Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

October 29, 2014

Technology in the Classroom

A new app called Newsela may help classrooms read and discuss the same current events stories despite the differing levels of reading ability among the students. The app works by adjusting and creating versions of the same news story  in varying difficulty levels. It operates in a discreet way, so students with the easier version of the story will not get embarrassed. Students also have the option of leveling up or leveling down the story themselves to adjust the material if they find it too hard or too easy. Newsela creator Dan-Cogan Drew states that this new technology will facilitate social learning by enabling all students to be able to participate in class discussion.

While it is certainly valuable for students to be able to tackle readings in order to participate, I wonder if these technologies and teacher’s expectations will prevent students from being challenged with their reading. There have been many studies that prove a strong correlation between a teacher’s expectations of a student and the student’s achievement.  This NPR blog discusses the first experiment that demonstrated teacher’s expectations of their students affects their daily interactions with them, and students expected to succeed are more likely to succeed. The reverse is also true: students expected to fail are more likely to fail. Relating this research to Newsela,  if a teacher has low expectations of  students’ reading abilities and assigns easier versions of the article, then students may actually do worse than if they were all assigned the same reading.  However, this does not mean that technologies such as Newsela are not valuable in the classroom, but it does mean that teachers should not blindly rely on this technology. Instead teachers should strive to make sure all students are being challenged in their reading.

Filed under: 21st century education,Reading — Tags: , , — Courtney Spetko @ 12:59 pm





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





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.






June 19, 2013

NCTQ Teacher Prep Review: Brief Highlights

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently released a lengthy report called “Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Preparation Programs” (“The Review”). The much anticipated and highly contested report highlights the shortfalls of the vast majority of the nation’s colleges and universities’ teacher preparation programs. The report sounds the alarm on inadequate training for teachers, particularly focusing on what aspiring teachers need to know and be able to do as they enter the nation’s diverse classrooms.

Through much difficulty (read: uncooperative and litigious circumstances), the NCTQ attained data from the 1,130 institutions that train 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers. The Review focuses vastly on public institutions and hopes to expand its analysis to include more private universities in subsequent editions. The standards chosen for the review were developed in accordance with educational experts, best practices of high performing educational institutions, surveyed responses from principals and superintendents, and alignment with the Common Core State Standards. The Review focuses on the skills new teachers must have in order to teach to a high standard, thus surpassing expectations set for previous generations of educators. The NCTQ standards are generally categorized as Selection (e.g., how teacher candidates are selected for training programs), Content Preparation (e.g., early reading), Professional Skills (e.g., lesson planning), and Outcomes (e.g., evidence of effectiveness).

The major takeaways from the report are as follows:

  1. From a zero-to-four star rating system, fewer than 10 percent of rated programs received the upper rankings of three to four stars.
    1. Teacher training programs were largely based on document review (e.g., syllabi, student teaching handbooks, etc.), graduate and employer surveys, and student teaching placement materials obtained primarily through open-records requests.
  2. Most teachers’ colleges are not nearly as restrictive as they could be with only a quarter of programs limiting admission to students in the top half of their class.
    1. According to The Review, high-performing nations limit entrance to their teacher preparation programs to the top third of applicants. This variance could have significant consequences on how the U.S. fares globally in educational success.
  3. Though the vast majority of states (46 states and Washington, DC) have agreed to devise curriculum aligning to the Common Core State Standards, The Review finds that a meager one-third of high school programs and less than one-ninth of elementary programs are prepping future teachers at content levels required by those very standards.
    1. This information aligns with the findings highlighted in a recent report co-authored by the Center for Public Education and Change the Equation: “Out of Sync: Many Common Core states have yet to define a Common Core-worthy diploma.”
  4. Seventy-five percent of elementary teacher reading programs do not prime teachers with high-quality methods of reading instruction.
    1. The Review highlights the disturbing fact that 866 different reading textbooks, “the majority of which are partly or wholly unscientific,” are used across the country to train teachers in reading instruction. Not all textbooks are created equal! Texts need to be thoroughly vetted for their usefulness in providing first-rate reading pedagogy.
  5. A dismal 7 percent of programs provide rigorous and impactful student teaching experiences by placing students with effective master teachers.
    1. The Review recommends a shift in policy wherein colleges and universities insist on cooperating teachers who have proven themselves as highly effective teachers and competent mentors. In other words, it is not sufficient to blindly accept any experienced educator who volunteers for this monumental role in the development of a budding teacher.

Mirroring the U.S. News & World Report national rankings of colleges and universities, The
Review aims to serve as a kind of “consumer report” for endeavoring teachers and school administrators. Because first-year teachers are charged with teaching 1.5 million of the nation’s students, that is more than enough reason to take seriously the quality of teacher preparation and its implications on classrooms all over the country.

Notes on methodology: The Review evaluates elementary and secondary programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels (for a total of four different programs) for the top 200 institutions that produce the greatest proportion of new teachers each year. The remaining ~900 institutions (1,130 total were reviewed) each had two of their programs randomly chosen and evaluated. Data from alternative initial certification programs, traditional advanced certification programs, and private institutions of higher education graduating less than 20 new teachers annually were not included in the analysis. NCTQ was able to include a limited sample of special education programs for evaluation with plans to expand their analysis in future editions of The Review.

Thoughts: To be sure, there are a plethora of positive changes being affected nationwide in public education. (For a great example, read about the nation’s consistently climbing graduation rates courtesy of the Diplomas Count Report from Education Week.) The Review, however, highlights some serious causes for concern that might explain why some students still lag so far behind their peers nationwide. Students in high-poverty, high-need schools are still the most likely cohort to be placed with a novice teacher. It is my hope that, at a minimum, this report be used by college faculty, staff, and administration as a tool for reflection, adjustment, and (re)evaluation of how to train the next generation of teachers to be the best this country has ever seen.-Christine Duchouquette






February 12, 2013

Common Core’s emphasis on “close” reading a disservice students

Recently, my husband and I were invited over to a friend’s house for dinner.  They had prepared an unbelievable spread, and when it came time for dessert, they offered not one, but two choices—ice cream or cake.  Without blinking an eye, my husband declared, “Both please.”  We all laughed out loud, acknowledging the universally accepted truth that one is only allowed a single dessert, while he proceeded to enjoy both a scoop and a slice.  As I watched my husband savor both, I couldn’t help but think that a philosophy of “both please” could be something I could get on board with.  It might not be a philosophy to help American waistlines, but it’s certainly a philosophy that might push our debates about the Common Core English Language Arts into new, more fruitful directions.

I started thinking about this after participating in a teen book club here in D.C.  This year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with PEN/Faulkner to facilitate a book club for teen mothers at Cardozo High School.  We meet together at lunch, read a book, and we discuss it.  I have to admit that on my first day I was a little nervous.  It was a curious emotion because I’ve spent years teaching English doing just what I was about to do, read books with teenagers.  However, there was something different about this experience.  Our time together wasn’t influenced by grades, test scores, or college admissions.  Instead, it was just about reading for fun, discussing what interested you in a book.

The second we opened up the book, it felt different.  Students laughed out loud at parts, asked questions about what was going on, and when it came time to discuss were eager to share what they thought.  We never talked about metaphors, allusions, or the theme of the book—we just talked about whatever interested us.  As the weeks went on, I couldn’t wait for the book clubs, and I wasn’t the only one.  After each session, girls would share that they don’t read any of their books for English class, but that they loved this one.  In fact, girls who had to miss a session asked for copies of the chapter they missed to be left behind so they could catch up.  As I sat through the book clubs, I couldn’t help but wonder—why doesn’t every high school English class feel like this?  Are we, as English teachers, alienating children from the joy of reading?

I wonder if in our altruistic desire to be rigorous, preparing students for the challenges beyond high school, we have forgotten that reading is something you should enjoy.  It should be something that you can connect to your own experiences.  It should be something that teaches you a little bit about how to live life.  It should be something you engage with, ask questions of, and test your own experiences against.  Sometimes it seems that in some of our moves to improve reading and writing comprehension we’ve deformed reading and writing into solely a process of dissection, searching for metaphors and symbols, parsing apart the text with a fine tuned scalpel.

This is something we have to be exceptionally wary of with the implementation of the Common Core. The Common Core explicitly commands teachers to do close readings of text.  Such close readings focus on the text itself, and often call on instructors to slow down reading of a text, going piece by piece, often re-reading and analyzing portions of text.  A researcher at Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently crafted a set of guidelines for English teachers based on the close reading approach (often referred to as New Criticism literary theory) embraced by the Common Core.  The author makes suggestions such as devoting more time to a text so it can be read and re-read and focusing predominately on text-centered questions (versus questions that ask for personal connections to the text).

Now, as a former English teacher myself, I want to make clear that I in no way aim to argue that we should not approach some texts with a New Criticism/close reading approach.  In fact, when reading a complex text, it is often very necessary.  However, I worry that with Common Core implementation, English departments will begin to solely honor close reading as the only way to read a text, spending lots of time on a few texts, dissecting the text for literary concepts such as metaphors, rhetorical devices, and symbolism, and in the process turning some kids off to reading.  Close reading certainly has a place in one’s reading world, but it shouldn’t be the only exposure kids get to reading in their classes.

We’ve got to make room in our English curriculums (and I would argue in all disciplines) for reading for fun.  In the English world, we call this reading for fluency in that the reading is quick and for enjoyment versus for analysis, the mode honored in close reading.  One doesn’t stop to analyze the text, slice and dice it, highlighting the assertions, similes, and anadiplosis.  One zooms through the pages, laughing with the author, enjoying the plot, pulling over a friend to talk about if the main character should have done X or Y.  This is what we did in my book club, and it works to turn kids on to reading.

As districts start implementing the Common Core, I hope that English departments, like my husband, will say “both please.”   Yes to close reading, and yes to reading for fun.  While our debates in the education world seem to quickly swing from one side of the pendulum to another, the sweet spot might indeed not be on the fringes but in the middle.  Let’s have them analyze the symbols in Lord of the Flies, but why not also bring in some contemporary young adult literature for kids to read?  There’s no reason that they are mutually exclusive, but with Common Core and its battery of high stakes tests solely valuing close reading, it’s up to forward thinking school boards, school leaders, educators, and parents to demand both in the classroom.  –Allison Gulamhussein






Older Posts »
RSS Feed