The New Reading

The experience of reading is expanding and the idea that only the act of processing words on the printed page (or screen) qualifies as ‘reading’ has been upended in the face of interactive technology that blurs the distinction between reading and other modes of processing information.   Greg Toppo writes in The Atlantic how new technologies are allowing students a more immersive experience.

Today, publishers are opting for works that combine video and audio components as part of the reading experience.  Rich graphics and embedded URLs are as much a part of the reading experience as the printed words on the page.  The most compelling example of the way new technology is transforming the reading experience is Inanimate Alice:

Created by the British novelist Kate Pullinger and British-Canadian multimedia artist Chris Joseph, Alice is a book that blinks, buzzes, hums, sings, jitterbugs, plays games, and, on occasion, rains and snows. Using her laptop, Fleming projected the first Alice story onto a library whiteboard … and her fifth-graders went nuts. The story was immersive like little else, the first piece of fiction that helped them see life through a character’s eyes. A few students approached her afterwards to thank her, tears glistening in their eyes.

Welcome to the brave new world of reading: the clickable, interactive future of books. Just as digital technology is transforming people’s work, social lives, and family ties, it’s naturally transforming the slow, solitary act of reading. Think beyond paper versus pixels—this technology cuts to the very core of what it means to read a book.

There is still much debate on whether such enhancements actually support the text or simply serve as flashy distractions.  But as more research emerges on the specific features that best support a text, we’re more likely to see an increase in the number of interactive texts.  That’s a good thing.  For reluctant readers, anything that brings them to the page and keeps them there is likely to do more good than harm.  And these new text types may just help reluctant readers become passionate about books, or more precisely, information.

The 2015 Summer Math Challenge Added Up to Success

The 2015 Quantile Summer Math Challenge drew to a close at the end of last week. The Summer Math Challenge is a free math-skills maintenance program developed by the team behind the Quantile® Framework for Mathematics. For six weeks each summer, registered parents receive daily emails with fun activities and links to resources designed to help their students retain the math skills learned during the previous school year. This year’s Summer Math Challenge was a huge success and saw the greatest number of participants so far, with a 30% increase in registration over last year. Thousands of parents and children from all 50 states participated. We are truly grateful for all the support.

As a reward for those who completed the challenge, a personalized Summer Math Challenge Award Certificate is offered for download. The certificate celebrates students’ hard work and summarizes the concepts reviewed during the Summer Math Challenge. Additionally we provide a Summer Math Challenge Teacher Letter to pass along once school starts back. This letter provides your child’s teacher with additional information about the Summer Math Challenge, the Quantile Framework, and how to use the tools available on Quantiles.com.

Missed out on the Summer Math Challenge this year? Registration for the next challenge is always available. We’ll be working all year to make the 2016 Summer Math Challenge even better! Until then, please visit Quantiles.com to explore the many other free resources available to parents and educators. If you have any questions about the Summer Math Challenge or the Quantile Framework, please contact us by visiting quantiles.desk.com.

Lack of Education: Just as Deadly as Smoking

Research conducted by the University of Colorado, New York University, and the University of Chapel Hill has concluded that 145,243 deaths a year could be prevented if every adult had a GED or regular high school diploma – a comparable mortality rate to that of smoking. Studies such as this one, on the association between education levels and health outcomes, is nothing new and has been extensively researched over the past decades, so what makes this recent study so intriguing?

The basic explanation for this connection between health and education, as explained by Victoria Chang, an associate professor at NYU and co-author of the study, is that people with more education usually have better jobs and higher incomes which translate into more opportunities such as higher quality foods, gym access, better health care, etc. But what sets this study apart is how it shows that there is more interconnectivity between education and health outcomes than just monetary means. Chang explains how there is a direct effect from education: improved cognitive skills. So even if your degree doesn’t increase your income, it still provides you with “more knowledge about health, more access to get that knowledge, more of a sense of agency, more self-efficacy, better peer connections.” These findings indicate something new – that there is sufficient evidence that a decent proportion of the relationship between education and health is causal, not just correlated.

But what do these findings mean? Well, they could set the stage for new debates in both education and health policy. The study concludes that “Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the US population, especially given widening educational disparities across birth cohorts.” This is good news for education policy! Chang points out how normally in health policy the focus has been on changing habits and behaviors such as diet, smoking, or drinking. But this study places emphasis on education, a more upstream, fundamental factor and indicates that it should also be included among the ranks of key elements in US health policy. This shift in thinking will hopefully put the spotlight on education and result in more educational attainment and positive health outcomes.

MetaMetrics and Departments of Education Team Up to Combat Summer Learning Loss!

This summer MetaMetrics has partnered with twenty two state departments of education to fight summer learning loss. Since 2012 MetaMetrics, in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), has offered the “Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge” to freely support departments of education in order to create and sustain state-led summer reading initiatives. A few years later, MetaMetrics launched a sister program, the “Summer Math Challenge” (SMC).

Summer learning is a beloved, annual project among MetaMetrics staffers. It’s the brainchild of Malbert Smith, Ph.D., the president and co-founder of MetaMetrics, who recognizes that providing free tools to prevent kids from going home to text and resource free environments is a vital endeavor to combating summer learning loss. Dr. Smith also serves on the National Summer Learning Association’s Board of Directors.

“Summer learning loss is not just a problem facing children of low-income families, it is an epidemic across America that affects all students,” stated Dr. Malbert Smith. “For example, all students on average lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation over the summer months each year. Such unfortunate statistics qualify a call to action. When we launched the Chief’s Challenge, it was thrilling to see state chiefs positively respond and take action in their states. Even more rewarding are my trips to states’ summer learning launch parties and promotional events. Seeing our young learners rallied and excited to kick off summer learning compels our passion to keep fighting learning loss and to continue our efforts year after year.”

One of the free tools offered for reading is the popular, Lexile-based book search tool, “Find a Book.” “Find a Book” allows readers to search for titles targeted to their reading ability and personal interests, and then to locate those titles at their local library. States can work with MetaMetrics to personalize a “Find a Book” landing page for their students to visit over the summer months. To incentivise the reading challenge, MetaMetrics posts a Summer Reading Pledge. When readers submit their reading pledge they are entered into a drawing to win a Barnes & Noble gift card.

On the math side of MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities is a free, Quantile-based resource that keeps kids practicing their math skills for six weeks over the summer. The SMC is a math skills maintenance program targeted to students who have just completed grade 2 through 6. Parents who enroll their child will receive daily emails with fun activities that are targeted to their child’s Quantile level (mathematical ability) and links to educational resources. For more information about MetaMetrics summer learning opportunities, visit www.lexile.com or www.Quantiles.com.

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Dr. Malbert Smith speaks to North Carolina students at Give Five—Read Five summer 2015’s kick off event. Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Coding the Curriculum

Years ago, schools across the United States widely offered Latin classes as an important part of a student’s education. Beyond allowing students to read great classics in their original language, studying Latin gave students tools for learning they could for the rest of their lives. The process of learning Latin allowed students to become familiar with a specific informational system, while also teaching them systematic thinking. This type of thinking is incredibly valuable, as it can be applied to all other learning a person does during their lifetime.

Nowadays, however, Latin classes are rare, and are often seen as an elitist indulgence. But without Latin classes, how will students gain this important system of thought? In a growing number of schools across America, and even the world, the answer is coding.

In an increasingly technological world, coding seems the obvious replacement for an antiquated form of communication. Not only does coding prepare students to have some level of mastery over the technology that surrounds them, but it also teaches the type of systematic thinking that Latin had in the past, providing students with the tools they will need as they continue to learn. Although it may seem like a niche subject relegated to computer science classes, teachers are finding ways to incorporate coding into a multitude of subjects. Students can use it in art class to create complicated patterns, or in English class to reenact scenes from Macbeth. As Tony Wan from EdSurge says, the addition of coding to this wide array of subjects returns “creativity, tinkering, and exploration to the learning process.” Coding teaches students problem-solving skills and inventive thinking – abilities they can use in the rest of their academic endeavors, as well as their everyday lives.

By incorporating coding into almost any subject a student can take, schools allow their pupils to look at information in a different conceptual light, and build fluency with coding language. This fluency will continue to be important even as the students graduate and enters the workforce, especially as an increasing number of industries add technical elements to their companies. Businesses are constantly increasing their online presence with custom websites and creating their own apps, and are looking for people who know how to code to create and maintain these tools. Even industries such as fashion and music are looking for coders to employ. By teaching students coding from a young age, schools are giving them an advantage in today’s competitive job market.

Proponents of coding suggest starting off children as young as possible, and there has been an upsurge in the production of toys that involve coding, like Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop, that make the process fun and engaging. These toys allow children to become familiar with coding, even at a basic level, before they even enter school. The robots allow for open-ended play, giving children complete control over what the toys do, and beginning their experience with systematic thought. For those who don’t have access to these types of toys, many elementary schools across the country are beginning to incorporate coding into their curriculums. This act of teaching coding in school also plays an important role in demystifying the process, showing that it is not just for boys who are innately talented at it, but can be taught to anyone, including girls. This can help equalize the gender disparity in STEM fields, giving both genders the same chance to make their way in math and science fields.

Happy National Clerihew Day

Each year on July 10th we mark National Clerihew Day. What in the world is a Clerihew? It’s a light-hearted, four line biographical poem intended to poke a little fun at the subject. The Clerihew was created by novelist/humorist Edmund Clerihew Bentley, supposedly while as a student at St. Paul’s school in Hammersmith, England. The following is believed to be his first Clerihew:

“Sir Humphrey Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered Sodium.”

Clerihews are meant to be absurd and the rhymes intentionally forced. The poems follow four classic rules:

-Four lines in length

-The subject’s name in the first line

-Line 1 rhymes with line 2 and line 3 rhymes with line 4

-It should be silly!

The rules aren’t meant to be strict, just have fun with it! I wrote this one in honor of Mr. Bentley:

“Mr. Edmund C. Bentley

Made his name a bit differently

Schoolboy poems at Hammersmith

But that may all be myth”

What makes a “good” Clerihew is a relative term, many great writers have penned terrible Clerihews, including E.C. Bentley himself. Why not try writing your own today?

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic… and Grit?

For thousands of students across the country, the next step after graduating high school is attending college. They spend their time in high school building their resumes, making sure they’ve taken the required amount of credits, bolstering their GPAs with AP classes, and filling their free time with extracurriculars. But what if that wasn’t enough? A growing number of experts believe this is true. There is increasing evidence that, despite fulfilling all the requirements for admission, many students aren’t quite ready for college. This is because of a lack of development of a different set of skills, one that is separate from how well you take notes or perform on a test.

Nonacademic skills are becoming of increasing interest to educators across the country. Experts are finding that these types of skills, such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, have just as much impact on a student’s performance in college as their grades or reading ability. As the first time students are really on their own, college requires a lot of different skills and intelligence to navigate successfully. Although they are not part of a school’s regular curriculum, these skills can be taught, giving students giving students a chance to thrive in college and beyond.

Although many educational experts agree on the need to teach and foster nonacademic skills, there is debate on what to call them. Some simple terms such a “character” and “grit” have been suggested, but face criticism because of their connotations or over-simplicity. Other names can be misleading, such as “soft skills” or “21st century skills,” which may lead people to believe this skills are not important or only deal with technology. Others are just plain unwieldy, like “noncognitive traits and habits,” which, other than being a mouthful, is a bit of a misnomer, as all traits and habits are cognitive, in that each “involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains.”

Until this dispute can be settled, there will likely be a mish-mash of terms in publications about this subject, accompanied by a group of disgruntled researchers and policymakers. But make no mistake – although they may disagree on the jargon, all agree that these skills are worth developing.

Summer Learning Initiatives

It is no secret that our school systems face serious discrepancies in student achievement. But it is not just what goes on during the school year that contributes to this. In fact Dr. Judy Blankenship Cheatham, Vice President of Literary Services at Reading is Fundamental, reports that most of this achievement gap actually takes place in the summer months when a significant proportion of kids are “opportunity poor”. During the Summer Learning Story Ideas Webinar, Dr. Cheatham joined forces with Jessica Lahey, writer for The Atlantic and New York Times and Sarah Pitcock, CEO of National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), to explore summer learning opportunities and ways to combat what has been coined as “summer slide” for students. The webinar provided information and resources on the importance of summer learning, especially now that half of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. This level of poverty is a driving factor behind the lack of access to diverse, interesting, and informational texts during the summer months. The consequence is that students are regressing in literacy skills during the summer, losing up to three months worth of progress. According to Dr. Judy Cheatham the cumulative effect of this summer slide is that students without access to summer reading materials are on average two and a half to three years behind their peers by fifth grade, and four years behind by twelfth grade.

How do we work to address this issue at a time where many students are living in isolated, rural areas or do not have the monetary means to access resourceful books? Fortunately, according to Dr. Cheatham, it does not take extensive lessons and lecturing to overcome this problem. One of her studies found that just an hour of reading with a volunteer twice a week is enough to at least maintain literacy level, and oftentimes even progress. Sarah Pitcock also provided information on several growing summer learning programs. Specifically, school libraries and public housing authorities have recently taken initiative for summer learning, offering low-cost or free programs for kids. Public school libraries across the country are implementing volunteer based programs where, for just $7 a summer, students can access their school libraries twice a week. While public libraries are often a good resource, those in low income places are the first to close for the summer and even if they are open, can be miles away from the students who need it most. Alternatively, keeping school libraries open can help provide more options. Additionally, and even more surprising, is the summer learning initiatives taking place by public housing authorities. An excellent example of this is in Tacoma, WA where they have implemented cost-free learning programs for local students during the summer.

While the aforementioned programs mark progress, two-thirds of children in the United States still aren’t involved in any kind of summer learning. A major contributor to this, outside of cost, is the inability to get informative texts to students at their reading level that also interest them. Malbert Smith, NSLA board member and President of MetaMetrics® , explains in his paper Stop Summer Academic Loss that “The best predictor of summer reading is whether books are in the home. Unfortunately, many students go home to text-free or text-poor zones.” But it is not enough to merely provide children with books, as Dr. James Kim, Harvard University professor, found through more than a decade of research. His study shows that children’s reading abilities can actually grow over the summer when they read high-interest books in their Lexile® range. But, he remarks that we need to make sure students are “finding books at their reading level that really interest them. Young people have to want to read a book and they have to be able to read it.”

Dr. Kim’s findings inspired a tool that helps combat summer slide nationwide – The Lexile “Find a Book”. “Find a Book” actualizes Dr. Kim’s research in a fun, easy-to-use interface for educators, parents and children. With “Find a Book,” you can build targeted reading lists for students based on their Lexile measure. This enables students to find books that are at their reading level, but also lets them choose their own books based off of individual interests. Being able to choose their own books significantly increases the rate at which students finish them and can ultimately work to overcome summer academic loss.

MetaMetrics® also provides other free resources for educators, parents, and students to access year round and has their own initiative: Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge that works with state DOEs to promote reading and math over the summer.

Math = Logic?

Suppose you’re in a dungeon with two doors. One leads to escape, the other to execution. There are only two other people in the room, one of whom always tells the truth, while the other always lies. You don’t know which is which, but they know that the other always lies or tells the truth. You can ask one of them one question, but, of course, you don’t know whether you’ll be speaking to the truth-teller or the liar. So what single question can you ask one of them that will enable you to figure out which door is which and make your escape?

Stumped? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s not a trick question though; in fact the answer is fairly straightforward:

You ask either of them: “If I asked the other person which door is the one to escape, which would he point to?” Then you take the other door.

According to Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times columnist, those with mathematical training are more likely to figure out this problem. Why is that? Kristoff explains that math isn’t just math — it’s logic. The skills utilized when studying and learning math are the same logistical skills you use for everyday things like brain teasers, statistics, or economics; even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.

Questions like the one mentioned above, however, are often puzzling to Americans. For example, studies show that only 37% of American kids could correctly answer the question below whereas 75% of our Singapore counterparts answered correctly.

What is the sum of the three consecutive whole numbers with 2n as the middle number? (Answer: B)

  1. 6n+3
  2. 6n
  3. 6n-1
  4. 6n-3

It is not uncommon to hear stories of America’s poor performance in reading and math on an international scale. While this is a common misconception considering our scores have actually been improving over the past years, some of our counterparts in other advanced countries are indeed progressing more quickly. This is not due to an overall higher intelligence of other countries though. If we revisit the Singapore comparison we can learn that this kind of thinking is not innate. Instead, this logic is taught. Some may be familiar with the concept of “Singapore Math”, a model constructed upon child development theory that relies on student mastery of a limited number of mathematical concepts each year. The end result is that these students have a deeper level of comprehension and are therefore more prepared for problem solving. This enables them to master more difficult topics, like fractions and ratios, at much earlier ages than American students.

So if this is true, why then are Americans “avoiding” math? I’m sure we all know someone, or have been guilty ourselves, of copping out with: “Oh, I’m just not good at math”. But why do we have these outlooks on our math abilities when they can indeed be taught?

The answer may lie in our early foundations in mathematics. Unlike Singapore’s focus on mastery of limited concepts, American mathematics often focuses on memorization and drilling of concepts, such as multiplication. This can result in a lack of understanding about the meaning and function of numerals. And since mathematics continuously builds on itself, if a student doesn’t master the basic foundational concepts they will progress slowly and often fall behind. In fact, a study by researchers at the University of Missouri found that: “Children who don’t grasp the meaning and function of numerals before they enter first grade fall behind their peers in math achievement, and most of them don’t catch up”. This contributes to the alarming 22% innumeracy rate among adults in the United States. This early exposure and mastery of basic mathematical concepts is crucial for future arithmetic abilities.

This comparison is not to dishearten educational efforts in the United States, however. In fact this should encourage the public that the solution may be more straightforward than we imagined. Tools such as The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics can aid in this transformation by providing learners with resources for their individualized mathematical levels. Tools like these can be personalized for each student and provide additional means for gaining mastery of specific concepts.

High School Graduation Continues To Climb

During May and June, high school seniors across the United States gather to don a cap and gown in a crescendo of four years of hard work. For the students it is a momentous occasion in their lives. Yet, it could also be part of a momentous trend across the United States, depending on how many students actually receive their graduation certificates. In 2013, the high school graduation rate hit 81.4%, according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation Report put out by the organization GradNation. This is up slightly from 79% in 2011 and 80% in 2012, and is moving steadily towards a goal of 90% of high schoolers graduating in 2020. So why have graduation rates risen, and how can they continue to rise? Research has illustrated several factors that have counted to higher graduation rates. First, targeted efforts have helped retain minority students from dropping out. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, in 2000 13% of all African-American students dropped out and 27% of Latino/as. By 2012, these numbers had declined to 7.5% of African-American students and 12.7% of Latino/a students. Retention of minority students has had a substantial effect on the graduation rate.

Importantly, interventions at the district and school level have helped mold schools into places where students can thrive and graduate. Throughout the ’90s, organizations like the Center for Research on Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR), a joint venture between John Hopkins and Howard University, began to study how individual high schools could improve in instruction and administration to keep from losing minority students. This helped to target the 900 to 1,000 high schools in the U.S. where graduation was 50% at best, and the 2,000 high schools where a freshman class will shrink by 40% before senior year. Since then many states have launched sophisticated programs to target their lowest performing schools and reconstruct them into more successful institutions.

Also important to the rise of graduation is improvement in instruction much earlier than high school. In fact, one of the most important indicators of whether a student will graduate high school is how the student reads at third grade. Students living in poverty tend to enter school with a paucity of language, which can be exacerbated by the time they deal with high school courses if initiatives are not put in place by third grade. For this reason, states have made significant efforts, such as NC’s Read to Achieve, over the last decade and a half to target third grade reading. No doubt as further and further emphasis on third grade reading occurs, more and more students will continue to graduate high school almost a decade later.

Despite gains, however, there are some areas in the United States which have not seen the same growth. Often times in the United States, socioeconomic categories overlap. Areas with greater socioeconomic hardships–and minorities with a greater rate of poverty compared to the state average– tend to face difficult circumstances when helping those minority students succeed in schools. For instance, Arizona, whose overall population living in poverty is 9% White while 33% Latino/a, also has significantly lower graduation rates among Latino/a students compared to the national average. In fact, it is one of the places where high school graduation is declining in the nation. To continue to grow graduation rates will take an increased effort to help the gap close, not widen, between the privileged and less privileged members of our society.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.