Because Math’s Too Important to Leave at School

Scholastic’s Math Hub has a great new post on the importance of parental involvement in a child’s math education.  In fact, a recent study found that the higher the level of parental involvement, the greater the student’s understanding of cardinal numbers by the time they enter schools. Even more compelling, additional research indicates that a student’s math knowledge at the time they enter school is often a predictor of their math performance through at least fifth grade.   Here are some other findings worth noting on the connection between math performance and the early introduction of mathematics:

  • A child’s knowledge level is highly related to the complexity of early childhood parental instruction.
  • Findings show that children learn to recite the number sequence before they understand the cardinal  meanings of the number words.
  • Parents who talked more about number with their toddlers had children with a better grasp of the cardinal meaning of numbers at 46 months.
  • Researchers found a correlation between cardinal number knowledge at 46 months and performance on vocabulary comprehension task at 54 months.
  • Number talk that references present objects was more predictive of children’s later number knowledge, especially when talking about large sets.
  • We’ve written much on the importance of keeping students engaged in learning year round, particularly in mathematics where the pernicious effects of summer learning loss are felt across the socioeconomic spectrum.  But this recent research points to an equally important lesson on the importance of introducing students to math at an early age.

    Our own contribution to facilitating parental involvement in mathematics is our own online tool, Math at Home.  Math at Home allows students to locate targeted math resources to help review and supplement current or past lessons.  Because access is 24/7, students have access to math lessons at their own math ability level year round.  Though many of the lessons and activities are targeted toward K-12 students, a number of the resources can be used with pre-K students to introduce them to numbers and basic mathematical concepts. 

    With more studies showing the importance of pre-K math education, it’s our hope that more parents will begin introducing students to math conceps at an even earlier age.

    Welcome Back: Starting with Success

    A brand new school year is here, offering teachers, students, and parents the opportunity for a fresh and positive outlook for the coming months in the classroom. In the article Starting the School Year Right in the August edition of The School Administrator, Thomas R. Guskey emphasizes that the first two weeks of school are critical for students and parents to feel good about what the students know and what is possible to achieve in the coming months.

    Many teachers try to formally or informally assess the ability level of students at the beginning of the school year.  But Guskey cautions that the first assessments need to “help students experience successful learning” during the first two weeks of the year.   It may be important for the educator to firmly establish what students know rather than what they don’t know.

    Guskey’s right.  Educators can help put students at ease early in the year by ensuring that the material they receive is at or near their ability level.  With regards to reading, many students across the United States are assessed in the spring and many states report Lexile measures as an indication of a student’s reading level.  The student Lexile measure allows educators to match students to targeted material, a useful way to develop student confidence and promote motivation. 

    Because reading levels in a single classroom vary considerably, teachers would be well-advised to differentiate material so that students are able understand the text and experience success.  The Lexile Framework for Reading offers tools to measure text as well as ‘Find a Book’ tool, which provides the Lexile measures of trade books and textbooks in all kinds of categories and genres. Matching the text measure to a student Lexile measure can be a strong asset for helping struggling readers be successful.

    Similar to the Lexile scale, the Quantile Framework for Mathematics utilizes a scale that places the math level of students and the difficulty of the math skills and concepts on the same scale.   The Quantile measure for specific mathematics skills and concepts can be found at the Quantile website where the topics are aligned to state standards as well as to the Common Core State Standards.

    When student Quantile measures are available from state assessments or other products aligned to the Quantile Framework, then targeting student needs in the mathematics classroom becomes much more manageable, allowing content to be tailored to the student ability level as well.

    Dr. Guskey offers numerous suggestions for facilitating positive experiences for students. Critical stakeholders include not only students and teachers, but also parents and administrators. This community of supporters has a strong influence over the long-term success of our children. We often speak of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of our students. But differentiating can mean much more to the students if they recognize their abilities and use that information to grow into motivated and self-assured students throughout their academic career.

    Kentucky Emphasizes Reading

    Susan Riddell of Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education, recently commented on the importance of summer reading:

    “Students who participate in summer reading programs are less likely to lose knowledge and skills during the summer,” says Suzanne Crowder, library media specialist at Campbellsville Elementary School.  “Summer reading has the potential to help children make gains in their reading and vocabulary.  It also offers students who live in poverty the opportunity to have reading materials readily available.”

    According to Riddell, the Find a Book, Kentuckyinitiative is one resource library specialist and teachers alike are taking advantage of this summer.  After receiving training earlier this year, librarians are recommending this service to patrons- with librarian Kate Schiavi of the Louisville Free Public Library noting that, “I have been having more and more patrons come in looking for books on a particular Lexile level…I have found the Lexile website easy to use and search.  It’s a great tool for them to be able to jump on at their computer at home and come to the library prepared.”

    Ample research demonstrates the importance of encouraging reading during summer months to avoid the loss that students suffer when they take a three month hiatus from learning. We are glad to see others taking up this cause, and utilizing the convenience of our utilities which are powered by the research and technology of the Lexile Framework for Reading.  And remember: “Find a Book” is not just for creating summer reading lists.  “Find a Book” can be used year round and is an excellent free tool for allowing students to match themselves to targeted text based on both interest and their reading range.

    Family Literacy: Some Encouraging News

    When it comes to family literacy, it appears there are some encouraging trends.  Education Week is reporting on the Census Bureau’s latest findings that more families are reading to their students than just a decade ago.  The latest Census results also show that more students are taking advanced courses in high school.  Even more encouraging, a higher percentage of students living in poverty are taking part in academic enrichment activities than were in 1998.

    Here are the punch points:

    In 2009, more than half of children ages 1 to 5 were read to by their families at least seven times a week. There is still a reading gap between families in poverty and those better off—poor families read to their preschool children about six times a week on average, compared to nearly eight times a week on average for families at or above 200 percent of the poverty line. Family reading has been flat for middle and upper-income kids since 1998, but the number of poor families reading with their children shot up 37 percent during that time.

    More children took advanced courses in school. From 1998 to 2009, the percentage of children ages 12 to 17 in gifted classes increased from 21 percent to 27 percent.

    After school and on weekends, young children—those ages 6 to 11—are more likely than older children to participate in academic enrichment, such as music, language or computers. This hasn’t changed since 1998, but more elementary-age children in poverty participated in academic enrichment in 2009—21 percent, compared to 18 percent in 1998.

    More on Khan Academy

    Here’s Wired on the innovative work of Salman Khan:

    Khan Academy is an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” Students, or anyone interested enough to surf by, can watch some 2,400 videos in which the site’s founder, Salman Khan, chattily discusses principles of math, science, and economics (with a smattering of social science topics thrown in). The videos are decidedly lo-fi, even crude: Generally seven to 14 minutes long, they consist of a voice-over by Khan describing a mathematical concept or explaining how to solve a problem while his hand-scribbled formulas and diagrams appear onscreen. Like the Wizard of Oz, Khan never steps from behind the curtain to appear in a video himself; it’s just Khan’s voice and some scrawly equations. In addition to these videos, the website offers software that generates practice problems and rewards good performance with videogame-like badges—for answering a “streak” of questions correctly, say, or mastering a series of algebra levels.

    We’ve written before on Khan’s work.  By offering a free, virtual classroom available to anyone with a few minutes and an Internet connection, Khan Academy provides students with easy access to information on their own terms.  And because the lessons are videos, students are free to review again and again, allowing them access to the content as often as needed.  This means that students can move at their own pace, moving ahead when ready or reviewing material where necessary.  Khan Academy stands in stark contrast to the assembly line model of traditional classrooms and represents individualized instruction where students are free to move ahead as they master prerequisite material.  And it appears to be paying off:

    Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She’s now on her way to “flipping” the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck.

    …The result is that Thordarson’s students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids like Carpenter rocket far ahead; once they’re answering questions without making mistakes, Khan’s site automatically recommends new topics to move on to. Over half the class is now tackling subjects like algebra and geometric formulas. And even the less precocious kids are improving: Only 3 percent of her students were classified as average or lower in end-of-year tests, down from 13 percent at midyear.

    Those results are worth noting.  Khan’s work is inspiring and is likely just the beginning of the work that can be done with virtual classrooms.  We’ve incorporated Khan’s work into our own tools on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics website.  In Math at Home, for example, students can select textbook chapters and lessons and search for supplemental material by which to review their primary lessons.  In many cases, they will find a variety of Khan videos available to help review core skills and concepts.  If you haven’t already, be sure to take a look.

    It’s Not Too Late

    Summer’s almost over.  Many teachers have already returned to their schools and over the next few weeks students will follow.  The Department of Education has posted a timely reminder on the importance of keeping students reading year round:

    …even though summer is almost over, it’s not too late to help your child become a better reader before the new school year begins. Summer is an important time for students to keep reading and improve their language skills. If your child hasn’t been reading regularly this summer, they may be in danger of the “summer slide”—a decline in their reading ability.

    Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system. The situation for economically disadvantaged students is especially grim: if students from low-income families don’t read over the summer, they are much more likely to fall behind their more privileged peers, widening the “achievement gap.”

    Kudos to the Department for reminding parents (and educators) about the pernicious effects of summer loss and how important it is for students to stay engaged over the summer months.  If you haven’t used it yet, it’s not too late to jump on Lexile Find a Book to create custom book list based on both reading level and interest.

    And here’s a video message from Arne Duncan offering a few more tips for parents on helping students avoid summer slide.

    The Dire Need for Quality Math and Science Instruction

    Education Week recently included a summary (subscription required) of a report from the National Research Council on the need to place the same amount of emphasis on science as math.  Unfortunately, as the report indicates science education suffers from benign neglect and is not treated equally. TIMSS data confirms this sentiment: In the United States, on average, fourth graders are provided 4.2 hours per week of instruction in mathematics while the science instruction they receive is only allotted 2.7 hours each week.

    When one examines the classroom instruction time devoted to science as a percent of total instructional time across countries in fourth grade one finds that the United States is below such countries as Armenia, Austria, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, El Salvador, Germany, Iran, Japan, Singapore, Slovenia, and Yemen.  If we are going to compete with other countries in terms of the quality of our science instruction, we need, at a minimum, to devote as much instructional time. 

    The direct consequence of this lack of instructional commitment leads to our alarmingly low percentage of bachelor and graduate degrees in the math and science fields. According to OECD data, the percentage of bachelor degrees awarded in mathematics and science has continued to drop from 17.1% in 1995 to 16.1% in 2007. Of the 34 countries where data was collected, 28 countries had a higher percentage of degrees awarded in mathematics and science than the United States. The percentage of graduate degrees awarded for mathematics and science is equally disheartening. A mere 12.7% of graduate degrees are awarded for mathematics and science in the United States. This percentage is significantly below Japan’s 47.6%, Austria’s 47.2%, Korea’s 38.7%, and the mean of 23.5% for all reporting OECD countries. (more…)

    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.