31 states where at least 40 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Minnesota achieved the highest composite score of 23.0.
      • 74 percent of Minnesota graduates took the ACT
    • Idaho, Iowa, and Wisconsin had the next highest scores of 22.1 apiece.
  • Of the nine states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT:
    • Utah had the highest score at 20.7, followed by Illinois (20.6) and Colorado (20.4).
    • Tennessee (19.5), Louisiana (19.5), and North Carolina (18.7) had the lowest scores out of this group.

College Readiness

  • Twenty-six percent of 2013 high school graduates were college ready in all four ACT subject tests (English, Reading, Math, and Science), which is one percentage point increase from 2012 and a 3 percentage point increase from 2009.
    • Of the 31 states that had at least 40 percent of their graduates take the ACT, Minnesota and Michigan were the only state where more than 50 percent of their graduates were college ready in at least three of four subjects.
    • Less than 30 percent of graduates in, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, & Tennessee were college ready in three of four subjects.
    • Graduates who achieve these benchmarks are ready to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses in the specific subjects ACT tests, according to ACT research. “Success” is defined as a 75% likelihood of earning a ‘C’ or better in the relevant course.
  • Black and Hispanic graduates are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.
    • The percent of black graduates meeting all four benchmarks remained at 5 percent between 2012 and 2013 while the percent of Hispanic students increased from 13 to 14 percent.
    • However, these percentages are much lower than the 33 percent of white graduates who met all four benchmarks in 2013 which is up from 32 percent in 2012.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of graduates who scored at or above the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks increased from 31 percent to 36 percent in science, but declined in the other three subject areas.
    • Over the same time period there was an eight percentage point drop in the proportion of graduates who were college-ready in reading (52 to 44 percent), a three percentage point drop in English (67 to 64 percent) and a two percentage point drop in math (46 to 44 percent).

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-four percent of ACT test-takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is down from 76 percent in 2012 but still significantly higher than the 70 percent in 2009.
  • High school graduates who completed a core curriculum earned composite test scores 2.7 to 3.1 points higher than graduates who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A three point increase in an ACT score for an average graduate increases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 72 percent to 81 percent.*
  • Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely to have completed a core curriculum than white graduates.
    • While 76 percent of white graduates complete a core curriculum, just 69 percent of black graduates and 72 percent of Hispanic graduates did so.

Test Takers

  • About 54 percent of all 2013 high graduates took the ACT, compared to 52 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2009.
  • More minority graduates are taking the ACT.
    • In 2013, nearly 28 percent of ACT test-takers were Hispanic or black, compared to 22 percent in 2009.
    • Furthermore, the percentage of test-takers who were white decreased between 2009 and 2013, from 64 percent to 58 percent.

For more information on how to use college entrance exam scores to evaluate your school, check out the Center’s Data First Website.

* Data based on calculations from the Center for Public Education’s Chasing the College Acceptance Letter: Is it harder to get into college.






July 16, 2013

Reforming remedial education

confused student I recently attended an event co-hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum and Complete College America entitled Transforming Remedial Education to Improve Postsecondary Attainment. The discussion provided insight into some of the most progressive reforms to remedial education that are taking place at colleges and universities across the country.

Unfortunately, not every high school graduate is college-ready when walking the stage to receive to receive a diploma. Having worked at a community college, I have a deep understanding of the need for remedial education to provide a starting point for students who face academic gaps upon their graduation from high school. As pointed out by the panelists, Dr. Tristan Denley (Austin Peay State University), Katie Hern (Chabot College), and Dr. Matt Gianneschi (Education Commission of the States), however, today’s remedial education pathway often causes more harm than good for enrolled students.

The following are some of the most startling statistics shared by the panel:

  • Roughly 50-60% of all college students are enrolled in one or more remedial courses each year.
  • Students enrolled in one or more remedial courses are 50% as likely to obtain a college degree as students not enrolled in a remedial course.
  • Thirty percent of students enrolled in a remedial math course are no-shows (never show up to class for the semester for which they are enrolled).
  • In Texas, which enrolls roughly 40,000 students in remedial math courses each year, only one in six students complete a college-level math course in the 3 years following their remedial math course(s).
  • In California community colleges, students of color are disproportionately represented (more than half of all Latino and Black students) in remedial courses at 3 or more levels below college math.

The panelists, moderated by Stan Jones, President of Complete College America, highlighted some of the major obstacles to completion and college-readiness faced by the remedial student population. Based on a joint statement, Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education, the discussants showed how the current remedial system wholly fails to meet the needs of students. Many remedial courses are not aligned with college-level courses, leaving students ill-prepared for success upon completion of their foundational coursework. College readiness assessments (e.g., Accuplacer) are often poor predictors of students’ abilities and may result in a dismal series of unnecessary remedial/non-credit bearing courses.

The descriptions of what each panelist is doing to affect the success of developmental (read: below college-level) students was inspiring and informative. For example, in her role as Director of the California Acceleration Project, Hern guides college faculty and administration through professional development to redesign remedial placement/curricula, the alignment of math remediation with students’ chosen degree pathways (e.g., placing a STEM student on an algebra pathway, while placing a non-STEM on a statistics or liberal arts math pathway), and the provision of single-semester accelerated courses (as opposed to multi-semester courses for students who are several levels below college-readiness).  The participating colleges are showing its benefits for student outcomes, access to college-level courses, and reduced student costs for remedial courses.

At Tennessee’s Austin Peay State University, Dr. Denley has created a system which completely redesigns the ways in which students are placed into remedial and gateway courses. Degree Compass is a course recommendation system which matches students with courses that best fit their talents and program of study, in order to accelerate credit-earning potential and the path to a college degree. The system uses predictive analytics of hundreds of thousands of past students’ grades and transcripts to provide course suggestions for participating students.

These innovative solutions to the present “abyss of remedial education” offer promising alternatives for students who graduate below college-readiness levels. Now it is up to state and local leaders in education to devise and implement the most logical and effective remedial education reforms to meet the needs of students and the community.-Christine Duchouquette






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