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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





April 2, 2014

The role of technology in early education

toddlertabletAs technology becomes an increasingly important and ever present part of our lives, many are starting to ask what the appropriate role of technology is in the lives of young children.  While some parents and child advocates are concerned about possible negative impacts of excessive “screen time” for children, others believe that appropriately used digital media has the ability to help children learn in new ways and prepare them for a lifetime of learning. A recent brief from the New America Foundation proposes several essential actions to prepare early education for the digital age.

There are three important characteristics that must be taken into consideration when deciding the appropriate role of digital media in a child’s education: the content, the context, and the characteristics of the child.  Passive use of digital media or allowing children to watch adult-oriented TV shows can have negative consequences, but when the context and content are aligned to meet the needs of an individual child, interactive media can be used to promote learning and exploration, even for very young children.

There is enormous potential for technology use in early education, but expectations need to be set high and technology needs to be used as a supplement to, not in place of active play and exploration. We need to retire the harmful idea of “technology as a babysitter” and instead see it as something that can productively promote back-and-forth interaction between children and their parents, teachers, and classmates.

This can take many forms: reading an ebook with a classmate, video chatting with a relative who lives far away, or using a math app to practice counting skills while a teacher supervises. If technology is integrated into learning activities both at home and at school, children start building skills at a very young age that prepare them for a future as a student and citizen in the digital age. However, as with many of the issues we discuss here, the risk lies in poor implementation.

We can give toddlers tablets, but unless they have parents and teachers engaging with them to ensure the media they are consuming is developmentally appropriate and substantive, we might just be providing preschoolers with very expensive playthings (and veering into that “technology as babysitter” territory). As the role of technology in our society continues to evolve, I am hopeful that networks of parents, teachers, providers of children’s media, and other professionals who work with young children will work together to share information and high-quality materials.






December 3, 2013

Disappointing results from latest international assessment

Results from the 2012 Program for International Assessment (PISA) were released today that compared the reading, mathematics, and science literacy of 15-year olds in 65 countries including the United States. Unfortunately, the overall results were not positive for our nation’s schools. In fact, the U.S. failed to improve on any of the three subjects tested since 2000- the first year PISA was administered. Due to this lack of improvement a greater number of countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 than did in 2009—the last year PISA was administered—in all three subject areas. In particular, in mathematics the U.S. was significantly outperformed by 29 countries in 2012 compared to 24 countries in 2009. Even in reading where the U.S. has compared much more favorably, U.S. 15-year olds were outperformed by 19 countries in 2012 compared to just 9 countries in 2009.

What the results indicate is that while the U.S. performance remains relatively unchanged, other countries are leapfrogging over the U.S. by making significant gains in reading, mathematics, and science just between 2009 and 2012. These include countries such the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Poland, and Australia which all have among the highest child poverty rates in the world and all these countries outperformed the U.S. in mathematics.  Certainly, poverty impacts student achievement but the U.S. can learn from these countries on how to more successfully educate poor students. One bright point from the PISA results for the U.S. is that the achievement gap between high and low-socioeconomic status (SES) did narrow slightly between 2009 and 2012. However, even if every other country had a similar SES rate as the U.S. the U.S. performance would actually drop slightly while the performance of many other countries would actually improve. This provides evidence that the mediocre U.S. performance is not simply due to demographics.

While the PISA results are disappointing they are the exception rather than the rule when it comes measuring U.S. performance. On other international assessments such as TIMSS and PIRLS the U.S. has made significant progress over the past decade or so. In fact, in math the U.S. is among the world leaders in gains between 1995 and 2011. The U.S. has also made significant gains on domestic assessments such as NAEP. And the U.S. estimated on-time graduation rate has improved from 67 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2010—which is nearly at an all-time high. This makes the lack of improvement on PISA all that more surprising. We need to take a deeper look into PISA data to find out why the U.S. is making such gains on other indicators that are not showing up in PISA. Without knowing the answer to this question limits our ability to use the PISA results to improve our schools.

The Findings

Mathematics Literacy

  • The U.S. score of 481 was significantly lower than the international average* of 496.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 29 of 64 countries**.
    • Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (613) followed by Singapore (573), Hong-Kong-China (561), Chinese Taipei (560), and Korea (554).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 9 countries including Norway, Italy, Russia, and Hungry.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 26 countries such as Israel (466), Greece (453), Mexico (413), and Brazil (391).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were similar between 2009 and 2012 as well as between 2000 and 2012.
    • Twenty-nine countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 compared to 24 countries in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Austria, Ireland, Czech Republic, and United Kingdom performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • A smaller percentage of U.S. students (9 percent) scored within the top two PISA achievement levels than the international average (13 percent).
    • Twenty-seven countries had a higher percentage of high performing students. Shanghai-China led the world with more than half (55 percent) reaching these advanced levels followed by Singapore (40 percent), Chinese Taipei (37 percent), Hong Kong-China (34 percent), and Korea (31 percent).
    • The U.S. also had a larger proportion of low-performing students**(26 percent) than the international average (23 percent) and 29 counties had a lower percentage of low-performing students than the U.S.

Science Literacy

  • The U.S. did not score significantly different from the international average of 501.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 22 of 64 other countries.
    • Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (580) followed by Hong-Kong-China (555), Singapore (551), Japan (547), and Finland (545).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 13 countries including France, Italy, Norway, and Croatia.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 29 countries such as Russia (486), Sweden (485), Mexico (415), and Brazil (405).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were basically unchanged between 2009 and 2012.
    • The 2012 scores were also similar to the scores in 2000.
    • Twenty-two countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 compared to 18 countries in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Ireland, and the Czech Republic performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • Seven percent of U.S. students scored within the top two PISA achievement levels which is similar to the international average.
    • Seventeen countries had a higher percentage of high performing students than the U.S. Shanghai-China led the world with 27 percent of students reaching these advanced levels followed by Singapore (23 percent), Japan (18 percent), and Finland (17 percent).
    • Twenty-one countries had a lower percentage of low-performing students than the U.S. However, the U.S. had a similar proportion of low-performing students (18 percent) than the international average.

Reading Literacy

  • The U.S. did not score significantly different from the international average of 496.
  • The U.S. was outperformed by 19 of 64 other countries.
    • Just like in mathematics and science Shanghai-China was the highest performing country (570) followed by Hong-Kong-China (545), Singapore (542), Japan (538), and Korea (536).
    • The U.S. performed similarly to 12 countries including France, Italy, United Kingdom, and Israel.
    • The U.S. performed significantly better than 34 countries such as Russia (475), Greece (477), Mexico (424), and Brazil (410).
  • Scores for the U.S. have not improved.
    • Scores for the U.S. were basically unchanged between 2009 and 2012.
    • The 2012 scores were also similar to the scores in 2000.
    • Ten more countries outperformed the U.S. in 2012 than in 2009.
      • In 2009 Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Switzerland, and Germany performed similarly to the U.S. but outperformed the U.S. in 2012.
  • The U.S. has fewer advanced students and more low performing students than most countries.
    • Eight percent of U.S. students scored within the top two PISA achievement levels which is similar to the international average.
    • Fourteen countries had a significantly greater share of high performers with Shanghai-China leading the world with 25 percent followed by Singapore (21 percent), and Japan (18 percent).
    • The U.S. also had a similar proportion of low-performing students (17 percent) than the international average although 14 countries had a higher percentage.

Demographics

  • The U.S. is not uniquely diverse.
    • The U.S. has about the same proportion of ‘disadvantaged’ students as the international average.
    • The U.S. has the 6th largest share of immigrant students.
    • When controlling for the socioeconomic status (SES) of students across countries the U.S. ranking would actually decline compared to other countries.

For more information about PISA and other international assessments of student achievement check out the Center’s More than a horse race: A guide to international tests of student achievement.

 

* The OECD average is used at the international average
** OECD used the term education systems instead of countries.
*** Students who scored below the 2nd PISA achievement level.






November 27, 2013

The full story: How U.S. students compare internationally

With the 2012 PISA results set to be released on Tuesday you will probably hear a lot of doom and gloom about how the U.S. doesn’t fair well on international assessments. You’ll probably be bombarded with references to the 2009 PISA results showing that U.S. students ranked 24th and 19th in math and science respectively.

Such statistics are true but you should be warned such statistics don’t tell the whole truth. While PISA results should not be ignored  they only tell part of the story of how U.S. schools compare to schools around the world. There are a myriad of other indicators that are useful in comparing U.S. schools internationally. Yet, PISA results get all the headlines because of our mediocre performance especially in math and science. But when you take a broader look at how U.S. schools perform, you’ll see our schools compare more favorably to other countries than PISA results would suggest.

U.S. students compare well in reading

PISA’s math and science results often overlook the fact that U.S. 15-year olds fair much better on PISA’s reading assessment. Compared to the 64 other countries that participated in PISA just 9 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. in reading. The U.S. compares even better at the 4th grade level where just 5 of 57 participating countries performed significantly higher than the U.S. according to the 2011 PIRLS report.

U.S. students compare more favorably in science in the earlier grades

While U.S. 15-year olds rank among the middle of the pack on PISA’s science assessment, U.S. 4th and 8th graders compare much more favorably to their international peers. On the 2011 TIMSS assessment just 6 of 57 countries significantly outperformed U.S fourth graders. At the eighth grade level just 12 of 56 countries significantly outperformed the U.S.

U.S. 4th and 8th graders are gaining on the international leaders

It seems to be an all too well kept secret that our nation’s fourth graders score within the top 10 of countries in math. According to the 2011 TIMSS, just 8 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. on the 4th grade math assessment. Our eighth graders performed nearly as well by being outperformed by just 11 of 56 countries. Keep in mind, that Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana were considered ‘counties’ for the purposes of this analysis and were among the 11 ‘countries’ that outperformed the U.S. so only 7 actual countries outperformed the U.S.

The U.S. has broken into the top 10 in math due to impressive gains over the past two decades. Since TIMSS was first administered in 1995 the scores for U.S. 4th graders improved by 23 points. Strong gains were also made during this time period by U.S. 8th graders whose scores improved by 17 points. The gains made at both grade levels are among the greatest gains made during this time period.

More work to be done

When taking a broader look at how the U.S. compares international the U.S. fairs much better than PISA results suggest. However, the results also show the U.S. has much more work to be done to perform among the world leaders. As the TIMSS results show, our schools are not only up for the challenge to thrust our schools to be among the world leaders but have already taken major strides to do so. – Jim Hull






June 28, 2013

Minority students make big gains on NAEP but gaps remain

Minority students have made significant gains over the past four decades in both math and reading, according to the 2012 long-term NAEP results. While most white students made significant gains as well, achievement gaps narrowed considerably since minority students made much larger gains than their white peers. However, large achievement gaps still remain.  

Reading Results

9 Year olds

  • U.S. 9 year old have made significant gains.
    • Since the first year of NAEP in 1971, student achievement in reading has increased significantly from 208 to 221 (13 points, or just over a year’s worth of learning). There was also significant growth from 2004 to 2012 (5 points), but it remained relatively flat from 2008 until the present.  
    • Gains were made by students at all performance levels.
      • Students scoring in the 10th and 25th percentiles each saw gains of 19 points, thus strengthening the lower percentile performance overall.
      • Students performing at the 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles each saw gains from 1971 to 2012 by 15, 9, and 6 points, respectively.
      • These increases indicate an overall trend of improvement across all performance subgroups.
  • Racial achievement gaps have narrowed significantly over the past four decades.
    • The Black-White achievement gap narrowed from 44 points in 1971 to 23 points in 2012.
      • Black students increased there scores 36 points over this time period, while White students improved their scores 15 points.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed from 34 points in 1975 (the first year for which data was available for Hispanic students) to 21 points in 2012.  
      • Hispanic students increased their scores 25 points from 1975 to 2012, while White students nudged up 12 points in the same time period.
  • Nine year-olds were the only age group to see a significant decrease in the gender gap from 1971 to 2012.
    • In 1971, boys earned an average score of 201, while girls scored 214. By 2012, this 13-point gap shrunk to a 5-point deficit with boys scoring 218 and girls scoring 223.

13 Year Olds

  • U.S. 13 year olds have made significant long- and short-term gains.
    • Since 1971, student scores in reading has increased significantly from 255 to 263 (8 points, or nearly a year’s worth of learning). Scores also improved from 2008, the last time NAEP was administered.
    • Students made improvements in reading scores across the spectrum of performance levels, with significant gains from 1971 as well as short-term gains since 2008.
      • Lower-achieving students made the most modest gains (up 6 points from 1971), while each of the other higher-performing quintiles gained 8 or 9 points on average since 1971.
  • Racial achievement gaps have narrowed significantly between initial testing and 2012.
    • The Black-White achievement gap diminished from 39 points (1971) to 23 points (2012).
      • Black students increased their scores by 25 points (roughly 2.5 years of learning), while White students achieved a 9-point gain over this time.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed from 30 points in 1975 to 21 points in 2012.  
      • Hispanic students increased their scores by 17 points from 1975 to 2012, while White students achieved an 8-point gain over this time.  
  • The percentage of 13- and 17-year-olds who read for fun has diminished over time
    • The percentage of 13-year-olds reported they read for fun dropped from 35 (1984) to 27 (2012) percent, while 17-year-olds saw their percentages drop off from 31 (1984) to 19 (2012).   

17 Year olds

  • On average U.S. 17 year olds have made little progress since 1971.
    • Overall scores were not significantly different between the first NAEP reading testing in 1971 (score of 285) and 2012 (score of 287).
    • Lower performing students have made modest gains
      • Scores at the 10th percentile were 7 points higher in 2012 than in 1971.
      • Scores that 25th percentile increased by 4 points between 1971 and 2012, while scores at the 50th percentile increased by 1 point.
      • Students at the highest percentiles (75th and 90th) saw modest decreases in both long-term (since 1971) and short-term (since 2008) average scores.
  • Achievement gaps have narrowed significantly between 1971 and 2012.
    • The Black-White achievement gap narrowed by 27 points (from a 53 to a 26 point gap) between 1971 and 2012.
      • Black students increased their scores by 30 points (roughly 3 years of growth) since 1971, while White students saw a 4-point improvement.
      • Black students also showed short-term growth (from 2008) with a 3-point increase, while White students’ average reading scores remained constant.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed by 20 points (41 to 21 point gap) from 1975 to 2012, while Hispanic enrollment was rapidly expanding.
      • Hispanic students increased their scores by 22 points from 1975 to 2012, while White students saw only a 2-point gain in the same time period.

 

Math Results

9 Year olds

  • U.S. 9 year olds made significant gains.
    • Since the first year of NAEP in 1973, student achievement in math has increased by two and half years’ worth of learning (25 points).  However, there as been no significant improvement since 2004.
    • Similar gains were made by students at all performance levels.
      • In fact, students currently scoring at the 10th percentile score about the same as students at the 25th percentile did in 1973.
      • Furthermore, students currently scoring at the 75th percentile score about the same as students at the 90th percentile did in 1973.
  • Achievement gaps have narrowed significantly over the past four decades.
    • The Black-White achievement gap narrowed from 35 points in 1973 to 25 points in 2012.
      • Black students increased there scores by 36 points while at the same time White students improved their scores by 27 points.
      • Today’s Black students score as well as White students did in 1986.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed from 23 points in 1973 to 17 points in 2012 while the Hispanic enrollment increased from 5 percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 2012.
      • Hispanic students increased there scores by 32 points from 1973 to 2012.
      • Hispanic students score similarly as White students did in 1992.

13 Year Olds

  • U.S. 13 year olds have made significant long- and short-term gains.
    • Since 1973, student scores have increased by 19 points which is nearly two years’ worth of learning.  Scores also improved from 2008 the last time NAEP was administered.
    • While students at all levels made improvements, lower-achieving students made greater improvements.
      • Scores at the 10th percentile were 27 points higher in 2012 than in 1978.
      • While scores at the  90thpercentile increased 16 points between 1978 and 2012.
  • Achievement gaps have narrowed significantly between 1973 and 2012.
    • The Black-White achievement gap narrowed by 18 points (46 to 28 point gap).
      • Black students increased there scores 36 points while at the same time White students improved their scores 19 points.
      • Black students acquired about three and half more years of learning than they did in 1973.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed by 14 points (35 to 21 point gap), while the Hispanic enrollment increased from 6 percent in 1978 to 21 percent in 2012.
      • Hispanic students increased their scores by 32 points from 1973 to 2012.
      • Hispanic students acquired about three more years of learning than they did in 1973.
  • More 13 year olds are taking Algebra than ever before.
    • In 2012 34 percent of 13 year olds took Algebra compared to just 16 percent in 1986.
    • Nearly three-quarters of 13 year olds had taken at least Pre-Algebra in 2012, up from just 39 percent in 1986.

17 Year olds

  • On average U.S. 17 year olds have made little progress since 1973.
    • Overall scores were not significantly different between 1973 and 2012.
    • However, lower performing students have made modest gains.
      • Scores at the 10th percentile were 12 points higher in 2012 than in 1978.
      • Scores at the 25th percentile increased 11 points between 1978 and 2012 while scores at the 50th percentile increased by 6 points.
  • Achievement gaps have narrowed significantly between 1973 and 2012.
    • The Black-White achievement gap narrowed by 14 points (40 to 26 point gap) between 1973 and 2012.
      • Black students increased their scores 18 points while at the same time White students improved their scores 4 points.
      • Black students acquired about two more years of learning than they did in 1973.
    • The Hispanic-White achievement gap narrowed 14 points (33 to 19 point gap) while the Hispanic enrollment increased from 4 percent in 1978 to 22 percent in 2012.
      • Hispanic students increased their scores by 17 points from 1973 to 2012.
      • Hispanic students acquired nearly three more years of learning than they did in 1973.
  • Nearly four times as many students took Calculus or Pre-Calculus in 2012 than in 1978.
    • In 2012 23 percent of students took Calculus or Pre-Calculus compare to 6 percent in 1978. Just two decades ago just 10 percent did so.
    • In 2012 just 22 percent of students’ highest math course was geometry compared to 53 percent in 1978. In 1992 44 percent of students did so.

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






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