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.

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Writing More Through Personalized Learning Platforms

A tip of the hat to Marshall Memo for pointing to this recent post by Mike Schmoker, author of RESULTS NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning.  In ‘Write More, Grade Less’, Schmoker argues that over the past thirty years, we have developed a number of ineffective and even counter-productive practices when it comes to student writing:

  • Overload: we grade for and comment on too many dimensions of a single writing assignment (which students ignore—because these comments discourage and  overwhelm them—with no clear direction on how to revise).
  • Infrequent writing assignments:  because grading papers very thoroughly takes so much time, we wind up reducing the number of assignments—though  frequent guided writing assignments are essential to becoming an effective writer.
  • Delay:  writing assignments are commonly returned weeks after they are completed–which nullifies any benefits for students.  And we seldom provide guided opportunities for students to revise their papers, based on feedback.

Schmoker goes on to offer detailed recommendations on more effective ways to improve student writing, including focusing on short, more frequent writing assignments, focusing on one trait at a time, and scheduling dedicated ‘writing days’.

If Schmoker’s cautions sound familiar, they should.  We’ve written before on what it takes to move from novice to expert in any field, including writing.  We know that writing practice should be distributed over time, and, as Schmoker argues, the key to developing a successful writer is frequency – students need to write a lot to improve as writers.

Our own personalized learning platforms (MyWritingWeb and Oasis) were built around the idea of facilitating the move from novice to expert.  Because these tools are web-based students may access them from anywhere at anytime, giving students many more opportunities to write.   And because they are student-centered, these tools do not require teacher administration.  Educators may utilize MyWritingWeb and Oasis to monitor a student’s writing growth using The Lexile Framework for Writing, though it is not necessary to ‘grade’ every assignment.  Instead, educators can simply assign frequent writing assignments and then monitor for content or specific traits.

Schmoker makes some valuable recommendations and it’s good to see a consensus building around the idea of what it takes to develop a good writer: targeted practice, more frequent and distributed opportunities to write, and self-directed activity.  For more on the value of personalized learning platforms, be sure to check out “Next Generation Assessments”.

Next Generation Assessment: Virtual Tutors & Personalized Learning

Online tutoring sites have been around for a while.  But recent advances are taking virtual tutors to a whole new level of sophistication: Imagine a virtual tutor with a computer generated face, a gender, a voice, and, most strikingly, one that responds to the emotional cues of the student   The New York Times recently reported on remarkable advances in affective computing – computers that monitor and respond to the emotional cues of the students.  Maggie Jones writes about her experience with a virtual tutor, named Isabel:

 On a summer afternoon, Isabel, a math tutor with long chestnut-colored hair and hoop earrings, sat in the lower-right corner of my computer screen as I wrestled with geometry problems. When I answered correctly, Isabel gave me a quick congratulatory smile. When I rushed, randomly guessing at perimeters of triangles and rectangles (geometry was never my favorite), Isabel, inferring from the speed of my keystrokes, wanted to know if I was bored. Was it because of the last problem? Did I want to choose the level of the next problem? “I think that more important than getting the answer right,” she said in words reminiscent of many a high-school teacher, “is putting in the effort and that we can all be good in math if we try.”  

This fall, hundreds of students will experience Isabel and her digital counterparts as part of an online tutoring program, Wayang Outpost. This program uses virtual tutors, or “affective pedagogical agents,” via a game-like interface to read students’ emotional cues, like boredom, frustration, anxiety and nervousness. The students are hooked up to sensors monitoring sweat, pressure placed on the mouse, and fidgeting. A small camera monitors facial expressions. This information is then used to cue the tutor’s responses, whether offering hints and explanation where needed or finding various ways to keep middle and high school students engaged.  Wayang Outpost is not just limited to student interaction; the program provides several teacher tools that allow classroom educators to create new classes, assign lessons for certain days, and see reporting on students’ progress. (more…)

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.