A “Road Map for Kansas”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback held a Literacy Summit this month to discuss his “Road Map for Kansas” and establish three measurable literacy objectives for said roadmap.  Based on NAEP data, Governor Brownback proposed the following three measurable literacy objectives:

1)  Kansas 4th grade students will have a 9% increase on their state reading assessment scores in 2013, meeting Kansas’ current goal of having 95% of students qualify to “Meets Standard” status.

2) For average 4th grade reading scores in 2014, Kansas will be in the top 5 states for highest scores.

3) For average 4th grade reading scores in 2018, Kansas will rank number 1. According to previous data, this boost in ranking would require an increase of 14 points on Kansas NAEP scores. 

Among the literacy experts and educators that were invited to Kansas’ Governor Brownback’s December 7th Literacy Summit include President of Literacy First, Bill Blokker, Director of the University of Kansas Center for Research, Don Deshler, Education Specialist for Save the Children, Cara Schrack, and our own MetaMetrics’ President and Co-founder, Malbert Smith. Malbert discussed the research concerning summer loss in reading and the need to address it.  In addition to summarizing the research, Dr. Smith shared strategies and tools, such as Find-A Book, that states and districts can employ to reduce summer loss.

Governor Brownback concluded that, “This summit was a great opportunity to meet with educational leaders and stakeholders to discuss the challenges we face and the solutions we seek.”  We applaud Kansas on their effort to make student literacy a top priority.

An Inspiring Example

We were pleased to read this article this morning on student success in our own backyard.  High school sophomore, Alfredo Altnor, has experienced significant reading success this year, and his teachers are amazed at the tremendous gains in reading they have seen from Alfredo.  Alfredo’s Lexile measure during freshman year was a 1400L, and yet this year, as a sophomore, he continued to grow as a reader with a current Lexile measure of 1529! 

The Common Core has helped shift the focus from proficiency to college and career readiness.  And we know that students reading at 1300L and above are much more likely to be able to comprehend university level texts (1355L +) and are thus much more likely to be prepared for the demands of college and career.   Which is why we are thrilled to see that students, like Alfredo, are on a trajectory for college and career readiness.  It is our continued hope that all students will be as invested as Alfredo in their own reading growth and ensuring they are prepared for whatever path they choose after high school. Kudos to Alfredo and his wonderful teachers!

Text Complexity & the Common Core

There has been quite a bit published recently on the Common Core State Standards and what they will mean for teachers in the classroom.  In this recent video, Tim Shanahan argues that it’s not what students are being asked to do with a text that presents the difficulty, but the complexity level of the text itself.  As Shanahan and others have argued:

So why is the common core making such a big deal out of having kids read hard text? One of the most persuasive pieces of evidence they considered was a report, Reading: Between the Lines, published by American College Testing (ACT; 2006)…In Reading: Between the Lines, ACT demonstrates that student performance cannot be differentiated in any meaningful way by question type. Students do not perform differently if they are answering literal recall items or inferential items (or other question types like main idea or vocabulary, either). Test performance, according to ACT, is driven by text rather than questions. Thus, if students are asked to read a hard passage, they may only answer a few questions correctly, no matter what types of questions they may be. On the other hand, with an easy enough text, students may answer almost any questions right, again with no differences by question type.

And here’s ELA standards writer, Sue Pimentel, providing some historical context on why change was needed in ELA and what she considers the key shifts in the ELA standards.  Of particular interest, is the shift in text complexity.  Students will now be expected to read increasingly sophisticated levels of complex text in order to graduate prepared for college and career materials. 

Both videos are worth checking out and provide a succinct explanation on the importance of text complexity in the common core state standards.

Khan Academy in the Classroom

We’ve written before on the efforts of Khan Academy – a free, online classroom that is available to anyone with an Internet connection.  Khan Academy offers thousands of video lessons on everything from specific mathematical concepts to explanations of the mortgage loan crisis.  Because Khan’s videos are easily accessible, students (and parents) are able to take advantage of its ‘always-on’ access to review videos in their own time. 

Khan’s work has gotten the notice of educators across the US and a number of Foundations and educational organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are looking to capitalize on Khan’s approach to individualizing education:

Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.

The software program unleashed in this classroom is the brainchild of Salman Khan, an Ivy League-trained math whiz and the son of an immigrant single mother. Mr. Khan, 35, has become something of an online sensation with his Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube, which has attracted up to 3.5 million viewers a month.

Now he wants to weave those digital lessons into the fabric of the school curriculum — a more ambitious and as yet untested proposition.

This semester, at least 36 schools nationwide are trying out Mr. Khan’s experiment: splitting up the work of teaching between man and machine, and combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises

The most promising aspect of Khan’s work is that it harnesses technology to promote individualized instruction.  We’ve written before on the importance of blending technology platforms with instructor interaction to promote differentiation, or even individualization for each student.  By providing a platform that monitors each student’s progress and then responds with more instruction for students who are not ready to move on or with new concepts for those that are, Khan is upending the more traditional assembly-line model of the classroom, allowing teachers to monitor student progress and respond to struggling learners, while allowing proficient students to move forward.

Not it appears that Khan is getting the chance to put his model to the test at larger sites and with more classrooms:

In the past, math class at the Summit schools was always hands-on: the class worked on a problem, usually in small groups, sometimes for days at a time. But getting an entire class of ninth graders to master the fundamentals of math was never easy. Without those, the higher-level conceptual exercises were impossible.

That is where the machine came in handy. The Khan software offered students a new, engaging way to learn the basics.

Ms. Tavenner says she believes that computers cannot replace teachers. But the computer, she recognizes, can do some things a teacher cannot. It can offer personal feedback to a whole room of students as they work. And it can give the teacher additional class time to do more creative and customized teaching.

“Combining Khan with that kind of teaching will produce the best kind of math,” she argued. “Teachers are more effective because they have a window into the student’s mind.”

Khan’s efforts 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.

Extending Instruction Beyond the Classroom

There’s plenty of research to support the notion that extended instructional time leads to improved academic performance.  U.S. students are in school quite a few days less than their international peers – and it shows;  in the 2006 administration of the PISA, U.S. students ranked 19th in reading, losing two points from the previous administration.  Extending instructional time need not necessarily mean more time in a physical classroom, though that is certainly one way.  Keeping students engaged with targeted reading material over academic breaks, including summer vacation, is one way to facilitate learning year-round.  A primary objection to extending learning time has been that doing so is cost-prohibitive and that far too few schools can afford the per student cost of doing so.  But technology offers solutions here as well.  Technology has provided learning platforms that allow for instruction and practice to continue beyond the walls of the classroom.  In fact, technology has removed some of the previous administrative barriers that required teachers to monitor to each student’s performance.  Instead, learning systems can now monitor and adapt to student performance, requiring minimal teacher administration.

In this Educational Leadership article (subscription required), Chris Gabrieli argues that blended or hybrid instruction is a promising way to increase instructional time while keeping costs relatively low.  Plus, digital solutions have the added benefit of offering individualized instruction allowing students to progress at their own pace:

Students might take radically different amounts of time to reach mastery, shattering our current notions of grade level, and they could learn in and out of school – anywhere they can connect their personal computer, tablet, or smartphone

Our own A Learning Oasis offers a good example of one such solution.  A Learning Oasis blends assessment and instruction and facilitates deliberate practice by providing targeted text (mostly informational) at each student’s Lexile level, as well as targeted writing practice.  Built on well established principles of what it takes to move to expertise, A Learning Oasis offers online, always-on access, allowing for a full range of implementations to be built around the platform.

As school districts across the nation struggle with budget cuts and reduced staff, it’s our hope that digital solutions will offer a way to keep students engaged in the instructional process past the end of the school day and all year long.

MetaMetrics’ Trilby Berger Wins “Women Extraordinaire” Award

MetaMetrics congratulates Trilby Berger, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, on winning a Women Extraordinaire award from Business Leader magazine. The annual award acknowledges the top women business leaders of the South who have demonstrated significant professional achievement and community involvement.

As head of strategic partnerships, Trilby spearheads MetaMetrics’ sales and partnership opportunities. Her efforts have helped strengthen the organization’s exposure in both the domestic and international education markets, including expansion into Korea and Japan where learning the English language are national priorities.

Trilby travels extensively; many of her trips are in support of MetaMetrics’ international business development efforts. She is a member of the Software and Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Global Strategies Committee and “DOLS,” a prestigious women’s networking group in the education technology sector. Trilby also supports the Restore Haiti project, specifically on helping to provide children with educational opportunities.

What does Trilby enjoy most about working for MetaMetrics? “My favorite thing about work is that I’m always learning, always stretching. Without that kind of personal challenge, it becomes easy to fall into routine and complacency,” she said. “If you can’t bring a lot of passion to your work, especially given the amount of time you typically spend engaged in it, then it’s probably time to move on and find something else.”

Trilby was one of the Triangle business and civic leaders honored today at the Women Extraordinaire awards luncheon in Raleigh, N.C. She thanks MetaMetrics’ leadership team for their support and guidance over the years.

“On behalf of everyone at MetaMetrics, I would like to congratulate Trilby on this well-deserved honor,” said MetaMetrics President Malbert Smith. “Her dedication to our organization—and to fulfilling our mission of personalizing learning for all students—is evident in the success we are achieving at home and abroad.”

All award winners will be profiled in the January edition of Business Leader. For more information, click here.

Expecting Success

Writing in the latest issue of Kappan, Robert Maranto and James Shuls (subscription required) argue that KIPP schools, particularly in the Arkansas Delta region, have been undeniably successful in educating students and preparing them for college.  They contend that KIPP’s success is a result of a few key ingredients: explicitly defining the mission, hiring the right teachers for the mission, paying specific attention to classroom routine and management.  All KIPP hires are trained in maintaining the focus on instruction and learning and they all use the same cues and practices to address discipline problems.

In addition to a strong committment to classroom management, KIPP teachers work continually to create a culture of learning  – a culture that emphasizes the academic mission of getting each student to and through college.  I had the privilege of attending the KIPP ELA/Humanities Summit this past weekend in Austin, Texas and even got a chance to visit classrooms at KIPP Austin.   While the summit was stimulating, the real inspiration came in visiting the active classrooms at KIPP Austin.  A few observations worth sharing:  .

  • The culture of college preparedness permeates all aspects of KIPP: The halls and classrooms throughout the school are filled with college pennants.  And almost every classroom contained the teacher’s college degree in a frame above the desk.
  • Each classroom has signs that reiterate core KIPP values.  In particular, I noticed signs in most every room encouraging personal responsibility, indicating only interest in things that students can control.  The school motto, ‘Work hard. Be Nice’ is also displayed prominently in every classroom.  There are also signs discouraging the use of the phrase, ‘I don’t know’ and urging it to be replaced with statements like, “I need more information’.
  • The teachers speak to students constantly about what they can expect in college, using phrases like, ‘at the university…’ ‘in college you will be expected…’  Teachers also speak openly about their own experience in college.
  • Classroom management appears to be systematized across the entire school and classroom expectations are made very clear.  Teachers maintain control over behavior the entire class period.
  • They use phrases like:
    • “Miguel is speaking, all eyes are tracking Miguel”
    • “With a college-prep hand, Miguel is about to speak”
    • “All eyes are tracking me on 3-2-1-…”
    • Many of the students use standardized hand signals: thumbs-up to signal agreement, waving hands to signal passionate agreement.
    • To encourage classroom participation, teachers often use phrases like “I’m only seeing 30% of you answering.  Let’s try again.”  Or, “I want to hear your thoughts, but I can only take two…”
    • Teachers rely heavily on timers to manage time and classroom transitions: “You have 1 minute to move to the rug”.  You have 90 seconds to discuss.  You have 2 minutes to write your response.  And many utilized large, visible timers to constantly keep things moving. 
    • Teachers use student nicknames and other devices to indicate personal knowledge of students. 

What was clear from my visit to KIPP Austin and the time spent at the summit was that KIPP has done an excellent job of explicitly formulating a mission and methodically building a culture in which nothing is taken for granted – every aspect of the culture is built around the idea of sending each student to college.  Classroom management- far from an afterthought to instruction – is a central part of the instructional process and KIPP teachers effortlessly blur the distinction, blending instructional and behavioral expectations. 

For any individual who gets an opportunity to visit a KIPP classroom, it’s worth the time and is an inspiring look at the admirable work being done to ensure that so many low-income students have a chance for success in the post-secondary world.

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.