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October 15, 2015

Schoolwork worth doing

“Ok, students, it’s time to get out your crayons!”

Hearing this never fails to delight kindergarteners in the classroom. But what about in seventh grade social studies, even if colored pencils are substituted for crayons?  Outside of art class, does drawing really represent the kind of work middle-schoolers should be doing to get ready for high school?

Analysts for the Education Trust recently examined the quality of classroom assignments in a half dozen middle schools in order to document the degree to which they were aligned to the Common Core’s English language arts standards. The preliminary results were published last month in the report Checking In: Do Classroom Assignments Reflect Today’s Higher Standards?.

The Ed Trust team was able to identify assignments that were clearly up to the task. But they also found that these were a fraction of what students are being asked to do on a daily basis. According to the analysis, a surprising few assignments were “aligned with a grade-appropriate standard” – 38 percent to be exact. The 7th grade drawing assignment cited above is an example. And the picture is even worse for students in high-poverty schools (31 percent “grade-appropriate”).

The research team examined both in- and out-of-school assignments given by 92 teachers to students grades six through eight over a two week period. Common Core-ELA standards cross subject areas so assignments were collected from teachers of English, humanities, history/social studies and science. The average number submitted per teachers was 17. Altogether the analysts scored nearly 1,600 assignments on such attributes as “alignment to Common Core,” “centrality of text,” “cognitive challenge” and “motivation and engagement.”

The report authors, Sonja Brookins Santelises and Joan Dabrowski, acknowledge that they did not expect to see 100 percent alignment to the higher-level demands expressed in the standards. Indeed, there is a place in the classroom for the occasional quick check of facts or basic skills practice that will help students use these tools more confidently when applied to more challenging tasks. But Santelises and Dabrowski did hope to see more rigor than they found, as follows:

  • 16 percent of assignments required students to “use a text for citing evidence”;
  • 4 percent required higher-level thinking; in contrast, 85 percent asked for either the recall of information or the application of basic skills;
  • 2 percent met their criteria for “relevance and choice”; and
  • not surprisingly given all this, only 5 percent were scored in the high range of the Ed Trust framework.

For me, reading this report was like déjà vu all over again. In the nineties and early aughts, I worked at the Ed Trust as part of a team that helped teachers in high-poverty schools align their lessons and assignments to state standards. During that time I can’t say how often we saw the “movie poster assignment” as the culminating task following a major unit of study. This assignment asks students to create, to draw, a movie poster on the topic as opposed to writing a paper or otherwise have students show their capacity to extend their thinking about the material. Could such an assignment be given occasionally as a break from a routine of academic heavy lifting? Absolutely. But in the schools we worked in, the movie poster wasn’t the exception. Too often, assignments like it were the routine.

Today, as it was then, low-level assignments are not a teacher-led plot to keep kids illiterate. Teachers in many schools struggle to keep their students engaged while keeping up with overstuffed curricular and testing requirements. The problems are exacerbated when students are performing well below their peers. Teachers in such situations often respond by providing lessons in easy bits with the idea that they will eventually build to higher understanding – what educators call “scaffolding.” (I show an example of a scaffolded math lesson on slides 7-13 in a common core presentation you can find here.)  While the practice is sound, Santelises and Dabrowski documented an over-reliance on scaffolding which rarely led to independent learning.

Nonetheless, the fact that 5 percent of the lessons were complex and high-level is cause for optimism. These teachers clearly know what rigor looks like. In addition, because of the short two-week window, the analysts may well have missed out on major end-of-unit assignments that push students’ thinking to higher levels.

The Ed Trust team is continuing its study, which should tell us more about how typical these findings are. In the meantime, school leaders who want to know how well instruction in their schools and district align to higher standards can check out this implementation guide.






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.






May 5, 2011

Students need to learn their civics

Results are in from the 2010 NAEP civics assessment of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, and they were not very encouraging. According to NAEP, the civics assessment measures “…the civics knowledge and skills that are crucial to the responsibilities of citizenship in America’s constitutional democracy.”

Overall, the results showed little improvement in students’ civic knowledge in skills since 2006.  Only our nation’s 4th graders scored significantly higher in 2010 than in 2006. Our 8th graders didn’t score significantly different, and our 12th graders performed significantly worse.

The only bright spots in the report were the facts that all racial groups (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) scored significantly higher in 2010 than in 1998 and that the white-Hispanic achievement gap narrowed for all three grade levels when compared to 1998 and 2006 (except for the 4th grade between 2006 and 2010).

Taken together, the report shows that significant progress needs to be made in civics education so our students are better prepared to participate in our democracy. The foundation for participation is knowing how our government operates and knowing the procedures of how to actually participate. On both fronts, the NAEP results clearly show that too many of our students are lacking knowledge in these areas. Such lack of knowledge can have a detrimental impact on the future of our democracy.

Here are some of the major findings from the report:

Fourth Grade

  • Overall scores were significantly higher in 2010 (157) compared to 2006 (154) and 1998 (150).
  • Seven-seven percent of 4th graders scored at or above NAEP’s basic level.
    • For instance, this means they could at least recognize taxes as the main source of government funding.
  • Just 27 percent scored at or above NAEP’s proficient level.
    • Students at this level are able to identify one of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution.
  • NAEP reported that less than half the students assessed had teachers who emphasized to a moderate or large extent one of these topics: Politics and Government (42 percent), Foundations of U.S. Democracy (44 percent), The U.S. Constitution (39 percent), World Affairs (21 percent), or Roles of Citizens in U.S. Democracy (45 percent).
    • Students who had teachers who emphasized these topics to at least some extent typically scored higher in those areas.

Eighth Grade 

  • Overall scores were not significantly different in 2010 (151) compared to 2006 (150) and 1998 (150).
  • Seven-two percent of 8th graders scored at or above NAEP’s basic level.
    • This means they could at least identify a right protected by the First Amendment.
  • Just 22 percent scored at or above NAEP’s proficient level.
    • Students at the proficient level could recognize a role performed by the Supreme Court.
  • The vast majority (85 percent) of 8th graders learned about civics in 2010. Those students who did scored 3 points higher than those students who did not learn about civics in the 8th grade.
    • The majority of 8th graders learned about the U.S. Constitution (82 percent), Congress (78 percent), How Laws are Made (70 percent), and Political Parties, Elections, and Voting (75 percent).
    • However, 8th graders were less likely to be taught about Other Countries’ Governments (40 percent) or International Organizations like the United Nations (33 percent).

Twelfth Grade

  • Overall scores were significantly lower in 2010 (148) compared to 2006 (151), but similar to 1998 (150).
  • Sixty-four percent of 12th graders scored at or above NAEP’s basic level.
    • At this level, they could interpret a political cartoon.
  • Just 24 percent scored at or above NAEP’s proficient level.
    • Students at this level are able to define the term “melting pot” and argue if it applies to the U.S.
  • Nearly all (97 percent) 12th graders studied civics or government in high school.
    • Those students who studied civics and government scored 16 points higher than students who did not.
  • Fewer students were taught the U.S. Constitution in 2010 (67 percent) than in 2006 (72 percent).
    • The majority of 12th graders learn about Congress (66 percent), How Laws are Made (61 percent), and Political Parties, Elections, and Voting (68 percent).
    • However, just as with 8th graders, 12th graders were less likely to be taught about Other Countries’ Governments (47 percent) or International Organizations like the United Nations (43 percent).

For more information on NAEP, read “The proficiency debate” at  www.centerforpubliceducation.org.

–Jim Hull

Filed under: High school,Middle school,NAEP,Report Summary — Tags: , , , — Jim Hull @ 11:09 am





May 4, 2011

It hurts them more than it hurts you

You’ll never get a bullied student to believe it, but a report by the CDC is saying that bullies are worse off than victims of bullying when it comes to suffering abuse from a family member or witnessing violence at home. Those who both bullied and were victims of bullying themselves were at the worst risk of either suffering abuse or witnessing violence. The report says:

The adjusted odds ratios (AORs) for middle school students for being physically hurt by a family member were 2.9 for victims, 4.4 for bullies, and 5.0 for bully-victims, and for witnessing violence in the family were 2.6, 2.9, and 3.9, respectively, after adjusting for potential differences by age group, sex, and race/ethnicity. For high school students, the AORs for being physically hurt by a family member were 2.8 for victims, 3.8 for bullies, and 5.4 for bully-victims, and for witnessing violence in the family were 2.3, 2.7, and 6.8, respectively.

What do you do to prevent bullying in your schools? Do you use specific programs? Most importantly, what is the data behind these programs showing that they work? –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: bullying,Data,High school,Middle school — Tags: , , — rstandrie @ 10:31 am






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