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June 27, 2017

The importance of social and emotional learning Part II: PISA results

The most recent report from PISA 2015 results is about findings regarding how the United States compares to other countries on social emotional learning.  These questions were answered by 15-year-old students based on their home and school life.

OECDSELThe first question was about general life satisfaction of the students.  The students from the United States were close to the OECD average for all 72 countries involved.  One interesting note was some of the higher performing countries, like South Korea, reported very low levels of life satisfaction among their students.  On the other hand, students in Northern European countries, like the Netherlands and Finland, reported the highest levels of life satisfaction.  These European countries were also some of the best academic performers with above average scores, although less than some East Asian nations. Researchers found students feel higher levels of life satisfaction when they report meeting friends after school, having the support of teachers and parents and engaging in physical activity.

Another indicator that they measured was bullying.  Students answered questions about a range of different types of bullying they may experience in school and how often this occurs.  Compared to other countries, the US students reported slightly more bullying than average.  One characteristic that helped lower the bullying rate in a school was when students reported that they felt their school had a strong disciplinary climate.

The third indicator the OECD gathered data on was school anxiety.  Students in the United States reported feeling more anxious about doing well in school, taking tests and preparing for exams than most other countries.  This is interesting because the United States is actually tested less than most other countries, and the tests students take here do not have as significant of consequences as those in other countries.  So the question is, why are our students so stressed?

While there are many factors that go into answering this question, researchers found that one reason could be tied to student motivation.  The students in the US reported some of the highest levels of motivation compared to other countries.  95% of said they “want to be the best, whatever [they] do” compared to the 65% OECD average and 85% said they “want to be one of the best students in [their] class” compared to the 59% OECD average.  While high student motivation is a good thing for student achievement, the types of motivation seen by students in the US could be related to higher anxiety levels.  US students have a competitive motivation.  It is more extrinsic than intrinsic where they want to do well to get into a good college or get good grades, rather than having intrinsic motivation to do well because they are interested in the subject.  Researchers could not confirm a causal relationship but they found that intrinsic motivation is related with lower levels of anxiety and extrinsic with higher levels.  So while it is great that students want to do well in school, it is important to know that reasons behind this desire to succeed.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,PISA,research,SEL — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 8:00 am





June 8, 2017

How do high performing education systems in other countries prepare and develop their teachers?

Earlier this week, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released its report, Empowered Educators, which examined international research on teacher professional development and preparation.  Lead by renowned education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, the research team reviewed systems in Finland, Singapore, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Alberta and Ontario in Canada, and Shanghai as guides for exceptional examples for empowering teachers.  After reviewing all the systems, there were four common elements:

1. Solid Base in Technical and Pedagogical Knowledge

In Finland, teacher candidates are required to complete a degree in at least one academic subject.  Then they continue onto a graduate level program where they learn pedagogic methods to teach their subject to K-12 aged students.  Darling-Hammond also noted that in some of these systems that were studied, the number of teacher certification programs is significantly lower than the U.S. model, emphasizing quality over quantity.  In Finland, there are only 8 programs that are housed in research universities and in Singapore there is just one.

2.  Teachers are Researchers

Teachers in Singapore are required to conduct research every year in their schools.  Teachers work in groups on a research projects that are then presented to the universities.  Many of the research projects are published in academic journals and top teacher researchers receive awards for their work.  In Shanghai, classroom teachers are also required to do research in their schools which often gets published.  In both systems teachers are given ample time in their school day to work on their projects, resulting in less time devoted to classroom instruction compared to the average American teacher.

3. Mentoring

In Finland, teacher candidates spend a large part of their university teacher preparation programs in model schools.  These schools are tied to the university and are staffed with very skilled master teachers that coach and model research based teaching practices.  In some cases, mentoring programs are extended to the first and second year teachers to continue to help them better their teaching practice.

4. Career Ladders

Shanghai and Singapore have created formal career ladders for teacher to advance through the profession.  Teachers each have an individual plan based on their long-term aspirations of continuing in the classroom, becoming an administrator or a becoming a policy leader.  These systems recognize that relevant professional development looks different for each level of teacher on the career ladder, and can tailor the sessions so that they have the biggest impact.  The formal labels recognize excellent teachers by labeling the top level as master teachers, and give classroom teachers a title to aspire towards.

All the systems studied implemented these four basic principles in some form.  They took research based ideas and manipulated them to fit within their local context.  The policies may not be able to be explicitly copied from one country or state to another due to the vast cultural and contextual differences, but the sharing of successful ideas can create a generally more informed policy.   Now the question is, how can the United States use these ideas to take our teachers to the next level?

 






December 12, 2016

U.S. Students have Strong Showing on International Math Assessment

We recently released an analysis of PISA scores, which showed disparities in achievement across student groups and mostly stagnant scores.  However, the U.S. had a better showing on another international benchmark, the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).  TIMSS is different from PISA in that it assesses more classroom-based content, whereas PISA is more of an assessment of how students can apply skills learned in the classroom to real-world problems.  TIMSS assesses 4th and 8th graders, while PISA assesses 15 year olds, regardless of grade.

In 2015, TIMSS assessed 49 countries in 4th grade math, 47 countries in 4th grade science, and 39 countries in 8th grade math and science.

Students were assessed in math and science, but today we’ll just take a look at the math scores.

4th Grade Math

U.S. 4th graders scored 14th out of 49 countries, with performance that was statistically lower than only 10 countries and similar to eight countries, including Finland.  They also scored 10th highest in the number of students who scored at the advanced level (levels are low, intermediate, high, and advanced).  The percentage of students reaching high or advanced levels have increased steadily since the test was first administered in 1995.  Students showed greater strength in numerical functions, but had deficits in geometric shapes and measures.  They also scored higher in knowledge-based questions than items based on the application of knowledge to a problem and reasoning.TIMMS4th

8th Grade Math

U.S. 8th graders were 10th out of 39 countries, with seven countries having statistically higher scores and nine countries having similar scores.  Eighth graders also had the 10th highest number of students who scored at the advanced level, which has been steadily increasing since 1995.  Students were significantly stronger in Algebra than they were in 2007 or 2011.  Similar to 4th graders, 8th grade students were stronger at knowledge-based questions than application or reasoning questions, despite showing improvement in all three categories since 2007.

TIMMS8th

Demographic Factors

Schools with fewer students from affluent families and more students from disadvantaged families performed at lower levels than more affluent schools, showing that the U.S. still has much work to do to achieve academic equity.  Note that demographic data is reported by principals.

TIMMS3

Schools with more native English speakers perform better than schools with greater numbers of students learning English in both 4th and 8th grades.  Schools with teacher-reported lack of resources and problems with school conditions also fared worse.  Students who felt that they fit in, or belonged, at school had higher achievement.

Other Contributing Factors

The U.S. is in the bottom half of countries on measures of teacher satisfaction.  Higher levels of teacher satisfaction in their schools is mildly correlated with higher student performance.  Teachers who reported having greater challenges, such as large classes or administrative tasks, actually had higher student achievement than those who reported few challenges.

International Data

Gender gaps still tend to favor boys across the globe, though in some countries girls outperform boys.  Interestingly, 8th grade girls in 21 countries outperformed boys in Algebra, though boys outperformed girls in number-based problems in 17 countries.

TIMMS1Source: http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/achievement-in-content-and-cognitive-domains/

As debate continues about early childhood education in the U.S., the data from other countries is quite convincing that students who have formal education before entering the K-12 system outperform those who do not.  This data does not include the U.S.

TIMMS2

Source: http://timss2015.org/timss-2015/mathematics/home-environment-support/

We still have work to do, but TIMSS shows us that improvement has been slow and steady for U.S. students.

Filed under: Assessments,CPE,International Comparisons,TIMSS — Tags: , , — Chandi Wagner @ 4:07 pm





December 7, 2016

PISA scores remain stagnant for U.S. students

The results of the latest PISA or the Program for International Student Assessment are in and as usual, we have an interpretation of the highlights for you.

If you recall, PISA is designed to assess not just students’ academic knowledge but their application of that knowledge and is administered to 15-year-olds across the globe every three years by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in coordination with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each iteration of the PISA has a different focus and the 2015 version honed in on science, though it also tested math and reading proficiency among the roughly half-million teens who participated in this round. So, how did American students stack up?

In short, our performance was average in reading and science and below average in math, compared to the 35 other OECD member countries.  Specifically, the U.S. ranked 19th in science, 20th in reading and 31st in math. But PISA was administered in countries beyond OECD members and among that total group of 70 countries and education systems (some regions of China are assessed as separate systems), U.S. teens ranked 25th in science, 22nd in reading, and 40th in math.  Since 2012, scores were basically the same in science and reading, but dropped 11 points in math.

PISA Science

Before you get too upset over our less-than-stellar performance, though, there are a few things to take into account.  First, scores overall have fluctuated in all three subjects.  Some of the top performers such as South Korea and Finland have seen 20-30 point drops in math test scores from 2003 to 2015 at the same time that the U.S. saw a 13 point drop.  Are half of the countries really declining in performance, or could it be a change in the test, or a change in how the test corresponds with what and how material is taught in schools?

Second, the U.S. has seen a large set of reforms over the last several years, which have disrupted the education system.  Like many systems, a disruption may cause a temporary drop in performance, but eventually stabilize.  Many teachers are still adjusting to teaching the Common Core Standards and/or Next Generation Science Standards; the 2008 recession caused shocks in funding levels that we’re still recovering from; many school systems received waivers from No Child Left Behind which substantially change state- and school-level policies.  And, in case you want to blame Common Core for lower math scores, keep in mind that not all test-takers live in states that have adopted the Common Core, and even if they do, some have only learned under the new standards for a year or two.  Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA test for the OECD, predicts that the Common Core Standards will eventually yield positive results for the U.S., but that we must be patient.

Demographics

Student scores are correlated to some degree with student poverty and the concentration of poverty in some schools.  Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to perform poorly than advantaged students.  Schools with fewer than 25 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch (about half of all students nationwide are eligible) would be 2nd in science, 1st in reading, and 11th in math out of all 70 countries.  At the other end of the spectrum, schools with at least 75 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 44th in science, 42nd in reading, and 47th in math.  Compared only to OECD countries, high-poverty schools would only beat four countries in science, four countries in reading, and five in math.

Score differences for different races in the U.S. show similar disparities.

How individual student groups would rank compared to the 70 education systems tested:

Science Reading Math
White 5th 4th 20th
Black 49th 44th 51st
Hispanic 40th 37th 44th
Asian 8th 2nd 20th
Mixed Race 19th 20th 38th

 

Equity

Despite the disparities in opportunity for low-income students, the number of low-income students who performed better than expected increased by 12 percentage points since 2006, to 32 percent.  The amount of variation attributable to poverty decreased from 17 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2015, meaning that poverty became less of a determining factor in how a student performed.

Funding

America is one of the largest spenders on education, as we should be, given our high per capita income.  Many have bemoaned that we should be outscoring other nations based on our higher spending levels, but the reality is that high levels of childhood poverty and inequitable spending often counteract the amount of money put into the system.  For more info on this, see our previous blogpost.






September 7, 2016

Do we get what we pay for?

The U.S. spends more to educate its students than most of the other 35 countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), yet by some measures we don’t seem to get much benefit from our expenditures.  Is this a fair accusation?

Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, on behalf of the Albert Shanker Institute, posit that it’s not.  When you take into account America’s high per-capita GDP, high child-poverty rate, and expenses that school systems in other OECD member countries don’t have to cover in the same way (employee health care, pensions, and disability, not to mention school sports), maybe we’re not doing so poorly, after all.

If you define school efficiency as being the best production (we’ll examine this using the results from PISA, which are international assessments administered by OECD) then based on the amount of money spent, we aren’t too far below the average (For per-pupil spending of about $12,000, we should have slightly higher PISA scores, if we had average efficiency.)

Efficiency1

When you take per-capita GDP into account, we’re pretty close to where we should be on spending levels (if you draw a best-fit line through the dots, we would be close to that line).

Efficiency2

When you take our high child-poverty rate into account, our PISA scores look pretty stellar (given how far above the line we are).  Obviously, this excuse is still frustrating, as we also need to address why we have so many children in relative poverty.

Efficiency3

What we can learn from this, however, is that some states do better than others.  States with high rates of child poverty also tend to have lower per-pupil spending, giving them less capacity to help the students who most need it.  We should look at what Massachusetts and New Jersey are doing with their dollars in comparison to Hawaii or West Virginia to determine education policies (though, of course, these states all have very different contexts).

Efficiency4

The other insight in this report is that the U.S. spends relatively less on teacher salaries than other countries.  So, if we were to address inefficiencies in our system, it would need to be on administration, buildings, and transportation.  Small schools, especially rural schools, are more expensive to run than schools in more densely populated areas due to increased per-pupil administrative and transportation costs.  Schools still need a principal and a custodian, whether there are 50 students or 500 students.  Charter schools and districts also tend to be less efficient, as they are typically smaller, incurring greater costs for administration.

Efficiency5

So, are we getting enough bang for our buck?  Maybe.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons — Tags: , , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 2:30 am





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