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.

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.

Until What Age is School Attendance Compulsory?

Across the nation, there are policies in place that dictate the ages during which children must attend school. These policies, referred to as compulsory education age requirements, are put in place to make sure all children receive an education. Compulsory attendance ages vary by state, but all outline a lower age limit at which children are required to be enrolled in school and an upper age limit at which attendance is no longer compulsory. This upper age limit usually occurs in the last few years of high school, and after they reach this age students are allowed to drop out of school.

The ages for this upper limit are different in every state, but all fall within the range of 16 to 18 years old. Only about half the states in the US require attendance until the age of 18. But as policymakers review and change their statutes, this number continues to rise. Many states push for this higher age limit to try to guarantee that their students receive enough learning to make their way in a society that increasingly requires higher levels of education. By requiring students to attend school until they are 18, states see a dramatically reduced rate of dropouts, ensuring their students are receiving as much education as they can.

States with an upper compulsory attendance age limit of 16 include Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. States with a limit of 17 are Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Those whose upper age limit is 18 include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Promoting and Selecting Diverse Texts for Classroom Use

At the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) last week in Washington D.C., the Board of Directors and Other Members of the Council passed a resolution supporting the inclusion of more diverse literary and informational texts in classrooms. The resolution will be presented to the full membership of NCTE for ratification by early January.

Promoting the inclusion of diverse voices in K-12 classrooms is an important element of curricular design and instruction. Supporting this idea is a new tool from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts.

An editable PDF that educators can download, complete, save and share, this tool promotes a multi-dimensional model for text selection, one that prioritizes critical literacy and cultural responsiveness as well as text complexity. Appendix D considers four distinct—but interconnected—dimensions of text selection: complexity (including both qualitative measures and quantitative measures such as the Lexile Framework for Reading), diversity and representation, critical literacy, and reader and task.

Appendix D offer a unique model for culturally responsive text selection that, when paired with a tool such as “Find a Book,” educators can use to explore, locate, and select more diverse literary and informational texts for their curricula while keeping an eye on the staircase of text complexity each student needs for college and career readiness.

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.

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.

Appreciating Our Teachers

The National PTA® will celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week May 6th-10th. Please take a moment out of your week and thank a teacher who’s touched your life. Here are some suggestions on how you can show your appreciation.

Here at MetaMetrics®, we would like to give special thanks because without teachers we wouldn’t be here. Thank you for all of the hard work you do and thank you for supporting our vision. Most of all, THANK YOU…

…For spreading the joy of reading, science and math

…For all of the extra hours you’ve spent mentoring students

…For all the late nights you’ve spent preparing lesson plans

…For giving kids the confidence to follow their dreams

…For teaching our youth discipline and respect

…For shaping the future leaders of the world

We are truly blessed to have you in our lives. Without you, none of us would be where we are today. You represent the future and direction of our society. 

New Global Section: Now Available on Lexile.com

We are thrilled to share our brand new global section on Lexile.com: www.Lexile.com/global.  The section highlights the ever growing global presence of MetaMetrics®.

We’ve divided the Global section into three main categories:

  • Global Partners– Features several of the largest global education companies that use Lexile® measures, including; ETS®, Pearson, and Scholastic International. 

 

  • In Country Partners– Details each country’s testing, book retailer and publishing partners, translated resources and local press.

 

  • News Around the World– Includes hundreds of articles from around the globe that feature MetaMetrics and Lexile measures.

Our new global section is your source for latest news. Keep your eyes open for weekly global press updates, new partner additions (like our recent partnership with Amazon.co.jp) and our translated global resources.

In addition to the updated global pages, we’ve just released a brand new Lexile overview video, accessible in English, Japanese and Korean.  All videos are also available on our YouTube Channel.

And don’t forget to like our Lexile and Quantile Facebook pages and follow us on Twitter!

Egg Cartons and Collaboration

Very, very early in my teaching career a more seasoned colleague shared with me his lamentation on the profession: As teachers, we are the eggs; the school is our egg carton. Each of us is separated off into our own little protective compartment—our classroom—never touching, never interacting, never discussing.

A new report from the National Center for Literacy Education, Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works, appears to suggest that little has changed in the last 20 years in that regard. According to its findings, only 40% of educators have the opportunity to co-plan with colleagues more than once a month. And yet, co-planning is the one professional learning experience survey respondents value the most. In fact, a majority of educators have less than one hour per week to work with other members of their learning teams. (A one-page infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available.)

For a profession firmly focused on developing a love of life-long learning, this reality may seem counter-intuitive. However, the pressures of time and available resources too often dictate policy. The good news, as the report also states, is that many of the building blocks to begin to rectify this problem may be already in place: educator teams, online professional networks, smart use of student data, and—perhaps most importantly—instructional coaches and school librarians.

Changing the climate and culture of our schools to embrace collaboration may seem a daunting task. Policymakers at the school, district, state, and national level all have a role in the kind of systemic remodeling for which the report calls. But, as classroom teachers, we must be that change. Now, as classrooms across the country begin the heavily lifting of implementing new standards and striving for college and career readiness, the work becomes more important than ever. This may the time to finally break free from our Styrofoam sarcophagi, to escape our egg-carton mentality, and model for our students the kind of life-long learning we desire to see in them.

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.