A Response to Simon: College & Career Readiness for All Students

Not long ago, Stephanie Simon reported for Politico.com on what she called a “standards rebellion” in America.  According to Simon, “The backlash stems, in part, from anger over the Common Core … But it’s more than that. It’s pushback against the idea that all students must be ready for college — even if they have no interest in going.”  From Simon’s discussion, it appears that on the one hand, some policy-makers want to empower all students for college and/or rewarding careers; yet, other policy-makers call this elitist and say that many students need vocational rather than academic preparation.  Ironically, American College Testing found that high school students “need comparable levels of reading and mathematics, regardless of their post–high school plans.” (ACT, 2013, p. 6).

Recent research on the difficulty of reading materials associated with access to individual careers sheds some light on the issue. Williamson and Baker (2013) examined a randomly chosen linear systematic sample of 1/6 of the Bright Outlook Occupations identified by the National Center for O*NET Development using data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Fully 28.8% of the occupations in the study required only a high school diploma for access.  However, all of the rest required additional education beyond high school.  Using the Lexile® Framework for Reading to measure text complexity, the study examined the difficulty of reading materials associated with individual occupations and found that the reading levels associated with different careers varied widely.  However, while typical high school texts have text complexity at around 1130L (i.e., 1130 Lexiles), almost 70% of the Bright Outlook Occupations had median text complexities above 1200L.  Nearly 29% of the occupations had text complexity above 1400L.  Perhaps the truth is that the postsecondary world offers something for an extremely diverse population of high school graduates.  There are indeed a few occupations that may be accessible with only a high school diploma and typical high school reading ability.  However, the large majority of occupations require substantially more reading ability than is represented by the texts that high school graduates were required to read as they were nearing the end of high school.

The Lexile® Framework for Reading evaluates reading ability and text complexity on the same developmental scale. Unlike other measurement systems, the Lexile Framework determines reading ability based on actual assessments, rather than generalized age or grade levels. Recognized as the standard for matching readers with texts, tens of millions of students worldwide receive a Lexile measure that helps them find targeted readings from the more than 100 million articles, books and websites that have been measured. Lexile measures connect learners of all ages with resources at the right level of challenge and monitors their progress toward state and national proficiency standards. More information about the Lexile® Framework can be found at www.Lexile.com.

Adjusting Math Terms for the Common Core World

Valerie Faulkner of North Carolina State University argues for a shift in the mathematical language we use.  The Common Core should give us pause and force us to reconsider the terminology and vocabulary we employ in describing certain skills and concepts.  Here are a few examples:

Old Habit (eliminate)                                     New Habit (adopt)

Defining equality as “ same as”                   Defining equality as “same value as”

Calling digits numbers                                    Clearly distinguishing between digits, numbers and numerals

Addition makes things bigger                      Addition is about combining

Subtraction makes things get smaller      Subtraction is about difference

Let’s borrow from the tens place               Use regrouping, trading, decomposing

Multiplication makes things bigger          Teach 3 structures of multiplication

Divison makes things smaller                     Teach the different structures of divisions,

Doesn’t go into                                                 Prepare students for later learning by using accurate language

Saying “and” means decimal point         Don’t create false rules for language using and

Canceling out                                                   Explicitly use and discuss the idea behind simplifying

Referring to “the answer”                           Use the model or the relationships to justify your answer

Guess-and-check as a strategy                 Teach systematic math representations


Old habits die hard, but this is food for thought as many districts get farther into implementing the Common Core.

Identity Confusion: The Problem with the Equal Sign

Henry Borenson explains how we use the = sign in two very different ways.  The first way is operational, for example 10 + 15 = ______.  The second way we use the sign is relational, indicating equivalence between two sets of expressions, each of which includes one or more operations, for example 8 + 4 =_____ + 5.  But in 1999 a study of hundreds of first through six graders only 5%  solved problems like this correctly.

Borenson believes that because of this study we can conclude that the relational meaning  of the equal sign is not something that students find intuitive or self evident. When asked to fill in the answer to the problems above most students said that 12 belongs in the space because the answer follows the equal sign.  The equal sign seems to trigger the operational definition in most students’ minds. Some students thought the  + 5 was just there to confuse them.

Borenson recommends  introducing students in the second or third grade to the idea of balanced equations using concrete objects rather than numbers and the equal sign. Once students get the idea the equal sign can be introduced with the balancing explanation. Studies have shown that if the relational meaning of the equal sign is introduced in this way students are much more likely to grasp both ways.

How to Encourage a Love of Mathematics

Here’s Lisa Medoff from Stanford University suggesting eight helpful ways that educators can build students’ tenacity with a subject that frustrates many of them: math!

  • Empathize. It helps to imagine a situation where you are out of your confort zone and feeling frustrated and agry.


  • Know your stuff. Be sure to spend time mastering the topic and walking students through their own self-doubts and frustrations.


  •  Use a variety of activities and supports. Get students working in groups with structured, hands-on, real world activities with the teacher circulating to troubleshoot and provide one-on-one support.


  • Convey the “growth” mindset. Let the students know that some may have to work at it harder and they will approach the problem differently, but they can all master math.


  •  Answer all questions respectfully. Even if the question has been asked before, you might say, “ I am glad you asked me again to make sure you understood.


  • Be intentional about homework. Think about how many problems students need to practice, which problems will be most helpful, will help be needed, etc.


  • Reframe the purpose of quizzes and test. Make it clear to the students that the test are not to determine how smart the student is but to show how well the teacher taught the information.


  • Praise effort and reinterpret mistakes. Students should learn to see success as the result of effective effort and mistakes as a sign that more work is needed.


Developing Non-Cognitive Skills

Here’s an interesting perspective: Kentucky math teacher, Alison Wright, described how two students in her Algebra II class reacted to a quiz that was returned. One student looked at the test, rolled her eyes, threw the paper on the floor, and complained the test was not fair and should not count. The second student read the comments, reworked the problems to find her mistakes and stayed after class to discuss the test.

After some research Wright came up that a new approach that she is going to implement in her class this year.

·        Teach students that wrong answers are a helpful part of the learning process.  Many students shut down because they are afraid of having the wrong answer and failing.

·        Use cooperative group work as often as possible. By doing this students develop social skills necessary for teamwork while constructing arguments and providing valuable feedback to each other in a nonthreatening environment.

·        Use “A” and “Not Yet” as the only two possible grades. Wright believes this will help students that have bad reactions to failing grades.


Jumpstart’s Read for the Record: Otis

Join MetaMetrics®, We Give Books, Jumpstart, and record-breakers everywhere on October 3 as together we read Otis by Loren Long for Jumpstart’s Read for the Record®.

By taking part, you will not only help to set a new world record for the Largest Shared Reading Experience, but also help to model and encourage reading aloud to our children. Within The Lexile® Framework for Reading, Otis is an AD840L book. The AD code designates Otis as an “adult directed” book because such picture books are typically read to a child rather than a child reading them independently. Although seemingly easy reading, many picture books often make for a challenging independent reading experience to an age-appropriate reader for reasons of text complexity and book layout or design. Otis, then, presents a wonderful opportunity to share a great story with children and, at the same time, model for them how good readers navigate complex vocabulary and sentence structure.

The story of a fun-loving tractor and his unlikely friendship with a frightened young calf, Otis explores the themes of courage, determination, nostalgia, and usefulness. The story and its satisfying conclusion likely will appeal to readers both young and old. More information about Otis can be found by visiting the “Find a Book” feature on our website.   To read the book online, click here.

The beautiful illustrations and wonderful story provide readers the opportunity to engage the language, vocabulary, and close reading skills necessary for building success in early education and literacy. 

For example, younger readers might examine the use of prepositions as relationship words as the characters travel over the farm’s rolling hills, or through its haystacks, or even around Mud Pond. Older readers might consider the use of vivid, active verbs as the characters “leapfrog” rather than jump, or “explode” rather than run, or even “skirt” rather than avoid. And all readers can be more active in their close reading and re-reading of the story as they might:

  • keep track of and look up any vocabulary words they do not know;
  • note or mark key phrases or anything that strikes them as confusing or important;
  • keep track of the story as it unfolds;
  • note the repetition of words, phrases, ideas, images, events, etc.; and
  • write down questions they have about the text.

Read for the Record is a campaign that brings together millions of Americans to celebrate literacy by breaking the world record for reading the same book on the same day. This year, October 3 is the official Read for the Record day. More information about Read for the Record can be found here.

Recognizing the Value of Math

In a recent Gallup poll Americans were asked “Thinking about all the subjects you studied in school, which one, if any, has been the most valuable to you in your life?” The top three subjects were Math (34%), English/Literature/Reading (21%) and Science/Physics/Biology (12%). This is similar to the results from the August 2002 results where 34% of the respondents listed mathematics as the most valuable subject. 

With the emphasis now in school curricular standards on critical thinking, innovative problem-solving and effective communication skills, these results should be no surprise.  Many schools are emphasizing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics),  education and attitudes towards these once-dreaded subjects are changing.  Many now recognize the importance of mathematics and science in the preparation for post-secondary studies and career training.

While many Americans believe in the importance of the “three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic) in public schools, the demands of curriculum should be fashioned  to promote student focus on logic,  reasoning skills, and the ability to report and justify their conclusions. As a mathematics educator, it is good to see mathematics listed as a top priority.   With new frontiers in science, technology, and engineering opening up, it is imperative that mathematics and language arts go hand-in-hand as the classroom subjects that need the most emphasis.  But overlooking creativity, innovative and logical thinking must also be included in the daily expectations of student inquiry.

One Less Excuse

Those of us who like to believe we are artistic and creative because we are left-brained or that we are analytical and that we reason logically because we are right-brained may be disappointed to learn that these explanations may be more myth than fact.

With the ability to collect data from neuroimaging in brain scans, scientists have observed that the functional connectivity and networking within brain functions are not concentrated in a specific hemisphere of the brain based upon the type of activity a person is performing. In a study out of the University of Utah, researchers found that there is little evidence that one side of the brain has a stronger influence upon our personalities or interests than another.

In other words, the functional network system of the brain seems to be so interconnected that many personality traits, strategies for thinking or creating, or personal areas of interest cannot be attributed to the stronger lateral side of our “gray matter.”  It’s not uncommon to hear individuals use the mythic right-brain left-brain theory to support certain abilities or account for specific deficiencies, e.g. reading or mathematics.  This study, however, casts doubt on such claims.  In fact, both hemispheres of the brain are tightly connected and are necessary for proper functioning.  Remember that next time you hear someone say they ‘don’t do math’ because they’re a right brained person.  That reasoning appears to be a fancier, dressed-up version of the idea that they lack the ‘math gene’ or they lack mathematical reasoning as an innate ability.  Math and reading, like any skill, can be learned and improve with practice.

A Kinder, Gentler Start to the School Year

Pernille Rip, a fifth grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin has a new approach to starting her school year. She believes that she needs to “hold back and not give in to the pressure of pacing guides and classroom procedure gurus.” She plans a “kinder, slower, and more in tune with what I now understand my students really need; respect and a place to call their own.”  She will not pre-post rules, spend time writing a class constitution, or plan ice breakers. She will just be herself, share her life, laugh, decorate the classroom together, decide on expectations together, and start learning.

The first day and first week of school make huge impressions.  How great it would be if the students all realized that they matter, their voice matters, and that the year they are beginning matters.

First Grade Classrooms Needed for Research Study!

As an educational measurement and research organization, MetaMetrics is dedicated to “Bringing Meaning to Measurement.” We strongly believe that assessment and instruction could and should be connected. To strengthen that connection, MetaMetrics continues to explore questions about literacy and mathematics and to conduct research studies that provide empirical data to help answers those questions.

Currently, MetaMetrics is recruiting for our ongoing Early Reader research initiative. We are looking for first grade teachers who are willing and able to administer a short study to their students.   The goals of this research include improving understanding of what makes text complex for the earliest readers and how early reading ability can be assessed reliably and fairly across different populations of students.

For more information, please visit here.

We hope you will consider volunteering to help with this important study.

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.