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April 30, 2015

Long-Term but No Short-Term Gains in History, Civics, and Geography, According to NAEP

Classroom Observations Yesterday, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the results of the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in History, Civics, and Geography for U.S. 8th graders. Results are provided for the nation as a whole but not for individual states, unlike as they do for the mathematics and reading assessments. Similar to other NAEP assessments, results are given in scale scores (0-500) and achievement levels (Basic, Proficient and Advanced).  Scores are given for overall student performance as well as by race, gender, and income groups.

While scores have remained relatively flat since the last administration in 2010 for each of these subjects, 8th graders in 2014 performed higher than their predecessors a decade or two ago. Much of the growth over the past two decades has been driven by the improving performance of low-performing students. Who for each of the three subjects narrowed the gap between themselves and their high performing peers.

Yet, the same gap narrowing was not typically found when it came to the gap in the percent of black and Hispanic 8th graders reaching NAEP’s Basic Achievement Level relative to their white classmates. While there was some gap narrowing, in most cases gaps have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade or two and those gaps remain quite large in most cases. It is important to keep in mind, though, that because all racial and ethnic groups have improved at relatively the same rate over the past two decades, these racial and ethnic gaps have not significantly changed.

This year’s results may not be worth celebrating but they don’t show any systemic failure either. What they do show is that 8th graders continued to make gradual progress in History, Civics, and Geography over the past two decades despite the increased focus over this time period on math and reading. Unfortunately, there was no significant progress made in recent years. While it could be that improvements will appear in the next iteration of these NAEP assessments, in the meantime policymakers and educators should use these current results to ensure all students are being taught the History, Civics, and Geographic skills they need to obtain a well-rounded education so they can maximize their contribution to society as adults. –Jim Hull

 

The Findings

History

  • Overall scores remained flat since 2010
    • However, 8th graders scored higher in 2014 (267 points) than they did in both 2002 (262 points), and 1994 (259 points).
    • 8th graders are performing nearly a grade level higher in 2014 than they did in 1994.
    • Low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (12 points) between 1994 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile—who gained 4 points.
    • Between 1994 and 2014, 8th graders made significant improvements in three of the four themes assessed—Democracy (13 points), Culture (6 points), and World Role (12 points). They made no significant gains in the Technology theme.
  • There was no change in the percent of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level since 2010 as well.
    • Just 18 percent of 8th graders scored at or above proficient in 2014, which is not significantly different from 2010.
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 (10 percentage points) scored at or above the proficiency level than 8th graders in 1994.
    • Students at this level should be able to incorporate geographic, technological, and other considerations in their understanding of events and should have knowledge of significant political ideas and institutions. They should also be able to communicate ideas about historical themes while citing evidence from primary and secondary sources to support their conclusions.
  • The percent of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Basic level remained flat as well
    • In 2014 71 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the basic level which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010.
    • Yet, just 61 percent of 8th graders in 1994 scored at or above the basic level.
    • Students scoring at or above this level should also have a beginning understanding of the fundamental political ideas and institutions of American life and their historical origins.
  • All racial/ethnic groups made significant improvements but large gaps remain
    • Eighty-four percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level compared to just 47 percent of black 8th graders and 59 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • However, in 1994 just 70 percent of white, 32 percent of black, and 41 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class
    • Eighty percent of 8th graders said they discuss history in their class at least once a week which is no different from 2010.
    • However, 8th graders in 2014 are more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies/videos, use computers at school for history/social studies, listen to information presented online, and use letters, diaries, or essays written by historical people at least once a week.

 

Civics

  • Overall scores remained relatively unchanged
    • Between 2014 and 2010 scores improved by 3 points but the difference was not statistically significant. Meaning the difference could have happened by chance.
    • However, 8th graders in 2014 performed significantly better (4 points) than 8th graders in both 1998 and 2006.
    • Low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (7 points) between 1998 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile— whose scores did not significantly change.
  • There has been no change in the percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above NAEP’s Proficient level since 2010 as well.
    • Less than a quarter (23 percent) of 8th graders scored at or above Proficient in 2014, which has remained relatively the same since 1998.
    • Students at this level should understand and be able to explain the purposes that government should serve, as well as be able to describe events within the United States and other countries that have international consequences.
  • The percent of 8th graders scoring at or above the Basic level remained similar.
    • In 2014, 74 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level, which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010 (72 percent).
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 reached the Basic level than 8th graders in 1998 (70 percent).
    • Students scoring at or above this level should have some understanding of competing ideas about the purpose of government. They should also be able to define government, the Constitution, the rule of law and politics and be able to identify the fundamental principles of American democracy and the documents from which they originated.
  • Gaps exist between white 8th graders and their black and Hispanic classmates.
    • Eighty-six percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level compared to just 55 percent of black 8th graders and 61 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • However, in 1998, 78 percent of white, 49 percent of black, and 44 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
    • White and Hispanic 8th graders had significantly more students reach the Basic level in 2014 than in 1998 (8 and 17 percentage point gains, respectively).
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class.
    • Seventy-nine percent of 8th graders said they discussed civics in their class at least once a week, which is no different from 2010.
    • Eighth graders in 2014 were more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies and use computers at school for social studies.
    • However, they are less likely to discuss current events and take part in role-playing, mock trials, or dramas.

 

Geography

  • Overall scores remain flat.
    • Scores have remained relatively unchanged since 1994.
    • However, low performing students -those scoring at the 10th percentile- made greater gains (7 points) between 1994 and 2014 than high performing students –those scoring at the 90th percentile— for whom there were no significant differences.
  • There has been little change in the percentage of 8th graders reaching the proficiency level.  
    • Twenty-seven percent of 8th graders scored at or above Proficient in 2014, which has remained relatively the same since 1994.
    • Students at this level should possess a fundamental geographic vocabulary; understand geography’s analytical concepts; and solve locational questions requiring integration of information from two or more sources.
  • The percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above the Basic level remained similar.
    • In 2014, three-quarters of 8th graders scored at or above the Basic level, which was not significantly different than 8th graders in 2010 (74 percent).
    • However, more 8th graders in 2014 reached the Basic level than 8th graders in 1994 (71 percent).
    • Students scoring at or above this level should possess fundamental knowledge and vocabulary of concepts relating to patterns, relationships, distance, direction, scale, boundary, site, and situation; solve fundamental locational questions using latitude and longitude and interpret simple map scales.
  • Gaps exist between white 8th graders and their black and Hispanic classmates.
    • Eighty-eight percent of white 8th graders scored at or above the basic level compared to less than half (48 percent) of black 8th graders and 61 percent of Hispanic 8th graders.
    • Yet, in 1994, 81 percent of white, 34 percent of black, and 49 percent of Hispanic 8th graders reached the Basic level.
    • Gaps narrowed from 1994 to 2014 between black and white students by (7 percentage points) and between Hispanic and white students by 12 percentage points.
  • The vast majority of 8th graders discussed material in class.
    • Seventy-nine percent of 8th graders said they discussed geography in their class at least once a week, which is no different from 2010.
    • Eighth graders in 2014 were more likely than 8th graders in 2010 to watch movies, listen to information presented online, and use computers at school for social studies.

 

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

Filed under: Achievement Gaps,Middle school,NAEP,Public education,Report Summary — Jim Hull @ 11:22 am





April 17, 2015

Early education: Profiles from 10 states

Sometimes getting and maintaining a job can be difficult enough for some people in poverty. To further make matters complicated, when these people are parents, they additionally have to care for others, their children, which includes finding a preschool or childcare facility to look after their children during the day. To highlight what some states are doing to ensure high-quality early childhood education, the Center for American Progress recently released a series of snapshots profiling early childhood policies in ten states drawing primarily from the research of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER compiles and releases an annual record of early childhood programs across the United States and aids in providing a glimpse at preschool across the nation. In its most recent edition, The State of Preschool 2013 report explains that across the US, the average state spending per child is $4,026. Keep this number in mind as each state is highlighted in turn.

Additionally, general trends are reported that may (or perhaps should) alert many readers. For example, 31 states throughout the nation have annual childcare costs that amount to more than annual community college tuition and fees for in-state students.

Although these states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, & Wisconsin) differ somewhat in both their approach and the quality of their early childhood programming, several findings deserve illumination.

Colorado:

  • For children 6-years-old or younger, 43% live in low-income families.
  • Colorado ranks 37th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,159/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Colorado state preschool programs only meet 6 (out of 10) of NIEER’s benchmarks of (high) quality. Colorado programs could increase quality by requiring preschool teachers to hold a B.A. degree or having preschools offer at least one meal per day, for example.

Florida:

  • Over half (53%) of all children six or younger grow up in low-income households in Florida.
  • Florida ranks 35th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,242/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Florida meets only 3 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Maintaining ratios of 10 children per teacher or less and ensuring that teachers are provided appropriate training and resources are two ways in which these state programs can improve.

Georgia:

  • Fifty-four percent of children less than 6 years of age live in low-income families.
  • Georgia ranks 28th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,599/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although Georgia meets 8 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality, only 4-year-olds are allowed to enroll in preschool. Opening enrollment to 3-year-olds would be a large step forward in terms of assisting those children most at-risk.

Iowa:

  • Roughly 4 out of 10 children (41%) ages six and younger in Iowa grow up in poverty.
  • Iowa ranks 32nd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,674/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Iowa meets only 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Alarmingly, the programs in Iowa only operate for 10 hours per week, having the programs operate on a full-day schedule would likely be a significant improvement for Iowan families.

Michigan:

  • Every other child (50%) under age 6 comes from a low-income family in Michigan.
  • Michigan ranks 18th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,452/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Michigan meets 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. An example of how Michigan programs can improve is by allowing (and ensuring) preschool teachers at least 15 hours of annual in-service training. Additionally, to address earlier issues related to its limited operating schedule, Michigan increased its preschool program to a full-day schedule. Unfortunately, this resulted in fewer enrollments slot available for children.

North Carolina:

  • North Carolina has 1 of 4 state programs across the US that meet all 10 of NIEER’s benchmarks of quality.
  • North Carolina ranks 13th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($4,960/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Although North Carolina has placed a large investment in its youngest residents, it is not without need. Roughly 54% of North Carolinian families with children ages six or younger are impoverished and greatly benefit from having high-quality early education programs. Unfortunately, these efforts likely only cover the symptoms and do not address any underlying causes for these families being at-risk, although one could argue that perhaps that is not the purpose of early education.

Nevada:

  • Fifty-two percent of Nevadan families with children 6 or younger live in poverty.
  • Nevada ranks 33rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($2,397/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Nevada meets only 7 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Nevada programs can seek higher quality implementation through ensuring that all assistant teachers have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and by providing at least one meal a day to its children.

Ohio:

  • Half of Ohioan families with children 6 or younger are impoverished.
  • Ohio ranks 21st out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,927/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Ohio’s preschool programs meet only 4 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Significant improvements to the state’s early education system will likely be seen if class sizes are kept to below 20 students while maintaining a 1:10 teacher-child ratio. Additionally, requiring teachers to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) will help ensure that Ohio children experience the best in early education.

Virginia:

  • Slightly over one-third (36%) of all families with children under six are living in poverty in Virginia.
  • Virginia ranks 23rd out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,752/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Virginia meets just 6 of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. Noticeable improvements will likely be seen if teachers are required to have a B.A. and assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent) and if at least one meal was provided to children per day. Additionally, Virginia does not serve 3-year-olds in the state preschool programs and their inclusion would serve as a substantial improvement to the early education system, although considerable increases in funding would likely be necessary.

Wisconsin:

  • Forty-four percent of the families with children six or younger in Wisconsin are considered low-income.
  • Wisconsin ranks 29th out of 41 states in per-student funding for preschool ($3,366/student).
  • Biggest challenges: Wisconsin preschool programs meet only half of NIEER’s 10 benchmarks of quality. State programs would see improvements by requiring assistant teachers to have at least a C.D.A. (Child Development Associate) credential (or its equivalent), maintaining teacher-child ratios of 1:10 or less, and offering screenings and support services related to vision, hearing, and health.





March 19, 2015

Leading the Change to higher performance

Leading the Change

Public schools are excelling. Public schools are in the toilet. It seems like the rhetoric around public education in America these days goes from one extreme to the other, divorced from any history or context. The reality, as always, is more nuanced. There are public schools that rival the most prestigious establishments in the world and there are public schools whose performance is, admittedly, abysmal.

That’s actually the first step: admitting there are schools in the system whose performance leaves much to be desired . The second step is to find out why because until you can identify and articulate the problem, you won’t be able to implement the appropriate solution.

This, in essence, is what CPE’s work and mission is all about. This has also been the focus of NSBA’s current president, Anne Byrne, who wanted her tenure to not only highlight the good work occurring in public schools but the work that still remains to move all our schools forward.

Because while public school students are performing higher and graduating in record numbers, we also know that in many districts, one or more schools seem to languish at the bottom despite the efforts of teachers and desires of parents. Understandably, school board members can feel helpless trying to turn them around— though, if it were easy to turnaround chronically low-performing schools, there would be no low-performing schools in the first place. As is often the case, struggling schools are emblematic of deeper issues that extend beyond the campus grounds, issues like poverty, disenfranchised communities and inadequate infrastructure.

Enter Leading the Change, a set of data-driven decision-making tools to help school boards lead the transformation of chronically low-performing schools into high-quality institutions.

Currently housed on our Data First site, the tools build off the Data First decision-making process, which was developed by CPE in partnership with the California School Boards Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, and the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Informed by research on what works to turnaround schools, as well as real-world experience and insight from a diverse working group of nine school board leaders, the Leading the Change toolkit represents the best thinking on effective local school governance as it relates to tackling underperforming schools.

While designed with school board members in mind, we think this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in getting beyond the rhetoric and blame game that seems to typify school reform debate, and toward meaningful progress for all students and all communities.

Let the change begin!






March 5, 2015

Drawing a line in the sand (of our Zen garden)

I was looking through the Wall Street Journal earlier this week and stumbled upon an interesting article on mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly “hot topic” in the psychological literature, with particular emphasis in the fields of counseling and positive psychology. Essentially, when one is engaging in mindfulness practices, one is purposefully (and solely) living in the present moment by expelling all thoughts and judgments of experiences and focusing on the present. So, think about riding a roller coaster, that experience of focusing solely on the present is a good example of what mindfulness is trying to achieve. The WSJ article chronicled the growing trend of mindfulness practices, including its rise in school districts.

Citing research from the developmental, clinical, and counseling psychology, as well as neuroscience literature, proponents touted clear benefits from the integration of mindfulness practices in the schools. For example, schoolchildren were more like to score higher in mathematics, demonstrate less aggressive and depressive symptoms, and engage in more prosocial behaviors (e.g., respect, empathy, and perspective-taking). Certainly, these are qualities that any teacher would want to see in their students, so then where is the opposition coming from?

The article included interviews with teachers, some of whom viewed the integration of mindfulness practices into the curriculum as equivalent to promoting religion. A huge leap? Yes and no. While mindfulness (meditation) does have roots in the Buddhist religion, a critical component could be how mindfulness is approached and implemented. While there could be improper ways to teach mindfulness, it is perhaps easier to defend by explaining that a critical difference is differentiating between teaching a skill (mindfulness meditation) and an idea (as a tenet of Buddhist religion). For a more detailed paper on whether or not a practice is too religious to be in a school, check out CPE’s paper on religion and public schools.

Filed under: CPE,Public education — Tags: , , , — NDillon @ 10:20 am





February 19, 2015

A matter of principal

After a conversation with CPE’s senior policy analyst Jim Hull last week in which Jim helped explain to issues of accountability, the conversation segued onto the topic of school principals and the powerful role they play in public education. Apparently, Jim is not the only one who believes that principals are key players in student success.

In a recent piece by Real Clear Education, graduate training programs designed for principals should foster a more practical skillset. The report goes on to suggest that incorporating disciplines such as business administration, could provide principals with the training for activities that are actually practiced on the job. A caveat however, the report also makes it very clear that they are not advocating for schools to be run like automated businesses either. That being said, there are still numerous leadership skills taught within an MBA program that fall directly within (or should) the purview of a principal, such as budgeting, data analysis, talent and quality management, organizational change, and leadership.

One thing is clear; good principals are essential for school success. As mirrored in a report by CPE, The Principal Perspective, high-quality principal leadership can facilitate numerous beneficial school outcomes, such as increasing student achievement, reducing both student and teacher absences, and reducing the turnover of high-quality teachers. Additionally, principals can be the linchpins in school turnaround. When a new principal is introduced into a school challenged by low student achievement, one of the first tasks an effective leader would undertake would be to assess the quality of the teachers, in an attempt to replace the lowest-quality teachers and retain the highest-quality teachers. These recruitment skills could be fostered through training in talent management, whereas retainment skills are taught through quality management, both skillsets that are central in an MBA program. Furthermore, our report found that principals were most effective at the earlier grades (i.e., elementary school), with an effect that diminishes across middle and high school. A plausible rationale for this decreasing effect is that as the structure of the school expands, it becomes more difficult to organize and govern. One way to address this downfall however, could be to incorporate leadership into principal training so that principals are better prepared to handle larger systems producing just as strong effects as elementary leaders.

In summary, the pieces by Real Clear Education and CPE share a common theme: principals matter. Although individual principals are not making broad changes at the state or federal level, they are poised to have (and sustain) incredible impact locally. It is because of their unique position that they play such an important role in increasing school outcomes. Thus, ensuring that principals are provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in effective school leadership certainly seems like a good principle.






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