A Just Right Reading List

We’re always happy when we hear about our tools and metrics being put to use by those outside of education. We designed tools, like Find a Book, with more than educators in mind. Our hope is that parents are able to use Find a Book year round to help students select books they actually want to read. That’s why we’re thrilled to see posts like this from Ellen Weeren over at A Reason to Write:

If you have ever been to the library or book store with a child, you know full well how hard it can be to find a “just right” book for that child to read.

Well, Lexile will make choosing a book a (much) easier undertaking.

On the Lexile website, at the top of the homepage (right next to the “home” tab on the upper left corner of the site) is the “find a book” tab. Click it and you will be prompted for your child’s Lexile measurement. (You can also get an estimate of that by pulling up a book that s/he has recently read and seeing what it’s ranking is. Then use that ranking for your child as an estimate.) Then they will also ask what grade the child is in.

Then you to select what types of books the child enjoys reading – mystery, fantasy, humor, etc.

Finally, you will get a long ‘o list of suggestions. Click on one that interests you/your child and you will get a summary of the book and a list of awards it might have won…

This is also a wonderful place for grandparents to figure out what books to buy their grandchildren.

And don’t forget Find a Book’s link to the public libraries as well. By clicking on the WorldCat link, users can determine if a public library carries the title they want – making books accessible to all readers. If you haven’t yet used it, be sure to give Find a Book a try.

A “Road Map for Kansas”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback held a Literacy Summit this month to discuss his “Road Map for Kansas” and establish three measurable literacy objectives for said roadmap.  Based on NAEP data, Governor Brownback proposed the following three measurable literacy objectives:

1)  Kansas 4th grade students will have a 9% increase on their state reading assessment scores in 2013, meeting Kansas’ current goal of having 95% of students qualify to “Meets Standard” status.

2) For average 4th grade reading scores in 2014, Kansas will be in the top 5 states for highest scores.

3) For average 4th grade reading scores in 2018, Kansas will rank number 1. According to previous data, this boost in ranking would require an increase of 14 points on Kansas NAEP scores. 

Among the literacy experts and educators that were invited to Kansas’ Governor Brownback’s December 7th Literacy Summit include President of Literacy First, Bill Blokker, Director of the University of Kansas Center for Research, Don Deshler, Education Specialist for Save the Children, Cara Schrack, and our own MetaMetrics’ President and Co-founder, Malbert Smith. Malbert discussed the research concerning summer loss in reading and the need to address it.  In addition to summarizing the research, Dr. Smith shared strategies and tools, such as Find-A Book, that states and districts can employ to reduce summer loss.

Governor Brownback concluded that, “This summit was a great opportunity to meet with educational leaders and stakeholders to discuss the challenges we face and the solutions we seek.”  We applaud Kansas on their effort to make student literacy a top priority.

Minimizing the Digital Divide: Comcast’s ‘Internet Essentials Program

As educators and policy makers have attempted to eliminate the achievement gap over the years, one of the well-documented pernicious gaps continues to be the “digital divide”.  In fact, a google search on “digital divide” yields over 4 million hits as of October 12, 2011. While there are several definitions of the term, Wikipedia captures the essence in the following description:

More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access. The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in the ability to use information technology fully.

Last month, we as a country made a major step in addressing this problem with the joint announcement by the Comcast Corporation, FCC, and District of Columbia Public Schools. This major step is the national roll-out of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which will provide affordable internet access to low income families. At an Internet Essentials launch event, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski assessed the digital divide and the need for affordable broadband. With broadband being essential to the academic success of America’s youth, Chairman Genachowski reflected that “the digital divide is seriously troubling; more troubling now than in the past, because the costs of digital exclusion are rising”. Genachowski continued this sentiment noting, “Students increasingly need to go online to complete their homework assignments.” Chairman Genachowski further remarked on the stark statistics and detrimental nature of the digital divide. He referenced research that shows one-third of all students and most of all low-income students do not have internet access at home.

This lack of resources available due to the digital divide results in a lose-lose situation in education. When faced with this problem, teachers will either assign Internet-based homework or not. Either the students without Internet access at home are hurt, or the students do not learn how to utilize the Internet and do not attain necessary Internet skills. However with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, teachers can escape this lose-lose situation. (more…)

Feeling the Pressure: Getting Parents Involved in Education

A recent Pew Research study reports that two-thirds of the American public think parents are not putting enough “pressure” on their children to study hard.  Over 20 countries were surveyed and the U.S. is more likely than any other country to report that we were not putting enough pressure on our students.  Interestingly, China was almost the complete opposite in reporting the belief that they put too much pressure on students (68%).  As a country we are starting to recognize the important role that parents play in shaping and promoting their children’s educational achievement.  In fact, this same survey indicated that, in 2006, 56% of the US public thought parents were not putting enough pressure on their children.  In five years the trend has increased by 8 percentage points.

Years ago, Susan Hall and Louisa Moats wrote Straight Talk About Reading, in which they argued for conceiving of literacy achievement as a shared responsibility.  If we are going to compete with other countries and have every child graduate from high school prepared for the rigors of college and career, parents will have to play a larger and vital role in supporting their children’s educational attainment.  My belief is that all parents want to be good parents and want a better future for their children.  While it is fairly easy for some parents to get involved in their child’s education, many parents, especially our low income parents, have trouble figuring out how to be involved.  Due to time constraints and perhaps their own lack of educational success, they become passive observers instead of active participants in their child’s education.

As we think about this latest Pew Research, educators and policy makers need to think through how we can best enlist and encourage active parental involvement.  “Pressure” is not what we really need.  For most of us pressure has a negative and stressful connotation (see, for example, these common meanings for the word ‘pressure’). 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.

It is also incumbent upon educators to build or introduce parent friendly tools and resources for parents to use with their children.  Here at MetaMetrics we’ve attempted to do just that with tools like ‘Find a Book’ and Math at Home.  ‘Find a Book’ allows parents and students to match themselves to book of interest at their own individual reading level.  Built around research demonstrating both the importance of targeting readers at the right level and of allowing students to self-select their own reading material, ‘Find a Book’ allows users to indicate their Lexile reading level as well as the topics on which they prefer to read.  Students can then select titles of interest within their own reading range and create book lists to print or save.  Best of all, ‘Find a Book’ links up with public libraries, allowing students and parents to immediately see which books on their list are available through the public library, as well as the closest branches that carry those titles.  ‘Find a Book’ is free to use.  Check it out here.

Math at Home functions in a similar way.  Based on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics, Math at Home allows students to select free, targeted math resources to help augment their textbook lessons.  Like ‘Find a Book’, Math at Home is built around the idea of targeting students at the right mathematical level.  Parents or students simply select the textbook lesson(s) they wish to supplment and they are immediately presented with a range of resoruces targeted to the individual student’s level.  Users can then create multiple resource lists for use over the summer or all year long.  Math at Home is also free to use and available here.

It’s our hope that an increasing number of parents will elect to be involved in their children’s education and that educators will welcome participation from enthusiastic and caring parents.  We also hope to see more tools and resources available that help supplement and codify the lessons learned in the classroom, tools that families can use as a way to prepare students for life after graduation.

Welcome Back: Starting with Success

A brand new school year is here, offering teachers, students, and parents the opportunity for a fresh and positive outlook for the coming months in the classroom. In the article Starting the School Year Right in the August edition of The School Administrator, Thomas R. Guskey emphasizes that the first two weeks of school are critical for students and parents to feel good about what the students know and what is possible to achieve in the coming months.

Many teachers try to formally or informally assess the ability level of students at the beginning of the school year.  But Guskey cautions that the first assessments need to “help students experience successful learning” during the first two weeks of the year.   It may be important for the educator to firmly establish what students know rather than what they don’t know.

Guskey’s right.  Educators can help put students at ease early in the year by ensuring that the material they receive is at or near their ability level.  With regards to reading, many students across the United States are assessed in the spring and many states report Lexile measures as an indication of a student’s reading level.  The student Lexile measure allows educators to match students to targeted material, a useful way to develop student confidence and promote motivation. 

Because reading levels in a single classroom vary considerably, teachers would be well-advised to differentiate material so that students are able understand the text and experience success.  The Lexile Framework for Reading offers tools to measure text as well as ‘Find a Book’ tool, which provides the Lexile measures of trade books and textbooks in all kinds of categories and genres. Matching the text measure to a student Lexile measure can be a strong asset for helping struggling readers be successful.

Similar to the Lexile scale, the Quantile Framework for Mathematics utilizes a scale that places the math level of students and the difficulty of the math skills and concepts on the same scale.   The Quantile measure for specific mathematics skills and concepts can be found at the Quantile website where the topics are aligned to state standards as well as to the Common Core State Standards.

When student Quantile measures are available from state assessments or other products aligned to the Quantile Framework, then targeting student needs in the mathematics classroom becomes much more manageable, allowing content to be tailored to the student ability level as well.

Dr. Guskey offers numerous suggestions for facilitating positive experiences for students. Critical stakeholders include not only students and teachers, but also parents and administrators. This community of supporters has a strong influence over the long-term success of our children. We often speak of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of our students. But differentiating can mean much more to the students if they recognize their abilities and use that information to grow into motivated and self-assured students throughout their academic career.

Kentucky Emphasizes Reading

Susan Riddell of Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education, recently commented on the importance of summer reading:

“Students who participate in summer reading programs are less likely to lose knowledge and skills during the summer,” says Suzanne Crowder, library media specialist at Campbellsville Elementary School.  “Summer reading has the potential to help children make gains in their reading and vocabulary.  It also offers students who live in poverty the opportunity to have reading materials readily available.”

According to Riddell, the Find a Book, Kentuckyinitiative is one resource library specialist and teachers alike are taking advantage of this summer.  After receiving training earlier this year, librarians are recommending this service to patrons- with librarian Kate Schiavi of the Louisville Free Public Library noting that, “I have been having more and more patrons come in looking for books on a particular Lexile level…I have found the Lexile website easy to use and search.  It’s a great tool for them to be able to jump on at their computer at home and come to the library prepared.”

Ample research demonstrates the importance of encouraging reading during summer months to avoid the loss that students suffer when they take a three month hiatus from learning. We are glad to see others taking up this cause, and utilizing the convenience of our utilities which are powered by the research and technology of the Lexile Framework for Reading.  And remember: “Find a Book” is not just for creating summer reading lists.  “Find a Book” can be used year round and is an excellent free tool for allowing students to match themselves to targeted text based on both interest and their reading range.

It’s Not Too Late

Summer’s almost over.  Many teachers have already returned to their schools and over the next few weeks students will follow.  The Department of Education has posted a timely reminder on the importance of keeping students reading year round:

…even though summer is almost over, it’s not too late to help your child become a better reader before the new school year begins. Summer is an important time for students to keep reading and improve their language skills. If your child hasn’t been reading regularly this summer, they may be in danger of the “summer slide”—a decline in their reading ability.

Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system. The situation for economically disadvantaged students is especially grim: if students from low-income families don’t read over the summer, they are much more likely to fall behind their more privileged peers, widening the “achievement gap.”

Kudos to the Department for reminding parents (and educators) about the pernicious effects of summer loss and how important it is for students to stay engaged over the summer months.  If you haven’t used it yet, it’s not too late to jump on Lexile Find a Book to create custom book list based on both reading level and interest.

And here’s a video message from Arne Duncan offering a few more tips for parents on helping students avoid summer slide.

Summer Literacy Adventure Revisited

Here’s yet another example of local media outlets shining a light on the good work the Florida Department of Education is doing with their Summer Literacy Adventure:

Martin County High, South Fork High, and Jensen Beach High are all three of the high schools in the Martin County School District that are actively participating in this year’s “Summer Literacy Adventure”.  This reading initiative by the Florida Department of Education (partnered with Martin County Library Systems) is designed to help students stay on target, stay motivated, and stay excited about reading and literacy.

…According to the press release, to participate in the Summer Literacy Adventure students can visit the Just Read, Florida website at www.justreadflorida.com to take the pledge.  Students who take the pledge may also utilize a free online tool to search for books based on their reading ability and interests.  The DOE, through MetaMetrics, offers a unique resource called “Find a Book, Florida” at http://florida.lexile.comthat uses Lexile measures, a widely adopted reading metric that can guide a reader to an appropriate level book.

It’s good to see that Martin County School District is pushing to keep students reading over the summer.  And kudos to the local media for reminding parents of the access to free resources right at their fingertips.

The Right Book for Every Reader

The Illinois State Board of Education has incorporated Lexile Find a Book into its 2011 Summer Reading Program.  And here’s the local media picking up on the message on the importance of keeping students reading over the summer months:

Governor Pat Quinn, Secretary of State Jesse White and State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch are urging educators and families to help students retain and develop academic skills by reading during summer vacation.

The free online “Find a Book” utility at www.lexile.com/findabook provides a way for parents and children to quickly and easily search books that match a child’s reading level and interests as well as to locate the local library carrying each title.

It’s good to see that even the local media is joining in the call for keeping students academically engaged over summer vacation.  It’s our hope that parents and students will take notice and then take advantage of free tools like Find a Book and resources like their local public library.

Another Voice for Increasing Instructional Time

In the past few weeks, we’ve written a number of posts on the importance of increasing student instructional time.  We’re not alone in recognizing the urgency of keeping the educational spigot on during the summer months.  Here’s yet another voice – LZ Granderson – calling for a greater emphasis on the amount of time students spend learning.  Granderson does a nice job rounding up the current thinking on the importance of year round learning and even references Harris Cooper’s work on summer loss. Cooper has argued that the cessation of learning during the summer months has a devastating long-term impact on a student’s overall academic future.  Our own Malbert Smith has made similar arguments and offered a number of ways to curb the effects of the academic loss that occurs each summer.

Granderson argues that the traditional school calendar was built around cultural and economic needs that may no longer be applicable:

…the reason for summer vacations in the first place was that little Johnny was needed in the fields to help the family during growing season. Today more people live in cities than they do in rural areas, and that farming structure has been obsolete for some time. If our kids aren’t working on the farm all summer long, what are they doing?

Granderson has a point.  At 180 days, the U.S. has one of the shortest school years of the PISA countries.  By way of comparison, Finland has just a few more at 190 days, while South Korean students are in school 40 days longer than their American counterparts!

In the meantime – until efforts to secure increased instructional time take hold as part of most education reform agendas – there are other resources to help keep students engaged over the summer.  Tools like Lexile Find a Book allow students to select books on topics of their choice and at their targeted reading level.  And because Find a Book is linked to public libraries, all students have a chance to access targeted reading material over the summer.  Tools like Math at Home allow students to access free math resources to supplement and reinforce their math lessons from the previous year.  The amount of math learning loss that occurs each summer (students rarely do any math instruction over the summer) is pronounced and found across the socio-economic spectrum.  Math at Home aims to curb the impact of that loss by matching students to targeted math resources that reinforce the lessons of the previous school year.

These tools are free and easy to use.  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.