Less Than Prepared

Here’s an interesting new study out from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) examining the preparedness of Texas students for college-level reading.  Researchers used the Lexile measure to gauge both student reading level and the demands of entry level college reading in English.  Unfortunately, they found that many 11th grade Texas students, particularly among a number of sub-groups, are unprepared for the rigorous requirements of college level work.  Most striking in the report was the depth of the analysis and its meticulous drill down on the readiness of a wide variety of sub-groups.  Though the report found a wide pattern of unpreparedness, a few findings stand out:

  • Economically disadvantaged students were less prepared than those who were not economically disadvantaged.
  • At risk students were less prepared than those who were not at risk.
  • Students taking at least one career and technical education course were slightly less prepared than those not taking such a course.

Read the whole report for a more detailed analysis. 

It’s worth noting that one of the benefits of the Lexile Framework – as the study authors acknowledge – is its easy accessibility as a tool for measuring growth toward college and career readiness.  Because we know the typical reading level of college level text , we have an end point in mind by which to assess growth.  And the Lexile Framework is an especially useful tool for establishing an aspirational trajectory and then responding with increased instruction and remediation for students on a trajectory to fall short of college preparedness.  The Lexile Framework – when coupled with sound instructional practices is not only a tool to measure growth, but to match students to targeted, though challenging, text as well.  Let’s hope teachers across the nation can put this tool to use for all students, particularly those on a trajectory to be unprepared for life after high school.

 

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!

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.

Forging A Path Toward College & Career Readiness

Much has already been written on the dangers of graduating unprepared to face the reading demands now found throughout universities and the workplace. There’s been ample research demonstrating that many of today’s high school seniors are graduating ill-prepared to tackle the rigors of the post-secondary world .  Even those students who qualify as ‘proficient’ within the boundaries of their own state find that proficiency does not necessarily entail readiness for the reading demands of life after graduation.  Declining levels of text complexity at the high school level translate into less rigor and many students are unfamiliar with richer, more complex texts,  which is why so many universities have witnessed an increase in the number of freshmen enrolled in remedial, first-year courses. 

Fortunately, the Common Core State Standards Initiative offers a clear trajectory toward college and career readiness, though a recent report from ACT shows just how much work many states have to do to place their students on a track toward college and career readiness.  A sample of 250,000 high school juniors, for example, found that the students were unprepared for the standards proposed by the Common Core.  Within English/Language Arts, only 38 percent were proficient in reading and a little more than half were proficient in writing and in language. Students were especially weak in science literacy and only 37 percent showed proficiency in statistics and probability. The weakest area in math was number and quantity.   The ACT report goes further than just analysis, however, and offers some suggestions on how states, districts, and schools can support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  

Another recently released study, REL Southwest’s How Prepared are Students for College-Level Reading? Applying a Lexile®-Based Approach, offers a real-world perspective for measuring the effectiveness of preparing students for post-secondary success. Using The Lexile Framework for Reading, the study matched student scores on an exit-level Texas English language arts and reading assessment with college English textbooks to gauge students’ ability to read and comprehend the books used in entry-level English courses throughout the University of Texas system: (more…)

Essays on Demand: The Desperation of the Unprepared

Here’s The Chronicle of Higher Education offering an appalling view into the seedier side of post-secondary education.  In The Shadow Scholar, academic mercenary, Ed Dante (a pseudonym), chronicles his experience as a ghost-writer for hire.  Dante works for a custom-essay company, an organization birthed from the deficiencies of students ill-prepared for the academic rigors of university life and dedicated to churning out essays for students to pass off as their own:

 The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): “You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?”

I’ve gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client had attached a document from her professor with details about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.

I told her no problem.

It truly was no problem. In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.

There’s no gray area here.  Even the most adept sophist would be hard-pressed to dress this practice up  as anything other than plagiarism - a practice we’d prefer to view as a rare mistep  by the desperate few.  That might be a mistake.  Dante argues that the practice of paying others to produce essays is far more pervasive than most would like to believe.  And it’s not constrained to a particular discipline or department.  Moral ambivalence, apparently, goes all the way down.  Unable, or unwilling, to produce even marginally competent work has led both graduates and undergraduates alike to enlist the help of writers, like Dante, to churn out thoughtful work that they can turn in as their own.  And, as Dante writes, there’s no pattern to the customer base.  The clientele is just as varied as the topics on which they refuse to write: (more…)

Bridging the Readiness Gap

In the latest issue of Chiefline, the newsletter for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), our own Malbert Smith offers a clear reminder of the importance of establishing empirical standards for whether students have met reading requirements:

Common Core Standards have uncovered alarming trends in terms of student understanding of complex texts, including the downward trend in secondary education’s use of complex tests while post-secondary schools have increased the use of those texts. Recent studies reveal a gap of 65L to 230L between the demands placed on high school seniors and the difficulty of post-secondary texts based on median Lexile measures. A gap of 250L can translate into high school seniors understanding their 12th grade texts to only understanding about 50 percent of their college texts. To appropriately modify the P-20 landscape, educators must do away with labels like “proficient” in favor of empirical evidence of whether students have met reading standards, and lawmakers must adopt standards that evaluate the expectations each grade should use as a guideline.

Smith rightly argues  for utilizing a clear way to assess student reading level.  After all, evidence indicates that the text demand of secondary resources has been steadily declining, while the text demand of post-secondary texts has been on the rise.  Characterizations like ‘proficient’ or ‘satisfactory’ fail to identify a student’s readiness for the demands of the post-secondary world.  A metric, like the Lexile Framework, places both the reader and text on the same scale, thereby establishing a clear way to assess a student’s reading level in relation to the material to be read.  And by comparing the text demand of college resources educators are better able to assess student preparedness for college level text before a student even begins his post-secondary work.

Read the whole thing.

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.