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.

Writers and Literary Critics Weigh In On Text Complexity

A recent Education Week article (subscription required) cites a newly released report by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers , which found a disturbing absence of classic literary texts in use in high schools across the country.  Instead, researchers found a hodgepodge of literary works reflecting the idiosyncratic preferences of teachers rather than a standard canon of literary classics.  More worrisome still, researchers found that the text demand of reading assignments does not appear to increase as students move  from grade to grade. 

Researchers also found a troubling tendency toward nonanalytical methods of dealing with texts:

In honors courses, it says, teachers are more likely to teach students to use a non-analytical approach to assigned reading – asking them, for example, to draft a personal response to what they read – than to engage students in a close, analytical, reading of texts.

That’s a problem, the report concludes, because “an underuse of analytical reading to understand nonfiction and a stress on personal experience or historical context to understand either an imaginative or a nonfiction text may be contributing to the high remediation rates in post-secondary English and reading courses.”

The report goes on to suggest a number of solutions.  In particular, the ALSCW recommends that state standards should be written so that reading assignments get progressively harder as students advance from grade to grade.  We’ve written much on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the benefit of reading standards that stretch student ability to handle increasingly difficulty levels of text, as well as the importance of exposing students to a steady diet of nonfiction and informational texts.  Let’s hope some of the suggestions of this report find their way into practice.

Preparing Students for Post-Graduate Success

Students, parents and teachers have been counseled over the years on the importance of ensuring that high school graduates are “college or career ready.”  We’ve written much on the Common Core State Standards, college and career readiness, and the importance of preparing students to face the text demand they are likely to encounter after high school.  The book College and Career Ready by David T. Conley offers more specifics and identifies four key elements that students need in order to be successful in their post-graduate years:

  • Key content knowledge: Conley emphasizes a strong content background in the social sciences, world languages, science, mathematics, and the arts with particularly strong skills in reading and writing.
  • Key cognitive strategies:  This involves students’ ability to undertake challenging learning situations with perseverance. Students are able to use creativity and make conscious decisions that will result in the best possible conclusions.
  • Self-management behaviors: Conley describes a realm of academic behaviors that advance the success of college and career studies. Such behaviors include students’ recognition that a predominant amount of time devoted to learning will be outside of the structured classroom. Time management habits are crucial for a successful college experience.
  • College contextual knowledge: Conley emphasizes the ability of a student navigate through the administrative as well as the curricular processes. Admissions requirements, time lines, college traditions, differing social and cultural backgrounds are only a few of the examples of areas of the college culture that students need to be able to manage in addition to their academic studies.

Dr. Conley’s book offers a plethora of practical suggestions on how parents and teachers can prepare students for the transition from high school to the post-secondary world based upon successful practices, research, and new models. The material is easy to read and the suggestions are manageable and reasonable.  Time reading College and Career Ready would be well-spent.

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.