Implementing the Standards

Uh-oh.  The EPE Research Center is reporting that, of the 46 states and D.C. that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, only seven have fully developed plans to put them into practice in the three key areas of: instructional material, professional development, and teacher evaluation systems.  Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and New York have reported finalizing plans across all three areas, but other states are reporting only partial completions.  As the report notes, budget cuts and funding issues are most likely the cause of the delay in most states.  With the new assessments scheduled to be released for the 2014-15 school year, let’s hope those plans are implemented soon.

The Shadow Scholar

We wrote a while back on ‘The Shadow Scholar’, a piece by academic mercenary, Ed Dante (a pseudonym) detailing his career as a ghost writer for hire:

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…

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work.

This article in Big Think finds interest in Dante’s admission that he’s been able to write on such a wide range of topics without ever setting foot in a library:

I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.”

The ease by which Dante is able to access large chunks of information and write a passable essay or thesis raises the question of how much of what students write is actually their own.  As Dante argues, accessing a few major sites is all he needs to write a convincing essay – an essay that presumably is able to fool professors, advisers, and committees.  As the Big Think articles makes clear, such easy access to a wide and deep trough of materials means a shift in the way students research and access information.  Research – a process that traditionally involved becoming intimately familiar with the material in question – no longer need involve long nights in the library or months of reading on a specific topic.  Now, just a well executed search is enough to cobble together the bits and pieces necessary to present a well-written and coherent academic paper.  That changes the nature of research altogether.  And while it becomes faster, more convenient, and certainly more efficient, it also makes it less protracted, less involved, less painstaking.  That efficiency comes with a price.  The student-writer is apt to be, well, less of a writer and more of an aggregator, less attuned to the nuances of their chosen topic, less of an expert.

The Shadow Scholar has supposedly induced much hand-wringing among scholarly types and confirmed what many in academia have long-suspected: that many of their students – those students that as Dante points out, are barely able to form a coherent verbal sentence yet turn in a well-written, cogent piece of academic work – are routinely cheating, are passing off a lot of work that is not their own.  Technology has tried to keep up.  There are a menu of programs that promise to detect plagiarism.  But it’s doubtful those programs can keep up with the massive amount of new information that is constantly being added to the web.  As the Big Think articles makes clear, this may mean a return to alternative forms of assessment – like group projects or oral exams.  That’s too bad.  Examining a student’s writing as a window into what they know and have internalized has always been a useful way of assessing knowledge.  That assessment means less when writing is a more of a social process and has little to do with what an individual student has learned.

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.


The Year of Big Data

The Economist recently published a thought-provoking article on the rapidly increasing accumulation of data.  In “Welcome to the yotta world, Ludwig Siegele, explores the role Big Data will play in our future.  With the amount of digital data growing exponentially (or rather exaponentially), new vocabulary will become a part of our everyday lexicon. Kilo, mega, giga and tera are quantities of the past. When it comes to Big Data, we will have to speak in terms of peta, exa, zetta and even yotta.

Where is this flood of data coming from? Social media and smart phones are the most obvious produces and contribute to the growing abundance of data. Facebook, Twitter and smart phone applications produce an incredible amount of “data exhaust” that collects in a “data warehouse.”  Furthermore as the price for storing data decreases—in 8 years Forrester, a market-research firm, estimates it will only cost $4 to store a petabyte of data—there will be a deluge of Big Data.

A lot of excitement centers around this digital data explosion. Such an immense, and continuously growing, database offers great significance to analyzers, who can extract value from this wealth of digital data. McKinsey Global Institute found that “analyzing health care data could yield $300 billion-worth of savings in America.” However, this excitement surrounding Big Data faces some problems. Siegele notes there are issues concerning talent and privacy. The talent it takes to analyze data is scarce, and predicted to become even more scarce. Perhaps the biggest issue regards privacy. When our every move is digitized and stored in a database, it is likely to stir concern among even those not overly concerned with privacy.  Still, the wealth of knowledge we may soon be able to access about language and culture is immense and may soon be within our grasp.

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.