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July 3, 2014

Remembering a beloved writer

Earlier this week, contemporary literature lost one of its brightest stars. Walter Dean Myers was the author of over 100 books, recipient of multiple honors including two Newberys and three National Book award nominations. His books were especially popular with middle-school readers, many of whom read them first in English class. Myers died at the age of 76 on Tuesday, July 1 following a brief illness.

Myers primarily wrote about young characters for young readers, but his themes could hardly be described as adolescent. Often drawing from his own youth in Harlem, he told stories of youngsters’ struggles to grow up in an environment where crime, poverty and the specter of racism were constant companions to the events. As the New York Times put it, Myers wrote about “teenagers trying to make the right choices when the wrong ones were so much easier.”

A confession: I was dragged kicking and screaming to my first Myers’ book. I was — and to large degree still am — an insufferable snob when it comes to young adult fiction. The way I see it, the world has an abundance of good “real” literature that is easily accessible to young readers. Why pander to them with a dumbed down substitute? (Which I still maintain describes the bulk of the genre.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of good educators out there who don’t share my snobbery. I worked with one such person during a time when my job involved helping teams of teachers align their instruction to state standards. My colleague and I were bound for the west coast where he was going to demonstrate model lessons, including a multi-part unit based on Myers’ best-seller, Monster. He insisted I read the book first. So I started the book on the plane from D.C. with about the same enthusiasm as one approaches a root canal. I did not look up again until I finished it long before the Rockies.

Boy, was I surprised! Yes, in terms of character and plot, the book clearly shows its appeal to younger readers. Monster tells the story of a teenage boy who is on trial for a murder he may or may not have been guilty of. Told as part-memoir, part-news account, part-screenplay, the book is incredibly sophisticated, structurally complex and contains enough ambiguity to provide chum for the most discerning bookshark. Myers may have young people in mind when he writes, but the themes and the critical demands he places on the reader place him among our more innovative story-tellers.

I can see why teachers like to use his texts in their classrooms. His books provide so many riches to be mined in class discussions. They elicit many reactions. Moreover, they are open to very different, but equally valid interpretations based on the evidence in Myers’ text. As such, Myers not only relates to teenagers on their terms, he provides them with the stuff to help them develop into strong, critical readers and analysts.

Myers leaves many fans, young and old alike, who, I’m sure, will assure his legacy for many years to come. – Patte Barth

 

Filed under: High school,instruction,Middle school,Reading — Tags: , , — Patte Barth @ 2:44 pm





December 19, 2013

Urban districts improving faster than the average public school but still lag behind

Yesterday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the sixth installment of the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), which reports on the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders on NAEP reading and mathematics in 21 participating urban districts. Results show that our nation’s urban districts have made gains that have outpaced the average public school— yet students in large urban districts still perform significantly below the average student nationwide.

It is important to point out that the gains being made are not shared by all urban districts. Some urban districts have made more dramatic gains than others. For example, Washington, DC made impressive gains both recently and in the long term. In three of the four grades and subjects that NEAP assessed, DC students acquired nearly an additional two years worth of learning than a decade ago. Large gains were also made in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego since 2003. However, out of these large gaining districts, only San Diego performed as well as the national average in at least one grade and subject area. Charlotte, on the other hand, has made moderate gains but still outperformed the national average on all assessments except for 8th grade reading. Austin outperformed the national average as well in 4th grade math and Hillsborough (FL) outperformed the national average in 4th grade reading.

Despite significant gains made by some districts, the report also indicates the gains made by urban districts may be subsiding. Fewer participating districts made significant gains between 2011 and 2013 than between 2009 and 2011. Taken together, schools in large cities continued to improve between 2011 and 2013, just not as strongly as in previous years.  In order to meet or even beat the national average, students attending schools in large urban districts had to literally outdo themselves.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet on how to accelerate such gains. Some of the highest gaining districts were governed by elected school boards while others were under mayoral control. Some have charter schools while others do not. Some instituted high-stakes teacher evaluation systems while others have not. Some are in states that have implemented the Common Core State Standards while others are not. From this report alone it is not possible to determine what attributed to dramatic gains. What school boards need to do is examine what changes high gaining districts may have made and determine if such changes would be beneficial to their districts

The Findings

4th Grade Reading

  • Washington DC (5 points) and Los Angeles (4 points) were the only surveyed districts to make significant gains on their reading scores between 2011 and 2013.  During this same time period there was no significant increase in scores nationally.
    • Houston was the only district to see a significant decrease in scores (-5 points) between 2011 and 2013.
  • Atlanta (18 points) and Washington, D.C. (17 points) made the greatest gains from 2003 to 2013. Such increases are roughly equivalent to about a year and half worth of learning.
    • Cleveland was the only district to post a significant decline (-6 points) between 2003 and 2013.
  • Austin (TX), Charlotte (NC), Hillsborough County (FL), and San Diego scored higher than the average for large cities* (cities of populations of 250,000 or more).
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above proficient varied dramatically among urban districts from 40 percent in Hillsborough County and Charlotte to just 7 percent in Detroit.

8th Grade Reading

  • Five districts significantly increased their scores from 2011 to 2013, with Washington, DC posting the greatest gains with an 8 point improvement.  During this same time period, students nationally increased their scores by just 2 points.
    • From 2003 to 2013, only Atlanta (15 points), Los Angeles (15 points) and San Diego (10 points) made significant gains in their performance.
    • Cleveland was the only district to post a significant decline in their scores (-2 points) between 2003 and 2013.
  • Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), and Houston scored higher than the average for large cities. No district had a significant decrease in scores between 2011 and 2013.
  • Just as in the fourth grade, the percent of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2013.
  • The range of students scoring at or above proficient was nearly as wide as it was at the fourth-grade level. Charlotte had the highest percentage at 36 percent while Detroit once again had the lowest at just 9 percent.

4th Grade Math

  • Washington, DC (7 points), Chicago (7 points), Los Angeles (5 points), and Atlanta (5 points) were the only districts to significantly increase their scores from 2011 to 2013. During this same time period, the national average rose by 1 point.
  •  Washington, D.C. made the greatest gains from 2003 to 2013 by increasing their score 24 points which equates to nearly two and half years of learning. Boston and Atlanta had the next highest gains with 17 points. Such increases are roughly equivalent to about a year and half worth of learning.
    • Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, and New York City made no significant improvements during this time period.
  • Six urban districts scored higher than the 2013 average for students attending schools in large cities. In 2011, eight districts outperformed the national average.
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 20 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient varied dramatically among urban districts, from 50 percent in Charlotte to just 4 percent in Detroit.

8th Grade Math

  • Three districts (Washington, DC, Fresno, and Charlotte significantly increased their scores from 2011 to 2013. On the other hand, Cleveland was the only district to see a significant decline in their scores (-6 points) during this time period.
  • From 2003 to 2013, 7 out of 10 districts made significant gains in their performance, with Atlanta (23 points) and Boston (22 points) all making gains roughly equivalent to two years’ worth of additional learning.
    • Charlotte, Cleveland, and New York City were the only districts that didn’t make significant progress during this time period.
  • Four urban districts (Austin, Charlotte, Hillsborough County (FL), and Jefferson County (KY) scored higher than the 2013 average for students attending schools in large cities.
  • The percentage of students in large cities scoring at or above the Proficient achievement level increased from 16 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2013.
  • The percentage of students scoring at or above proficient varied just as it did at the fourth grade level. Charlotte had the highest percentage at 40 percent, while Detroit once again had the lowest percentage at just 3 percent.

*All cities in the nation with populations of 250,000 or more.

2013TUDATable1

TUDA Table 2

For more information on NAEP check outThe Proficiency Debate: How NAEP Achievement Levels are Defined






November 7, 2013

U.S. Students Make Improvements in Math, According to NAEP

According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 4th and 8th graders scored higher in math on the assessment than in any other year. The average score increases at both levels increased by 1 point since 2011.  More students than ever in 4th grade reached the Proficient and Advanced levels and more students than ever in 8th grade reached the Proficient level.  Achievement has consistently been on the rise since 1990 — so much so that 4th and 8th graders today are 2 to 3 years ahead in math than their counterparts two decades ago.

It should be noted, however, that increases have lagged since 2003. The national average for 4th graders has improved by 29 points since 1990. Only 7 of those 29 points, however, have been made in the past 10 years. A similar trend is true for 8th graders. The past ten years is only responsible for 7 of the 22 points gained in the past 23 years.

 

The Findings

Fourth Grade State Level

  • At the state level, scores increased between 2011 and 2013 in fifteen states (Arizona, District of Columbia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
    • No state saw a decrease in its average 4th grade mathematics score.
  • Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire were the highest performing states, while the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Mississippi were the lowest performing.
  • In terms of minority achievement, Black students in North Dakota scored higher than Black students in any other state. Hispanic students in Indiana scored higher than Hispanic students in any other state.

Fourth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased by 1 point between 2011 and 2013.
    • Student achievement in math has increased by 29 points (3 year’s worth of learning) since 1990, the 1st year of NAEP. 
  • The percent of fourth-graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level has more than tripled since 1990 (13 percent in 1990 vs. 42 percent in 2013).
    • Moreover, the percent of fourth-graders scoring below NAEP’s Basic level has decreased from 50 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011.
  • Since 2011, achievement gaps widened slightly for White and Black students. The gap narrowed for White and Hispanic Students.
    • The Black/White achievement gaps narrowed from 25 points to 26 points, while the Hispanic/White gap narrowed from 20 points to 19 points. Blacks remain a little less than 3 years behind Whites, while Hispanics are about 2 years behind.
    • Furthermore, since 2003, the Black/White achievement gap has only decreased by 1 point. The Hispanic/White gap has shrunk by 3 points in that time.

Eighth Grade State Level

  • At the eighth grade level, 6 states improved their scores between 2011 and 2013, while Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota saw a decline. 
  • Massachusetts continues to post the highest eighth grade math scores, with New Jersey, Minnesota and Vermont close behind. The District of Columbia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico scored the lowest.
  • Black eighth graders in Massachusetts outperformed Black eighth graders in all other states. Hispanic students in New Jersey outperformed Hispanics in all other states

Eighth Grade National Level

  • Nationally, scores increased one point from 2011 to 2013. However, students in 2013 have obtained about two more years’ worth of math than students in 1990.
  • The percent of students reaching NAEP’s proficient level has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1990 to 35 percent in 2013. The percent scoring below NAEP’s Basic level decreased from 48 percent to 26 during the same time period.
  • At the eighth grade level, achievement gaps between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics did not change from 2011 to 2013.
    • In 1990, the Black/White gap was 33 points. It rose to 40 in 2000 and has since shrunk down to 31. The Hispanic/White gap started at 24 points in 1990, increased to 31 in 2000 and decreased to 22 in 2013.
    • The Black/White gap has not significantly changed since 2005. The Hispanic gap has not changed since 2009.

For more information on NAEP, check out the Center’s report The Proficiency Debate: A guide to NAEP achievement levels.

 

 






December 11, 2012

U.S. 4th graders make great gains in math and reading

U.S. 4th graders catapulted into the Top 5 on the international reading rankings by making greater gains than any other country between 2006 and 2011. The U.S. also made significant gains in 4th grade math scores but only moved up one spot in the international rankings. Unfortunately, similar progress was not made in 8th grade math or science at either the 4th or 8th grades according to two new NCES reports on international assessments, Highlights from TIMSS 2011 and Highlights from PIRLS 2011.

These latest reports on international comparison shows that the U.S. is heading in the right direction in reading, math, and science but still has a way to go to catch up to high performing Asian counterparts. While students in Asian countries significantly outperform the students in the U.S. as a whole, students in such states as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida rank among the world leaders. Furthermore, Asian students in the U.S. perform nearly as well as students in high performing Asian countries while our black students only perform as well as students in the lowest performing countries. This indicates that it is possible for our public schools to rank among the world leaders if all schools were given the resources needed to provide all students a high quality public education.

Summary of the result provided below.

PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study): Assessed the reading ability of 4th graders in 53 countries. PIRLS has been given every 5 years since 2001.

TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study): Assessed the math and science knowledge of 4th and 8th graders in 57 countries at the 4th grade level and 56 countries in 8th grade. TIMSS has been given every four years since 1995.                                                                 

 

The findings

Fourth Grade Reading

  • On PIRLS, just 4 countries outperformed the U.S. in 2011. U.S students (556) outperformed the likes of Canada, Italy, Germany, and Norway. In 2006, the U.S. was outperformed by 10 countries.
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the U.S. score increased 16 points. Such increase was the third largest during this time period.
  • Only Singapore (24 percent) had a significantly higher proportion of 4th graders reach the Advanced achievement level in reading than the U.S. (17 percent).
  • No country outperformed Florida (569) fourth graders in 2011. Florida’s score was not significantly different from world leaders Hong Kong (571), Russia (568), Finland (568), and Singapore (567) but higher than every other participating country.

Fourth Grade Mathematics

  • On TIMSS, U.S. fourth graders (541) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well as or better than all but 7 participating countries in 2011, an improvement from 2007 and 2003 when the U.S. was outperformed by 8 and 11 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have risen 12 points since 2007 and a total of 23 points since 1995. Just 7 countries have made greater gains since 2007 and 5 since 1995
  • North Carolina (554) was outperformed by only 5 countries while Florida (545) was outperformed by just 6 countries.

Eighth Grade Mathematics

  • At the eighth grade level, U.S. students performed (509) above the international average (500). Just 6 countries scored significantly higher than the U.S. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. was outperformed by 5 and 9 countries respectively. 
  • U.S. scores have risen 17 points since 1995. Only 3 countries made greater gains during this time period. The U.S. made greater gains than such high performing countries as Singapore (2 points) and Japan (-11). The U.S. did not make any significant gains between 2007 and 2011.
  • U.S. states score among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (561) scored among the world leaders and similar to Japan (570). While Alabama (466) scored below the international average and similarly to Armenia.
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while Alabama and California scored below.

Fourth Grade Science

  • On TIMSS, U.S. students performed (544) above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 6 countries in 2011. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. were outperformed by 4 and 3 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have remained relatively unchanged since 2007 and 1995.
  • Fifteen percent of U.S. students scored at the Advanced achievement level. Only three other countries had a greater percentage.
  • Both Florida (545) and North Carolina (538) performed similarly to the U.S. average.

Eighth Grade Science

  • At the eighth grade level, the U.S. (525) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 8 countries as was the case in 2007. In 2003 U.S. students were outperformed by 7 countries.
  • Although U.S. scores increased 5 points since 2007, the increase was not statistically significant. The U.S. has gained 12 points since 1995. Only 5 countries made greater gains during this time period.
  • As in math, U.S. states scored among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (567) was only outperformed by the global leader Singapore (590) and Minnesota (553) performed similarly to Finland (552). While Alabama (485) scored below the international average and similarly to Turkey (483).
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while California scored similar to the international average and Alabama scored below.

Additional information about how the U.S. compares internationally

More than a horse race: A guide to international assessments 
Time in School: How the U.S. compares
Getting Back to the Top: An international comparison of college attainment






July 16, 2012

Many Students Do Not Feel Challenged

Student feedback from surveys can be a very useful tool for school administration and policy makers.  Recent reports from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation discovered that student feedback was a better predictor of a teachers’ performance than some traditional indicators.  Now that we have evidence on the practical uses of student surveys, we can gain quite a bit of insight about what they are learning in school, and their attitudes.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress using national survey data shows that many students don’t feel that they are being challenged in school.  Consider these results:

  • 37 percent of fourth-graders say their math is too easy
  • 72 percent of eighth grade science students say they aren’t being taught engineering and technology
  • Among 12thgrade high school students
    • 21 percent said their math was often or always too easy
    • 56 percent and 55 percent respectively thought their civics and history classes were too easy

This data might only show that many students perceive their classes as being too easy.  It certainly doesn’t prove anything about our classrooms.  I do think though it is a useful counter to those who think we are making school too hard for students and consequently losing their interest in subjects like math or science. – Kasey Klepfer

Filed under: Course taking,Homework,instruction,Middle school,Public education — KKlepfer @ 12:17 pm





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