Changing the Equation

We’ve written before on Change the Equation, a non-profit, CEO-driven organization dedicated to addressing our innovation problem and committed to driving  “the U.S. to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade”.  Good thing too.  Only 43 percent of U.S. graduates in 2010 were prepared for college work in math.  And Scholastic’s Math Hub reports on a new study from the Gates Foundation and Harris Interactive noting that many students report feeling unprepared for college courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas.  That’s too bad, because as Math Hub documents, the US will have over 1.2 million jobs in STEM related fields by 2018.

We applaud the recent work of the Obama administration, and organizations like Change the Equation, for their efforts to prepare students for careers in math, science, and technology.  But parents will have to do their part as well.  It’s critical that parents foster an appreciation of math and science in their children.  The effort to keep students engaged in year round learning starts at home.  As Malbert Smith recently wrote:

What we really need is for parents to create an environment at home that supports academic achievement.  To accomplish this shift in parental expectations and involvement, we will need to conduct a comprehensive and concerted campaign of education and support of parents.  Through PTAs, PSAs, teacher conferences, pediatrician visits, community meetings, library sessions, and many other outlets, we need a crisp message for parents on what they can do to promote their child’s achievement.  The critical importance of school attendance, of devoting space and time at the home for homework,  of turning off the TV and reading, and the use of public libraries, to name just a few, all need to be part of the message.

Those are just basic steps, of course.  It’s our hope that schools and districts will do more to increase instructional time and work to keep students engaged in math activity even over the summer months.  Parents will have to do their part as well by attending to their children’s work and ensuring that their children have the opportunity to complete their assignments. 

STEM related occupations are one of the fastest growing career clusters.  For the U.S. to remain competitive, it’s vital that schools and districts bolster their focus in mathematics and science and that students embrace STEM disciplines as the gateway to college and career readiness.

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…)

Literacy Across Content Areas: The How is as Important as the What

Here’s Rebecca Alber offering a strong argument for literacy as a critical skill across the content areas:

Here’s one way to look at it: Content is what we teach, but there is also the how, and this is where literacy instruction comes in. There are an endless number of engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about the content you teach. The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to build a student’s comprehension, writing skills, and overall skills in communication.

Ask yourself, how do I mostly convey the information and knowledge to my students? Do I turn primarily to straight lecture, or teacher talk? Or, do I allow multiple opportunities for students to discover information on their own?

Alber’s right.  Much recent attention has been given to STEM education and the importance of retaining our edge in areas like mathematics, engineering, and technology.  And the Common Core State Standards has recommended that students engage in increasingly sophisticated texts each year in order to prepare for the rigors of the post-secondary world.  Engaging students in a wide variety of text is, as Alber argues, an important way to improve a student’s comprehension skills. 

She goes on to remind us of the importance of matching texts to readers:

The days of believing that we could hand informational text or a novel to a student and assume he or she makes full meaning of it on their own is a teaching mode of the past. Whether we like it or not, regardless of the content we teach, we are all reading instructors.

Scaffolding the reading by using effective strategies for pre-, during, and after reading, such as: previewing text, reading for a purpose, making predictions and connections, think alouds, and using graphic organizers will support all our students, and not just struggling readers and English learners.

Another onus not only on English teachers, but all teachers as reading instructors? We need to inspire both a love for reading, and build reading stamina in our students (this means eyes and mind on the page for more than a minute!)

Because students must wrestle with higher levels of reading material and a greater proportion of informational text, the Lexile Framework provides an additional way to target students at their own reading level.  By matching students to text at their level, educators can help facilitate reading growth.  Additionally, using student Lexile measures can be an important part of determining which classroom strategies to employ and how much scaffolding may be required, whether in literacy or other content areas.

Be sure to read the whole thing for Alber’s specific recommendations on incorporating literacy across content silos.

Raising Standards: Fighting The Coming American Worker Shortage

A familiar topic these days is the state of our economy, particularly the volatile job market.   But as many employers have made clear, there is a disturbing shortage of skilled workers when it comes to positions that demand strong skills in math and science.  According to this recent article from CNNMoney, executives from major corporations are voicing their concerns on the standards set for today’s students in science, technology and mathematics.

 The group of executives, called Change the Equation, notes that only one fifth of today’s 8th graders are proficient or advanced in math, citing figures from national educational assessments.

 That’s cause for concern.  It appears that our country’s lead in math and science (which are prerequisites for careers in technology, engineering, and the sciences) has weakened considerably.  And without some change in our current trajectory, we will soon face a severe deficiency in homegrown talent

 The CEO-driven initiative launched last fall as part of the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign in response to forecasts that the U.S. will be short as many as 3 million high-skills workers by 2018, according to a Georgetown University report issued last year. Two thirds of those jobs will require at least some post-secondary education, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

 The good news is that the Common Core State Standards offer more rigorous standards across content areas, including math and science.  If adopted, the US can expect a higher set of standards to ensure that students graduate ready for the demands of college and career.  Not surprisingly, many employers support raising academic standards as a way to prevent excessive outsourcing and having to choose from within an unskilled workforce.

To tackle the predicted lack of qualified workers, Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor, has developed software to help state educators, lawmakers and others develop tailored plans to improve math and science education and workforce policies. Like other defense contractors and many government agencies, Raytheon needs homegrown talent because national security guidelines do not allow for easy outsourcing of work or importing workers.

We too recognize the importance of disciplines like mathematics in preparing students for the demands of the contemporary workforce.  Math at Home represents an attempt to keep students focused on math year round.  Math at Home allows educators, parents, and even students to match themselves to targeted math resources (games, worksheets, video tutorials, practice activities, etc…) based on current textbook lessons. In addition to linking to targeted math resources, Math at Home allows students to create multiple resource lists, which they can then share (through e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter) or save for a later date.  It’s our hope that Math at Home can play a small role in keeping students engaged in math activities all year and in helping prepare them for the rigors of life beyond high school.

Keeping Math Fresh…All Summer Long

Summer is just a few weeks away and, for many students, an extended break offers an academic hiatus – a pause from the rigors of academic life.  Unfortunately, summer break also means that many students experience a significant amount of learning loss.  And that loss adds up.  Over the years, twelve contiguous summers of learning loss translates into a significant gap between where many students end up and where students should be to be prepared for life after high school.   Which is why many educators encourage parents and students to stay engaged over the summer break. 

Hat’s off to Jennifer Chintala over at Math Hub for recommending ways for students to stay engaged with math activities over the extended break:

While most parents do not want to subject their kids to hour after hour of math drills during their break, many do want their students to continue to practice their skills throughout the summer months. We all know that math is all around us, but parents often have to make math more explicit to ensure their students recognize how they use math outside the classroom. Depending on the student’s level, parents can play counting games with kids, look for shapes in nature, or help children work with money during a vacation.

Here at MetaMetrics we share the concern that students fail to stay engaged over the summer months, especially in math.  Which is why we’ve developed Math at HomeMath at Home is a free tool and provides access to fun and engaging resources – like websites, worksheets, and videos – that support textbook lessons that students have studied throughout the school year.  Best of all, Math at Home helps students practice specific math skills and concepts that are targeted to their individual level.  Students and teachers can even build customized lists of materials and activities.

If you haven’t yet seen Math at Home, we encourage you to check it out and take advantage of this valuable free resource for keeping students engaged all year long.

A Historic Opportunity, A Worthy Destination

We’ve written extensively on the Common Core State Standards and the role they will play in the future of our nation’s educational system.  To date, 42 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have all shown their support for the Common Core by committing to implement the new national standards by 2014.  These standards set ambitious goals which, as Fernanda Santos of the NY Times reports, “…raise the bar not only on what students in every grade are expected to learn, but also on how teachers are expected to teach.” 

According to Santos, several schools are currently participating in a pilot program which is already highlighting some key differences in how material is being presented, assigned and evaluated.  Teachers are changing their lesson plans, approaching content differently, and being thoughtful in how they challenge their students – all in an effort to move students to the path of college and career readiness.

Supporters of the standards point out that holding all students accountable for the same material regardless of which state they live in will ensure that each child is receiving a quality education and will enable policy members to more accurately evaluate performance. 

Still these standards will be accompanied by their own set of challenges and, as Timothy Shanahan, a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago who helped write the common core standards for how to incorporate reading into science instruction explains, “If I’m teaching fifth grade and I have a youngster in my class who reads as a first grader, throwing him a grade level-text is not going to do him any good, no matter what the standards say.”

Shanahan is right, and we’ve addressed this exact issue in the past:

The Lexile Framework for Reading offers a good starting point for educators and parents attempting to make decisions as to whether or not the complexity of a text is well-matched to the reading level of a particular reader.  As articulated by the Common Core State Standards, the Lexile Framework provides a good measure of the quantitative dimensions of a text.  Meaning, the Lexile measure reflects the types of words and sentences used in a particular text; and, when matched to the Lexile reading level of a student, provides useful information on the student’s likely level of comprehension.

Taking a student’s reading level into account is an important first step in providing appropriately matched texts to struggling readers.  By matching readers with the right level of challenge, educators have an opportunity to address students at the right level and to grow each student’s reading ability.  Using the Lexile measure – to gauge student progress and to match materials to the range of readers in a classroom – is an important starting point for advancing the reading level of each student, and for moving each student toward college and career readiness.

 We’re glad to see so many working to implement the standards across the curriculum and As Chester Finn Jr., an assistant secretary of education during the Reagan administration says, “the standards create a historic opportunity in that we now have a destination worth aiming for, but only time will tell if they’ll create historic change.”

Double Jeopardy Report: The Importance of Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory

Thanks to Education Week for pointing to a soon to be released study:” Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation”.  The study presents a startling finding: students who are unable to read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19:

…Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.

“Third grade is a kind of pivot point,” said Donald J. Hernandez, the study’s author and a sociology professor at Hunter College, at the City University of New York. “We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.”

This study points to the importance of early intervention and targted reading as a way to influence a student’s reading growth rate.  Dr. Malbert Smith’s recent policy brief, ‘Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory: Instructional Strategies to Promote Skills and Close the Readiness Gap’  is directly relevant here and provides a blueprint for the sort of instructional strategies that serve to help students remain on track for college and career readiness.

Specifically, Dr. Smith advocates adopting early intervention strategies for young and struggling readers.  In addition to these strategies, he aruges for increasing the velocity of growing readers through the use of deliberate and targeted practice.  Smith also advocates an earlier introduction to more complex texts:

Reading growth can also be addressed by exposing students to more complex text—especially in the middle and high school years—so that they have increased opportunities to stretch their skills. Unfortunately, as Appendix A of the Common Core Standards laments, “K-12 texts have actually trended downward in difficulty” and have become “less demanding” over the past fifty years (Chall, Conrad, & Harris, 1977; Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996). Intended to remove barriers to content with more accessible texts, this trend has had the unintended effect of hampering students’ ability to tackle more challenging texts as they progress toward graduation. It should be noted that exposing secondary students to more demanding text no longer has to result in discomfort, strain or frustration. With measurement tools like Lexile® measures that help students determine their “just-right” reading range to enhance reading growth and lead to readiness, students can challenge themselves with success and a resulting sense of accomplishment.

For more concrete strategies on ways to ensure that students are reading on grade level, be sure to check out the whole thing.  As the recent Double Jeopardy report makes clear, improving the reading ability of young students is vital to ensuring the success of these students beyond high school.

Policy Brief: Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory

Written by our own Dr. Malbert Smith, our second policy brief was released Thursday.

As I’ve mentioned before, MetaMetrics is focused on improving education for learners of all ages, and we will be releasing policy briefs that cover research on a variety of educational issues, such as closing the achievement gap, next-generation assessments, and college- and career-readiness. The policy briefs will explore potential ways to address these critical issues by focusing on education as the foundation of student success and the stepping stone to social and economic growth in our country.

The second brief is titled “Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory: Instructional Strategies to Promote Reading Skills and Close the Readiness Gap.” An executive summary is below and the entire brief is available in both HTML and PDF formats:

The January 26 edition of Education Week summarizes the postsecondary readiness gap in unequivocal terms: “High school completion does not equal college readiness.” This reality is the foundation of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts which are designed to prepare students “to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers.” But what exactly does this mean for educators, and how can they help prepare students for the reading demands of their academic and professional pursuits? Research has validated some instructional strategies—such as exposing middle and high school students to more complex text, using benchmark assessments to supplement year-end tests, and mitigating summer loss—all of which can address the velocity and deceleration of reading growth in order to enhance comprehension skills and support students on higher learning trajectories. As idealized growth trajectories are adopted in response to Common Core—and states continue to collect more and better longitudinal data—we will be even better positioned to think strategically about how we can modify instruction to support students as they progress toward college- and career-readiness.

Want to subscribe to our policy briefs? Visit www.Lexile.com and click on Register in the top right corner. Be sure to check the box next to News Releases!

Policy Brief: Bridging the Readiness Gap

Recently, we released our first of many policy briefs written by our very own Dr. Malbert Smith III, MetaMetrics’ President and Co-Founder.

MetaMetrics is focused on improving education for learners of all ages. For over twenty years, our work has been increasingly recognized for its distinct value in differentiating instruction and personalizing learning.  For example, our research on post secondary reading demands, on what it means to be college and career ready, informed the Common Core State Standards.

In addition to the white papers and position papers we publish throughout the year, our policy briefs will encompass research on a variety of educational issues, such as closing the achievement gap, next-generation assessments, and college- and career-readiness. The policy briefs will explore potential ways to address these critical issues by focusing on education as the foundation of student success and the stepping stone to social and economic growth in our country.

The first brief is titled “Bridging the Readiness Gap: Demystifying Required Reading Levels for Post-secondary Pursuits.” An executive summary is below and the entire brief is available in both HTML and PDF formats:

What does it mean to be “college- and career-ready?” According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Holy Grail of education is to ensure that all high school graduates are adequately prepared for their academic and professional pursuits. This goal underscores the current national educational reform agenda-both Race to the Top requirements and Common Core criteria advocate standards that build toward and ensure college and career readiness. While many factors comprise readiness, one of the most important is the ability to read and comprehend complex texts. And although our research shows a significant gap between the text demands of high school and the post-secondary world, progress has already been made in reconsidering the entire scope of the P-20 educational landscape. Using our research, Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards demonstrates how the text continuum can be redrawn by Lexile grade bands so that educators and administrators have a reliable road map to make sure students are building the reading skills necessary to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that await them. By forecasting deficiencies in reading ability, we can demystify the “readiness gap,” raise the bar for reading achievement, and better prepare students for success in their post-secondary endeavors.

Want to subscribe to our policy briefs? Visit www.Lexile.com and click on Register in the top right corner. Be sure to check the box next to News Releases!

A Simple Prescription: Write More, Read More – And Often

A tip of the hat to the Marshall Memo for pointing to this recent article by Deborah Hollimon in Reading Today.  In “It’s Simple: Read More, Write More, Teach Vocabulary”(subscription required), Hollimon’s suggestions are right in line with the research of Anders Ericsson.  Here’s Hollimon getting straight to the point:

What our students need are opportunities for voracious reading in classes brimming with engaging materials of all sorts, at many different levels… Reading means reading something engaging in every class, every day.

We could not agree more.  We’ve written extensively on the importance of students reading more.  First, Ericson’s research on what it takes to move from novice to expert is informative here.  Critical to the development of expertise is time on task, or practice.  In other words, if students wish to become better readers, they then obviously must spend more time engaged in reading.  Second, the Common Core State Standards has established a proposed ‘staircase’ of text complexity.  That document recommends that students face the challenge of increasingly complex texts as they progress from grade to grade.  Third, Nell Duke, among others, including, again, the Common Core State Standards, recommends that students must learn to grapple with a wide variety of texts.   To put it another way, a student brought up on a steady diet of fiction will find himself ill-prepared to face the challenge of real-world, informational text as they move into college or the workplace.  Duke, like Hollimon, recommends that students be exposed to informational text from a much earlier age.

On writing, Hollimon is even more succinct:

Writing more means writing every day, in every class, mostly without fear of red ink… Content teachers can easily incorporate quick-writes, exit slips, learning logs, or journals into daily lessons. What better way for teachers to check for understanding than to peruse the writing thoughts of their students?

We would echo Hollimon’s point on writing more.  Targeted and deliberate practice applies across a range of human activities, including writing.  Our personalized learning platforms, Oasis and MyWritingWeb were built around the very simple idea of allowing students to engage in daily, deliberate, and targeted practice in reading and writing.  Hollimon’s ideas on easy ways to incorporate writing into the content areas mirror our own belief that writing should occur across content areas and need not be limited to full-length, 3-5 page essays.  MyWritingWeb and Oasis, for example, allow students to write essays of any length, giving students plentiful opportunity to practice and teachers an easy and administratively painless way to keep students writing more.  And because both Oasis and MyWritingWeb are based on the Lexile Framework for Writing, educators have the added benefit of being able to monitor student growth in the domain of writing. 

If you haven’t yet checked out these platforms, be sure to take a look.

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.