Florida Kicks Off ‘2011 Summer Literacy Adventure’

With summer vacation just around the corner, and students composing their summer lists of places to go and things to do, Florida is hoping its new initiative will make reading an essential part of that list.  As Tallahassee.com reports, this week students saw the launch of the 2011 Summer Literacy Adventure program which is designed to encourage reading over the summer months, is backed by the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of State, and the first lady, Ann Scott. 

We’ve written extensively on the importance of combating the learning loss that occurs each summer, which is why we applauded Florida’s success with last year’s Summer Reading Adventure Program.  This year, with the first lady’s encouragement, students are being asked to make a pledge to read over the summer and commit to the number of books they will finish.  “The initiative also urges students to visit their local library, and to use the website Lexile.com to identify books that might be on interest to them.”

To use Find a Book, students simply enter their Lexile measure and select their interests from the categories provided.  Find a Book will then generate a reading list for students targeted to both their reading level and area of interest.  Click here to access the Lexile Find a Book site.

Florida’s ‘Teacher Talk’

Teacher Talk’s April episode takes a look at various summer reading programs, including “Find A Book” Florida and also offers an interview with our own Malbert Smith.  In the interview Dr. Smith covers a wide variety of topics, including how parents and educators  access to the Lexile measure, how to manage multiple measures, how Lexile measures can be used in and outside of the classroom, and how to use “Find A Book” without having a Lexile measure.  He also talks about the many resources available to both teachers and parents.

 Teacher Talk is hosted by The Florida Department of Education and was designed to communicate with Florida teachers about innovative approaches to education. Through this venue, they make numerous resources available to help with the day-to-day challenges of teaching. “Teacher Talk” airs monthly on the Florida Knowledge Network, the JustforTeachers website, iTunesU and the Florida Education Channel on Dish Network. Episodes air the second Tuesday of every month and re-run as time slots are available.

Be sure to take a look.

Finding the Silver Lining Among the Cuts: Personalized Learning Platforms

As state departments around the country attempt to find solutions to substantial budget cuts, one reoccurring proposal has been to increase the use of technology in the classroom.  As Sharon Otterman of the NY Times reports, New York City’s schools are planning to increase technology spending.    As Otterman explains, “the surge is part of an effort to move toward more online learning and computer-based standardized tests.”   With many states facing severe budget cuts the possibility of adding more teachers appears dim; and many states are finding that moving toward technology based personalized learning systems is an increasingly attractive option. 

We’ve written before on the advances in computer based personalized learning platforms and the support they provide educators.  As the number of enrolled students continues to climb – while the number of additional teachers declines  – personalized learning platforms offer a unique advantage.  Personalized learning platforms facilitate instruction without adding to many educators’ already heavy work load.  Utilities, like our own Oasis, allow students to engage in targeted, self-directed practice and even monitor their own growth through real-time assessments.  Plus, web-based utilities offer the promise of individualization – students are targeted at their own ability level.  In addition to true individualization, web tools offer the advantage of consistent availability.  Utilization is not tied to a particular classroom or the availability of a teacher.  Instead, students may access the tools at a time and location of their choosing.   As technology proliferates in classrooms across the nation, we look forward to seeing the various ways in which instructional tools will supplement the work of classroom educators and augment instructional time for all students.

Kentucky Celebrates Literacy

We were pleased to see that Kentucky is hosting the Kentucky Literacy Celebration this week as a way to promote reading across the state:

First Lady Jane Beshear announced Monday that the Commonwealth will have its first annual Kentucky Literacy Celebration from February 28 through March 4. In coordination with the weeklong event, Mrs. Beshear issued a special reading list as part of her ongoing “First Lady’s Reading Recommendations” initiative.
As many of you probably know, Kentucky has linked their state assessment to the Lexile Framework for Reading.  Meaning, students taking the KCCT now receive Lexile measures on their student report.  This important metric allows teachers throughout the state of Kentucky to target students at the right reading level and helps make differentiation for struggling readers a reality.
As part of the Kentucky Literacy Celebration, First Lady Beshear has offered her own reading list, compiled for all ages and across multiple interests.  As the article states, many of the books on the list can be found within our own Find a Book site. 
Congratulations to Kentucky on this important initiative.

Washington Moves Toward Digital Texts

We’ve written at length about the shift from print to digital media in higher education. Many universities are now seeking ways to ease the financial burden of higher education for its students. One route that Washington State has opted to take is to offer more online classes with online resource material. According to this report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington state’s current textbook bill is financed through the state legislature, which has been facing financial hardships. The state currently has a half million students taking courses at their 34 two-year colleges. The idea was to create very accessible and affordable resources for students through online portals. The savings alone made the idea a winner. “We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world,” says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The state received a matching grant of $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help begin development on low-cost online resources for the two-year colleges. The state is taking an ambitious approach to providing affordable education to their students, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. This is probably just a glimpse at what could be a revolutionary approach towards the future of higher learning.  If students are already receiving their texts digitally, it’s easy to imagine younger students receiving individualized texts targeted to their own reading level.  Personalized learning systems offer a world of possibilities to the world of education.  The wide availability of digital texts bring those possibilities that much closer to reality.

New York Moves Toward College Readiness

Last week, Sharon Otterman of the NY Times shared some unfortunate news :

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show fewer than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated read for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students.  That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent…

Those are troubling statistics.  Not only are NYC schools only graduating 2/3 of their students, but of those students, most are not prepared to enter the workforce, or successfully complete freshman level college courses.  Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (the group that makes educational policy decisions for the state), says, “…if you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates.  We need to indicate exactly what it all means, especially since we’ve already said that college-ready should be the indicator of high school completion.”

Tisch and other members of the Board of Regents have already begun taking steps to remedy this situation.  Just last month the group announced new assessment standards they plan to implement in addition to their adoption last July of the national Common Core State Standards.   As we’ve mentioned before, the Common Core provides educators with valuable resources to help move students toward college and career readiness.  The Lexile Framework for Reading is one such tool which allows educators to place text demand and student reading ability on the same vertical scale.  This provides an opportunity to not only measure individual growth, but also defines how much growth is required for an individual to be prepared to meet post-secondary demands.  Kudos to New York for taking action to move their students toward college and career readiness.

Florida Continues Celebration

Remember our post from earlier this week on Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida?  Here’s a nice write up in the Orlando Sentinel reminding readers where they can find more information and commenting on Florida’s custom Find a Book site:

The website is actually pretty  fun, if you enjoy searching for books (and I do, even if I don’t know my “lexile” score). The DOE also offers a list of recommended titles as part of this weeks’ celebration. This list runs the gamut, from classics (To Kill a Mocking Bird) to popular hits (Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

That’s good to hear.  We hope the fun to be had surfing Find a Book translates into more students throughout Florida reading more often!

Chiefs For Change

Here’s a recent announcement worth mentioning: In case you haven’t heard, five state education leaders recently announced that they have formed a leadership group to emphasize certain education policy positions.  Chiefs for Change includes Tony Bennett (Indiana), Deborah Gist (Rhode Island), Paul Pastorek (Louisiana), Gerard Robinson (Virginia), and Eric Smith (Florida). 

The five chiefs said that even though they work on important policy issues through the Council of Chief State School Officers, they felt the need to push a subset of policies through a separate group. Pastorek said the five want to “set ourselves apart and pursue a much more aggressive path toward success.” It’s not a partisan agenda, he said, but a “cutting-edge, pushing-the-envelope way of putting children at the top of all of our decisions.” Bennett said the five have “kind of started our own union, a children’s union,” in which the interests of students trump those of adults.

Among the issues that the group will emphasize will be results-based systems of accountability, higher academic standards, and school choice.  Chiefs for Change is expected to release a draft of their policy agenda soon.  We’ll follow their progress closely as they launch their efforts.

Texas Educators Are Tuning into iTunes

Thanks to a new iTunes channel, technology in the classroom has a whole new meaning for those in Texas. Many of us are familiar with Apple’s iTunes – our source for downloading our favorite music, movies and podcasts. Now, according to Education Week’s Ian Quillen, Texas is using this popular software to enhance teacher collaboration and make lessons available to students directly from iTunes.

 As Quillen explains, Texas has launched a new online program that provides free, supplementary coursework to students through the Texas Education iTunes U channel. The iTunes U channel allows teachers to upload material from their classes in order to help students assimilate new concepts or research specific subject areas.  It also allows a greater professional development experience, as teachers across the state can share materials, course information, and best practices freely and conveniently.

 Over 146,000 teachers have signed up and have formed 5,000 subject groups. While most iTunes content comes from postsecondary institutions, Texas’s Governor Perry believes the content pushed into the K-12-geared Texas Education channel will be “substantive and sizable.”

 This is all part of Project Share Texas, a collaborative effort of the Texas Education Association, The New York Times and the Public Broadcasting Service. This all follows the 2008 introduction of the K-12 iTunes U channel which uses resources from state education agencies such as Arizona, Main, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Utah. 

 Congratulations to Texas for taking full advantage of this valuable service.

Competing Globally Starts Locally

In this December’s issue of The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley highlights a recent study which ranks students around the world “…using scores on standardized math tests as a proxy for educational achievement.”  While we’ve mentioned similar studies in the past, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and colleagues have gone a step further by disaggregating the U.S. into individual states in order to compare the educational rankings of other countries to single states.  By treating each state as an independent country, the study shifts the focus to locating centers and regions of excellence around the U.S., rather than just accepting a national average.

This idea being that by comparing achievement in individual states, the international ranking of the U.S. (at least at a state level) might move up the scale.  Unfortunately, as Ripley reports:

Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list.  The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17.

While this news is less than what was hoped for, it does offer the rest of the nation an exemplar.  If Massachusetts is clearly our nation’s front runner when measuring aptitude on standardized math tests, a closer study of the state’s recent reforms may allow us to glean some helpful pointers.

[In the last decade] Massachusetts…began demanding meaningful outcomes from everyone in the school building.

…More states are finally beginning to follow the lead of Massachusetts.  At least 35 states and the District of Columbia agreed this year to adopt common standards for what kids should know in math and language arts.

This is encouraging news.  With many states now adopting the Common Core State Standards, students will be held accountable for a shared set of standards, regardless of what state they happen to call home.  The focus on shared standards will allow each state to shift the focus to what it means to compete on a global scale.  Although the United States may still have a substantial amount of ground to cover, relative to other nations, emulating the effective practices that have worked so well for our most successful states is a certainly a step in the right direction.

Read the whole article to learn more about key reforms Massachusetts has made over the past decade.

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