Where not to be reincarnated

If you’re planning to be reincarnated as a poor black child, make sure not to be born in Michigan, advises Matthew Ladner, who’s graphed state scores in fourth-grade reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).  If you value literacy, avoid Iowa, Maine and Washington D.C. too.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Florida are relative good choices.  Low-income, black fourth-graders in Massachusetts read 2.5 grade levels ahead of similar students in Michigan, Ladner writes.

Massachusetts also is first in reading for low-income fourth-grade students of all races.  In D.C. and Alaska, the average low-income fourth-grader reads nearly as poorly as a first grader in Massachusetts.

A fourth-grader with first-grade reading skills is doomed.

Math scores improve, but reading is flat

Math scores continue to improve modestly for fourth and eighth graders on the “nation’s report card,”and eighth graders inched up in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for 2011. However, flat reading scores for fourth graders are “deeply disappointing,” said David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which develops the exam.

Over 20 years, progress in math has outpaced reading, notes the Christian Science Monitor.

Math scores have risen steadily since 1990. The scores posted a small increase from 2009, the last time the test was given. For fourth-graders, the average math score was 241 on a 500-point scale – 28 points higher than in 1990 and 1 point higher than in 2009. Students at all percentiles except the lowest one increased.

In reading, the progress has been far slower and seems to have stalled out in fourth grade. Students at that level showed no improvement since 2009, and their scores were just four points higher than in 1992. (Eighth-grade scores were one point higher than in 2009 and five points higher than in 1992.)

In both math and reading, one third to 40 percent of students reach what NAEP considers proficiency.

Over 40 years, reading has improved significantly at the fourth-grade level, slightly in eighth grade and not at all in high school, notes Dana Goldstein, who has ideas on how to improve reading instruction.

The math gains show improvement is possible, writes Kevin Carey, who provides fourth-grade math achievement levels over the last 20 years:

In 1990, 50 percent of fourth graders were innumerate, scoring below “basic” in math, Carey writes. Today, that’s down to 18 percent.

The percent of students meeting the much higher “Proficient” standard has more than tripled, from 14 to 47 percent. Unfortunately, those gains seem to fade away in high school, where there has been very little progress over time. But that’s an argument for doing more to improve high schools, which have been, perhaps not coincidentally, largely removed from standards-and-accountability regimes.

States were far more likely to improve scores than to decline, he adds.

Some achievement gaps for minority and low-income students are narrowing, but not fast enough, says Education Trust, which breaks out state results.

Texas schools outperform Chicago

Don’t mess with Texas’ schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed Texas schools have “really struggled” under Gov. Rick Perry, now a GOP candidate for president. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said in a TV interview, adding he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders “substantially outperformed” students in Chicago, the district Duncan ran before going to Washington, notes Andrew Rotherham in Time. The Texas high school graduation rate of 73 percent is slightly below the national average, but way above Chicago’s 56 percent graduation rate.

Overall, Texas scores are “right around the national averages” in reading and math on  NAEP, despite educating many immigrant students with poorly educated, non-English-speaking parents.  ACT reports Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness.

Duncan’s response to Rotherham:

“Texas has challenges. The record speaks for itself. Lots of other states have challenges too. But there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done in Texas and a lot of children who need a chance to get a great education.”

The statement is meaningless: All states have challenges that require hard work. The question is whether Texas is shirking.

Duncan’s claim of “massive increases in class size in Texas” is untrue, responds the Dallas Morning News. Primary classes, capped at 22 students, have remained stable. Secondary classes in core subjects are getting smaller.

. . . secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.

In an e-mail to Duncan, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott added:

– Texas is ranked 13th in Ed Week’s Quality Counts report. Quality Counts gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in “Transitions and Alignment” of the Texas system with college and career readiness. . .

– The Texas class of 2011 posted a record-high math score on the ACT college entrance exam. The Texas average math score was 21.5 and was higher than the national average of 21.1. ACT scores from 2007 to 2011 showed increases in all four subjects.

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders aced the 2009 NAEP science exam, Scott wrote. In eighth grade, black Texans were first in the nation compared to other blacks, white Texans tied with whites in high-scoring Massachusetts and Hispanics ranked eighth.

Perry has resisted Race To the Top, so perhaps Duncan’s antipathy is all about education policy. But it looks as though the education secretary is playing presidential politics. That’s not the way to build bipartisan consensus.

 

 

 

Proficient in Texas, but not in Missouri

Most states don’t match federal proficiency standards for elementary math and reading, a new federal report concludes.

Eight states have raised standards in recent years. South Carolina has lowered its standards, though the new superintendent pledges to raise the bar.

The National Center for Education Statistics compares state requirements to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

The report shows huge disparities among the standards states set when their tests are converted to the NAEP’s 500-point scale. In eighth-grade reading, for example, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest passing bar, and Missouri, which has the highest, according to the data. In eighth-grade math, there is a 71-point spread between the low, Tennessee, and the high, Massachusetts.

A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.”

Proficient in Texas, but not in Missouri

Most states don’t match federal proficiency standards for elementary math and reading, a new federal report concludes.

Eight states have raised standards in recent years.  South Carolina has lowered its standards, though the new superintendent pledges to raise the bar.

The National Center for Education Statistics compares state requirements to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In fourth-grade reading, for example, 35 states set passing bars that are below the “basic” level on the national NAEP exam. “Basic” means students have a satisfactory understanding of material, as opposed to “proficient,” which means they have a solid grasp of it. Massachusetts is the only state to set its bar at “proficient”—and that was only in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

The report shows huge disparities among the standards states set when their tests are converted to the NAEP’s 500-point scale. In eighth-grade reading, for example, there is a 60-point difference between Texas, which has the lowest passing bar, and Missouri, which has the highest, according to the data. In eighth-grade math, there is a 71-point spread between the low, Tennessee, and the high, Massachusetts.

A Tennessee eighth grader could be considered proficient without being able to read a graph, while a Massachusetts student meeting the proficiency benchmark “would likely be able to solve a math problem using algebra and geometry.”

 

Attack of the reading tests

Rachel Levy hoped to teach history and geography while developing her high school students’ reading and writing skills. But the principal of her inner-city D.C. school — pre-Rhee — told social studies teachers to spend one-fifth of class time teaching the reading test, Levy writes on Core Knowledge Blog.

Teachers were told to make a chart for each student showing how well he or she did on each skill, such as “context clues.”

Then I was supposed to target my lesson plans to teach and remedy each student’s individual weaknesses. . . . such instruction and data collection had to be documented in our lesson plan books and during classroom observations.

Teach and remedy each student’s individual weaknesses?

While testing doesn’t require such stupidities, few educators have the patience to rely on a “well-rounded and knowledge-rich curriculum” to raise scores gradually, Levy writes.

She tried to persuade colleagues that the way to raise test scores was to “teach content and have students read and write as much as possible.”  No one agreed.

Now raising three children, Levy blogs at All Things Education.

Update:  You need to know how to teach but you also need to know your subject very well, writes Michael Bromley, a social studies teacher who guest-blogged for Rick Hess on Ed Week.  “No matter the teaching strategy, if you don’t have something valid, interesting, and important to teach there will be no learning.”

In June, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released a report showing core historical illiteracy among American school children. In response, famed historian David McCullough told the Wall Street Journal, “People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively because they’re often assigned to teach subjects about which they know little or nothing.”

Wait a minute, there, David, hold on: modern pedagogy states that qualified, education-proficient teachers can teach anything, so long as the correct strategies for student engagement are followed. Isn’t that the problem? David replies, “You can’t love something you don’t know any more than you can love someone you don’t know.” Amen, brother . . .

If you don’t know the subject, your students won’t either, Bromley concludes.

Florida leads in gains by low-income kids

Florida’s low-income students made impressive gains from 2003 to 2009 on NAEP reading and math tests for fourth and eighth grade, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. In fact, Florida also made large gains from 1998 to 2002, Ladner writes, but there isn’t data for all 50 states going back that far. (FRL stands for free and reduced lunch eligibility, the standard measure of student poverty.)

Low-income students lost ground in West Virginia, which is a leader in teaching “21st-century skills.” Coincidence?

Few are proficient in geography

Fourth graders know more geography, eighth graders are about the same and 12th graders are losing ground, according to the Nation’s Report Card: Geography 2010 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Fewer than one third of students are proficient.

In geography, civics and U.S. history, achievement is stagnating or declining, NAEP advises.

“In particular, the pattern of disappointing results for our twelfth graders’ performance across all three social science subjects should be of great concern to everyone,” said David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP.

The lowest-scoring students made gains at all three grade levels, and some racial/ethnic achievement gaps narrowed.

A proficient fourth grader can recognize what prevents soil erosion, a proficient eighth grader can explain the effects of a monsoon in India and a proficient 12th grader can explain why Mali is considered overpopulated.

Some of the 12th grade questions are challenging:

The diagram shown is a profile of a content from West to East (shown in miles) and elevation (showed in feet or height off of the ground). In the West, the elevation starts at 0, and quickly rises to its maximum elevation of 23,000 feet approximately 750 miles inland. After the this high point, the elevation drops steadily back to 0 at the most easternmost point of the continent, approximately 3,260 miles from the westernmost point of the continent.

The diagram above shows a profile of which continent?

  1.   Europe
  2.   South America
  3.   Antarctica
  4.   Africa

I got it right, but it was an educated guess.

Go here for sample questions.

This map of The World According to Americans represents the way many of us were taught as children, writes Lynne Diligent.

These maps are about feelings rather than knowledge, writes Diligent, who lives overseas.

I used to play a geography game with my father. I’d close my eyes, spin the globe and point to a place. He’d tell me about it. I loved the sound of “Addis Ababa” and “Haile Selassie,” the Lion of Judah.  Later, I played a German game, Weltreise, that taught me the best air, rail and shipping routes. My favorite was Montevideo to Kapstadt (Capetown) to Adelaide by boat.

Hispanic students aren't catching up

Hispanic fourth and eighth graders didn’t catch up in math and reading from 1990 to 2009, concludes Achievement Gaps, a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report issued yesterday. Hispanic students improved, but so did non-Hispanic whites.

Nationwide, the average Hispanic student is working two or more grade levels below the average white student, notes the Christian Science Monitor.  (Ten points on NAEP is the equivalent of one grade level.)

In fourth-grade math in 2009, the average Hispanic score of 227 corresponds with the “basic” skill level, and it indicates that students can make a pictograph of given information, and can determine, in a multiple-choice question, how many given pieces cover a shape.

The white average score of 248, on the other hand, is just one point shy of reaching the “proficient” skill level, and it indicates that these students can subtract a two-digit number from a three-digit number and solve a word problem involving quarts and cups.

Hispanic school enrollment in grades 4 and 8 tripled in the last two decades, growing from 7 percent to 22 percent by 2009.  Some 77 percent of Hispanic students come from low-income families.

Thirty-seven percent in fourth grade and 21 percent in eighth grade are not fully proficient in reading English. Not surprisingly, Hispanic students who’ve achieved proficiency — which is measured by scoring well on tests — do much better than those who aren’t proficient.

For Hispanics who already know English, the gaps with whites have narrowed. That gap was 15 points in Grade 8 reading, for instance, while ELL Hispanics scored 39 points lower than non-ELL Hispanics.

Among low-income students, the gaps between Hispanics and whites have narrowed in reading and eighth-grade math since 2003.

Florida boasts a significantly smaller Hispanic-white achievement gap. Other school systems with smaller-than-average gaps are Kentucky, Missouri, Wyoming and the Department of Defense schools. California, sadly, has a larger-than-average achievement gap.

Don't know much about history

What’s important about that bearded guy with the stovepipe hat? What advantage did American colonists have over British troops during the Revolutionary War? What country allied with North Korea during the Korean War? American students don’t know much about U.S. history, concludes the Nation’s Report Card 2010. History is the weakest of all subjects tested.

Eighth graders made some progress from 2006 to 2010, while scores were flat at the fourth an 12th-grade level. However, only 17 percent of students score at or above the proficient level.

Since 1994, scores have risen at all three levels. Black and Hispanic fourth and eighth graders have made significant gains since 1994. That’s the good news.

Not so good: Only a third of fourth graders can identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

Two percent of 12th graders can name the social problem — school segregation — that Brown vs. the Board of Education was supposed to correct, even after reading: “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

While some questions are multiple choice, others require students to write a short response. Frequently, they are asked to interpret maps, pictures, posters, graphs, original documents and quotations, such as explaining the historical context of a slave letter, using a map to explain the purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition or analyzing a graph of the declining number of farms.

Questions about minorities and women are common: Identify a role of women during the American Revolution. Explain how World War II affected African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights. Study an 1849 picture of a Sioux encampment and identify three ways the Sioux used natural resources.

I had to think about this eighth-grade question:

For centuries, a young man who wanted to learn a craft was apprenticed to a master craftsman who taught him the necessary skills. Why did the apprenticeship system begin to decline in the first half of the 1800′s?

A. The apprenticeship system was considered unsuitable for the increased number of women working outside the home.

B. The growth of the factory system led to a decreased need for skilled labor.

C. Many young men chose to become farmers instead of craftsmen.

D. Craftsmen began to use unskilled immigrant labor in their shops.

(The answer is B.)

You can test yourself at all three grade levels.