There’s an App for That

Tip of the hat to Scholastic’s Math Hub for pointing to Common Sense Media’s helpful reviews of hundreds of educational apps.  As Math Hub reveals, over 52% of U.S. children have access to a mobile device of some sort (iPads, video iPods, or smartphones) and 29% of parents have reported downloading apps specifically for their children.  Given the size of the market, the availability of educational apps has, predictably, ballooned in size; and there are now literally thousands of apps from which to choose.  The abundance of educational apps is a positive step, but with so much choice parents are bound to be hopelessly confused by such a wide array of possibilities.

Thankfully, Common Sense Media offers detailed reviews for many of the available apps.  The reviews are quite candid and parents will find that Common Sense Media was frank in their assessment of what each app offers – and what they lack.  The reviews not only offer a written description, but also offer the appropriate age range and then rate the games on: educational value, ease of use, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/smoking/drugs, and privacy/safety.  We applaud Common Sense Media for offering an easy way for parents to wade through a vast catalog of choices. 

It’s critical that student instruction extend beyond the school day.  We’ve documented the effects of shortened school days and summer slide across the socio-economic spectrum.  If students are to experience a lesser degree of learning loss, than it is imperative that parents keep students engaged in instructional activities as often as possible.  Educational apps are one way of doing that.  While many may be of questionable educational value, many others offer quality digital instruction in a fun, familiar setting.  Plus, by providing on-demand, easy access, app developers allow students access through the devices that students prefer.  Ultimately, that’s a good thing – anything that reinforces and supplements basic skills is bound to help foster a love of learning.

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.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Extending the School Year

Summer vacation – kids’ carefree days spent out of the classroom, sleeping late, enjoying friends and family vacations, right?  A tradition that provides ‘outside the box’ opportunities for learning, right?  Not so, according to this week’s Time magazine’s story – The Case Against Summer Vacation.  David Von Drehle argues that American students are competing in a global economy in which students around the world are spending, on average, four weeks longer per year in school.  Von Drehle contends that summer vacation may be a luxury we can no longer afford.  Most troubling is the negative toll summer vacation takes on student achievement.  The devastating effects of summer learning loss, or summer slide, disproportionately impacts low-income students.  High-income students often maintain their learning pace during the summer, whereas lower-income students typically stagnate or lose academic ground.  The problem compounds over time; by the end of fifth grade students from disadvantaged backgrounds have average reading comprehension levels almost two years behind their more affluent peers.  Here’s Von Drehle:

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old’s education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school.  A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer-while disadvantaged students fell back.  By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind.  By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.

We’ve written extensively on the effects of summer learning loss and the research that shows that reading targeted over the summer mitigates the effects of summer learning loss.  In fact, our own Lexile ‘Find a Book‘ site was developed around the idea of keeping students reading targeted text during their own Lexile reading level and their area of interest.

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see the issues of learning loss and increased instructional time finally get the national attention they deserve.

For more on how the achievement gap between income groups can be attributed to the effects of summer slide, be sure to check out this video, Two Steps Forward.

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.