Friday, April 27, 2012

Automated Essay Scoring Systems as Effective as Human Graders

A direct comparison between human graders and software designed to score student essays achieved virtually identical levels of accuracy, with the software in some cases proving to be more reliable, a groundbreaking study has found.

“The demonstration showed conclusively that automated essay scoring systems are fast, accurate, and cost effective,” said Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions, which provides consulting serves related to digital learning, and co-director of the study. That’s important because writing essays are one important way for students to learn critical reasoning, but teachers don’t assign them often enough because grading them is both expensive and time consuming. Automated scoring of essays holds the promise of lowering the cost and time of having students write so they can do it more often.

Education experts believe that critical reasoning and writing are part of a suite of skills that students need to be competitive in the 21st century. Others are working collaboratively, communicating effectively and learning how to learn, as well as mastering core academic content. The Hewlett Foundation calls this suite of skills Deeper Learning and is making grants to encourage its adoption at schools throughout the country.

“Better tests support better learning,” says Barbara Chow, Education Program Director at the Hewlett Foundation. “This demonstration of rapid and accurate automated essay scoring will encourage states to include more writing in their state assessments. And, the more we can use essays to assess what students have learned, the greater the likelihood they’ll master important academic content, critical thinking, and effective communication.”

For more than 20 years, companies that provide automated essay scoring software have claimed that their systems can perform as effectively, more affordably and faster than other available methods of essay scoring. The study was the first comprehensive multi-vendor trial to test those claims. The study challenged nine companies that constitute more than ninety-seven percent of the current market of commercial providers of automated essay scoring to compare capabilities. More than 16,000 essays were released from six participating state departments of education, with each set of essays varying in length, type, and grading protocols. The essays were already hand scored according to state standards. The challenge was for companies to approximate established scores by using software.

At a time when the U.S. Department of Education is funding states to design and develop new forms of high-stakes testing, the study introduces important data. Many states are limited to multiple-choice formats, because more sophisticated measures of academic performance cost too much to grade and take too long to process. Forty-five states are already actively overhauling testing standards, and many are considering the use of machine scoring systems. The study grows from a contest call the Automated Student Assessment Prize, or ASAP, which the Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring to evaluate the current state of automated testing and to encourage further developments in the field.

In addition to looking at commercial vendors, the contest is offering $100,000 in cash prizes in a competition open to anyone to develop new automated essay scoring techniques. The open competition is underway now and scheduled to close on April 30th. The pool of $100,000 will be awarded the best performers. Details of the public competition are available at The open competition website includes an active leader board to document prize rules, regularly updated results, and discussion threads between competitors.

The goal of ASAP is to offer a series of impartial competitions in which a fair, open and transparent participation process will allow key participants in the world of education and testing to understand the value of automated student assessment technologies.

ASAP is being conducted with the support of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, two multi-state consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education to develop next-generation assessments. ASAP is aligned with the aspirations of the Common Core State Standards and seeks to accelerate assessment innovation to help more students graduate from college and to become career ready.

Related article

Meeting Oregon’s New High School Math Graduation Requirements

This study was motivated by a 2005 Oregon law that requires students to take three years of mathematics courses at the algebra I level or above (advanced math), beginning with the Class of 2014. The study examines the percentage of Oregon students enrolled in high school–level math courses during 2006/07 and 2007/08 who would have been on track to graduate had the new mathematics requirements been in place. It also examines whether there would have been an adequate supply of teachers endorsed to teach advanced math in 2006/07 and 2007/08, had the new requirements been in place.

How California evaluates teachers and principals

How California's local education agencies evaluate teachers and principals, summarizes the results of a statewide survey of teacher and principal evaluation practices across school districts and direct-funded charter schools in California. Key findings include:

* Sixty-one percent of responding local education agencies indicated that their teacher evaluation systems are based on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. * For teacher evaluation, 57 percent of respondents reported using student achievement outcomes or growth data as partial or primary evidence. For principal evaluation, 79 percent reported using these data.

* Eighty-two percent of responding direct-funded charter schools reported using student achievement or growth data as partial or primary evidence for teacher evaluation, compared with 45 percent of districts. For principal evaluation, the figures were 85 percent of charter schools and 76 percent of districts.

* More than two-thirds of local education agencies reported having two or three performance rating levels for their teachers (37 percent had two levels, and 35 percent had three) and principals (40 percent had two levels, and 30 percent had three). Local education agencies with two rating levels reported that 98 percent of teachers and 83 percent of principals were rated in the highest category; agencies with three rating levels reported that 91 percent of teachers and 98 percent of principals were rated in the highest category.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lasting Impacts of Effective Teachers

Teachers who raise test scores have long-term effects on students’ college enrollment and earnings as adults

A study showing the large impacts that highly skilled teachers have on students’ academic achievement and lifetime earnings is available on the Education Next website, Researchers Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard University and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia University analyzed school-district data from grades 3–8 for 2.5 million children, and linked those data to information on student outcomes as young adults. Their study has received widespread attention since its release as an academic paper in January, 2012. The article, “Great Teaching: Measuring its effects on students’ future earnings,” is accompanied by four commentaries from experts on the study’s policy implications.

The Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff study finds that, on average, a 1 standard deviation improvement in teacher value added (equivalent to having a teacher in the 84th percentile rather than one at the median) for one year raises a student’s earnings at age 28 by about 1 percent. They estimate that the effect of such a teacher on an entire class of students is more than a $1.4 million increase in cumulative lifetime earnings.

Relative to the median, a teacher at the 84th percentile increases math and English scores by 12 and 8 percent of a standard deviation, respectively -- equivalent to approximately 3 months of additional instruction. Students of highly skilled teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher-quality colleges, earn more, live in higher socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children during their teenage years.

The authors address three criticisms of value-added (VA) measures of teacher effectiveness that Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues present in a recent article: that VA estimates are inconsistent because they fluctuate over time; that teachers’ value-added performance is skewed by student assignment, which is non-random; and that value-added ratings can’t disentangle the many influences on student progress.

Chetty and his colleagues show, using quasi-experimental tests, that “standard VA measures are not biased by the students assigned to each teacher.” Using over 20 years of student achievement data, the researchers found that changes in the quality of the teaching staff “strongly predict changes in test scores across consecutive cohorts of students in thd same school, grade, and subject.” The most pronounced effects were seen in the departure of ineffective teachers (bottom 5 percent) and arrival of highly effective teachers (top 5 percent). As a result, they conclude that “value-added metrics successfully disentangle teachers’ impacts from the many other influences on student progress.”

In response to the criticism that teacher impacts on student test scores are inconsistent over time, the authors show that “although VA measures fluctuate across years, they are sufficiently stable” that selecting teachers even based on a few years of data would have substantial impacts on student outcomes, such as earnings.

The study’s policy implications are addressed by Douglas Harris of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Chris Cerf, acting commissioner of education for the State of New Jersey with Peter Shulman of the New Jersey Department of Education; Dale Ballou of Vanderbilt University; and Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. In particular, the discussants point to the importance of finding policies that raise the quality of teaching. The political difficulties of implementing actual policies that reflect value-added evidence are noted. Hanushek observes, nonetheless, that the costs of retaining ineffective teachers “are large enough that failing to address them is simply inexcusable.”

Number Line Is Learned, Not Innate Human Intuition

Tape measures. Rulers. Graphs. The gas gauge in your car, and the icon on your favorite digital device showing battery power. The number line and its cousins -- notations that map numbers onto space and often represent magnitude -- are everywhere. Most adults in industrialized societies are so fluent at using the concept, we hardly think about it. We don't stop to wonder: Is it "natural"? Is it cultural?

Now, challenging a mainstream scholarly position that the number-line concept is innate, a study suggests it is learned.

The study, published in PLoS ONE April 25, is based on experiments with an indigenous group in Papua New Guinea. It was led by Rafael Nunez, director of the Embodied Cognition Lab and associate professor of cognitive science in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences.

"Influential scholars have advanced the thesis that many of the building blocks of mathematics are 'hard-wired' in the human mind through millions of years of evolution. And a number of different sources of evidence do suggest that humans naturally associate numbers with space," said Nunez, coauthor of "Where Mathematics Comes From" and co-director of the newly established Fields Cognitive Science Network at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences.

"Our study shows, for the first time, that the number-line concept is not a 'universal intuition' but a particular cultural tool that requires training and education to master," Nunez said. "Also, we document that precise number concepts can exist independently of linear or other metric-driven spatial representations."

Nunez and the research team, which includes UC San Diego cognitive science doctoral alumnus Kensy Cooperrider, now at Case Western Reserve University, and Jurg Wassmann, an anthropologist at the University of Heidelberg who has studied the indigenous group for 25 years, traveled to a remote area of the Finisterre Range of Papua New Guinea to conduct the study.

The upper Yupno valley, like much of Papua New Guinea, has no roads. The research team flew in on a four-seat plane and hiked in the rest of the way, armed with solar-powered equipment, since the valley has no electricity.

The indigenous Yupno in this area number some 5,000, spread over many small villages. They are subsistence farmers. Most have little formal schooling, if any at all. While there is no native writing system, there is a native counting system, with precise number concepts and specific words for numbers greater than 20. But there doesn't seem to be any evidence of measurement of any sort, Nunez said, "not with numbers, or feet or elbows."

Neither Hard-Wired nor "Out There"

Nunez and colleagues asked Yupno adults of the village of Gua to complete a task that has been used widely by researchers interested in basic mathematical intuitions and where they come from. In the original task, people are shown a line and are asked to place numbers onto the line according to their size, with "1" going on the left endpoint and "10" (or sometimes "100" or "1000") going on the right endpoint. Since many in the study group were illiterate, Nunez and colleagues followed previous studies and adapted the task using groups of one to 10 dots, tones and the spoken words instead of written numbers.

After confirming the Yupno participants' understanding of numbers with piles of oranges, the researchers gave the number-line task to 14 adults with no schooling and six adults with some degree of formal schooling. There was also a control group of participants in California.

The researchers found that unschooled Yupno adults placed numbers on the line (or mapped numbers onto space), but they did it in a categorical manner, using systematically only the endpoints: putting small numbers on the left endpoint and the mid-size and large numbers on the right, ignoring the extension of the line -- an essential component of the number-line concept. Schooled Yupno adults used the line's extension but not quite as evenly as adults in California.

"Mathematics all over the world -- from Europe to Asia to the Americas -- is largely taught dogmatically, as objective fact, black and white, right/wrong," Nunez said. "But our work shows that there are meaningful human ideas in math, ingenious solutions and designs that have been mediated by writing and notational devices, like the number line. Perhaps we should think about bringing the human saga to the subject -- instead of continuing to treat it romantically, as the 'universal language' it's not. Mathematics is neither hardwired, nor 'out there.'"

Out-of-Body Time

The researchers ran several experiments while in Gua, Papua New Guinea, including those that examine another fundamental concept: time.

When talking about past, present and future, people all over the world show a tendency to conceive of these notions spatially, Nunez said. The most common spatial pattern is the one found in the English-speaking world, in which people talk about the future as being in front of them and the past behind, encapsulated, for example, in expressions such as the "week ahead" and "way back when." (In earlier research, Nunez found that the Aymara of the Andes seem to do the reverse, placing the past in front and the future behind.)

In their time study with the Yupno, now in press at the journal Cognition, Nunez and colleagues find that the Yupno don't use their bodies as reference points for time -- but rather their valley's slope and terrain. Analysis of their gestures suggests they co-locate the present with themselves, as do all previously studied groups. (Picture for a moment how you probably point down at the ground when you talk about "now.") But, regardless of which way they are facing at the moment, the Yupno point uphill when talking about the future and downhill when talking about the past.

Interestingly and also very unusually, Nunez said, the Yupno seem to think of past and future not as being arranged on a line, such as the familiar "time line" we have in many Western cultures, but as having a three-dimensional bent shape that reflects the valley's terrain.

"These findings suggest that how we think about abstract concepts is even more flexible than previously thought and is profoundly affected by language, culture and environment," said Nunez.

"Our familiar notions on 'fundamental' concepts such as time and number are so deeply ingrained that they feel natural to us, as though they couldn't be any other way," added former graduate student Cooperrider. "When confronted with radically different ways of construing experience, we can no longer take for granted our own. Ultimately, no way is more or less 'natural' than the Yupno way."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Using the Freshman On-Track Indicator to Predict Graduation

This report examines how well the freshman on-track indicator developed by the Consortium on Chicago School Research predicts on-time graduation in two urban districts in the Midwest Region. This indicator classifies students at the end of the first year of high school as on-track or off-track to graduate based on grade 9 course credits earned and failures.

REL Midwest examined on-track and off-track rates and for recent freshman cohorts as well as 4-year graduation rates for on-track and off-track students.

Key findings include:

* For both districts, students who were on track at the end of grade 9 graduated on time at a higher rate than did students who were off track. This was the case both overall and for student subgroups based on gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, free or reduced-price lunch status, age, and proficiency level on grade 8 state math and reading assessments.

* For the 2005/06 cohort, the on-time graduation rate in District A was 80.7 percent for on-track students and 30.2 percent for off-track students; in District B, it was 91 percent for on-track students and 45 percent for off-track students.

* On-track status was a significant predictor of on-time graduation, even after controlling for student background characteristics and grade 8 achievement test scores. The effect size for on-track status was larger than the effect sizes for any student background characteristic and for achievement test scores.

Performance on Science Tests in Minnesota

This report examines how grade 5 and grade 8 student achievement on the 2009/10 MCA–II science assessment differed by student and school characteristics (gender, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, special education status, race/ethnicity, and prior-year academic achievement). The study found that most of the variation in scores was associated with demographic differences among students rather than with differences between schools.

Key findings include:

* Student achievement on the MCA–II science assessment differed across demographic subgroups, favoring male students, students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, non–special education students, and White students.

* After accounting for student characterhstics, science achievement tended to be higher in schools with a smaller percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and a larger percentage of White students.

* No school characteristics based on teacher composition were related to student science achievement after accounting for other student and school characteristics.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

School climate can affect overweight children for life


Kids can be really mean – especially to other kids – and school-yard bullying can have serious immediate and long-term effects. One area of increasing concdrn in this regard is the possibility that overweight or obese children shoulder the brunt of bullying. With childhood obesity rates reaching unprecedented levels, this may translate into even more negative behavior being experienced by today's kids. It is also possible that children who are disliked by their peers may respond by becoming less active and more likely to overeat – compounding the issue even further. It's a vicious cycle, to say the least. Indeed, some research shows that obese children miss more school days than healthy-weight children. One reason might be because obese kids are unhappy due to being mistreated by other children; they might be avoiding school because of a negative emotional climate in the classroom.

To help address this important question and understand better the factors related to childhood obesity, researchers at Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas studied 1139 first-graders in 29 rural schools where obesity risk is especially high. Specifically, they tested their hypothesis that obese and overweight children are more disliked than their classmates. This study was important because, although there is evidence that obesity carries with it a stigma, this has been studied primarily by using hypothetical questions. And it has almost never been tested by directly asking children how much they liked each of their classmates, and certainly not among children as young as six years old.

Each child was weighed and measured so that body mass index score (BMI) could be calculated; this information was used to classify each child as having healthy weight or being overweight or obese. Children were then shown photos of their classmates and asked how much (on a 1-to-3 scale) they liked to play with each child, and the researchers calculated a score for each child representing the average of their classmates' ratings. A similar procedure was used to determine how the teachers perceived each child's acceptance by the other kids in his or her classroom.

According to both the children's and teachers' reports, both overweight and obese children were significantly more disliked than healthy-weight children. The researchers concluded that, "It is important to remember that these children are only in first grade! So children with weight problems are experiencing a negative social environment very early in their educational experience. This is significant because other research shows that children who are rejected or unhappy in school have trouble learning."

"It also suggests one reason some children's weight problems increase with age: if overweight children are disliked at school, they may be less likely to play actively on the playground, during physical activity classes, and after school. They may also be more likely to engage in emotional eating as a way to cope with feeling bad at school." These findings suggest that obesity prevention programs should start very early and should involve peers, not just the overweight children themselves. In this case, it may take a classroom.

Results from this study will be presented orally on April 24, 2012, in Room 32A at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego, CA.

Achievement Among English Language Learner Students in New Jersey


This report describes enrollment and achievement trends of LEP students in New Jersey public schools between 2002/03 and 2008/09. It documents achievement gaps between LEP and general education students in language arts literacy and math, as measured by statewide assessments administered in grades 3, 4, 8, and 11. The study's main findings include:

* LEP students in New Jersey spoke 187 languages in 2008/09, up from 151 in 2002/03. In 2008/09, Spanish (spoken by 66.8 percent of LEP students in the state) had the most speakers, followed by Arabic (2.6 percent), Korean (2.5 percent), and Portuguese (2.0 percent).
* The achievement of LEP students increased in both language arts literacy and mathematics in elementary, middle, and high school. As a result, the achievement gap between LEP students and general education students in grades 3 and 4 narrowed in both language arts literacy and math, and the achievement gap in grades 8 and 11 narrowed in language arts literacy but widened in math.


Milieu teaching was found to have no discernible effects on communication/language competencies for preschool children with disabilities


WWC Full Report

Milieu teaching is a practice that involves manipulating or arranging stimuli in a preschool child’s natural environment to create a setting that encourages them to engage in a targeted behavior. For example, a teacher might place a desirable toy in a setting to encourage a student to request that toy (where requesting a toy is the desired target behavior). Typically, milieu teaching involves four strategies that a teacher will utilize to encourage a student to demonstrate a target behavior: modeling, mand-modeling, incidental teaching, and time-delay. Through adult modeling and functional consequences associated with child requests, targeted language behaviors can be improved in children who may have language delays or disabilities.

One study of milieu teaching that falls within the scope of the Early Childhood Education Interventions for Children with Disabilities review protocol meets What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards, and no studies meet WWC evidence standards with reservations. The one study included 40 preschool children with developmental delays (eligible for this topic area) attending two schools in Davidson County, Tennessee.

Based on this one study, the WWC considers the extent of evidence for milieu teaching on preschool children with disabilities to be small for communication/language competencies. Six other domains are not reported in this intervention report.


Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement of Language-Minority Students In Grade 8


Students who entered kindergarten as proficient in English, regardless of their home language, scored higher on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS-K) eighth-grade reading, math, and science assessments than language minority students who became proficient in English after starting kindergarten. This is one finding of the analyses reported in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement of Language-Minority Students In Grade 8, an Issue Brief released today by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The ECLS-K tracked the educational experiences of a nationally representative sample of children who were in kindergarten in the 1998–99 school year. The analyses in this Issue Brief present a picture of students’ achievement at the end of the study by focusing on students’ scores on the standardized assessments that were administered in the spring of 2007, when most students were in grade 8. Students are categorized into four groups according to language background and English language proficiency. Additionally, assessment scores are reported by three background characteristics—students’ race/ethnicity, poverty status, and mother’s education—that have been found to be related to achievement.

Findings include:

• Students who entered kindergarten as proficient in English, regardless of their home language, scored higher on the ECLS-K eighth-grade reading, math, and science assessments than language minority students who became proficient in English after starting kindergarten.

• Non-Hispanic language-minority students who were English proficient either when they started or when they completed kindergarten scored higher than their Hispanic peers in reading, math, and science in grade 8.

• Regardless of home language or English proficiency, those students with the most highly educated mothers generally had the highest scores in all three subjects, while those students with the least educated mothers generally had the lowest scores.

Delaware: Achievement of English Language Learner Students


The number of English language learner (ELL) students in Delaware public schools rose 91.7 percent from 2002/03 to 2008/09, whereas total enrollment increased 7.7 percent. ELL student enrollment increased from 3.0 percent of total student enrollment in 2002/03 to 5.4 percent in 2008/09. These figures are of concern to educators because of the large achievement gaps nationally between ELL and non-ELL students and the need to meet the No Child Left Behind Act goal of bringing all students to proficiency by 2014.

This report describes enrollment and achievement trends between 2002/03 and 2008/09 among ELL students in Delaware public schools. It documents achievement gaps between ELL and non-ELL students in reading and math state assessments in grades 2–10 and in science and social studies assessments in grades 4, 6, 8, and 11. The study's main findings include:

* ELL students in Delaware spoke 81 languages in 2008/09, up from 60 in 2002/03. In 2008/09, Spanish (spoken by 77.2 percent of ELL students in the state) had the most speakers, followed by Creole (4.2 percent), Chinese (2.0 percent), and Gujarati (1.5 percent). ELL students speaking "other" languages (languages other than the 12 most common in the state) accounted for 7.2 percent of the ELL student population in 2008/09.

* Between 2005/06 and 2008/09, ELL students' performance in reading increased in grades 3–10 but decreased in grade 2. During this time, ELL students' performance in math increased in grades 3–9, but decreased in grades 2 and 10.

* Between 2002/03 and 2008/09, ELL students' performance in science increased in all grades studied (grades 4, 6, 8, and 11), and ELL students' performance in social studies increased in grades 4, 6, and 8, but decreased in grade 11.

* Between 2005/06 and 2008/09, the overall achievement gap in reading between ELL and non-ELL students narrowed in all grades studied except grade 2, where an achievement gap formed and widened. The achievement gap in grade 3 reading narrowed, with ELL students' performance higher than that of non-ELL students in two of the four years studied.

* Between 2005/06 and 2008/09, the overall achievement gap in math between ELL and non-ELL students narrowed in all grades studied except grades 2, 9, and 10, where the achievement gap widened. In grade 3, ELL students' performance was higher than that of non-ELL students in 2008/09 only.

* Between 2002/03 and 2008/09, the achievement gap in science and social studies between ELL and non-ELL students narrowed in all grades studied except grade 8, where the achievement gap widened in science, and grade 11, where the achievement gap widened in both science and social studies.

Changes in Student Populations and Teacher Workforce in Low-Performing Chicago Schools Targeted for Reform

This report examines changes in student populations and teacher workforce in 31 chronically low-performing Chicago public schools. These schools were selected for district-led reform interventions following five distinct types of reform models.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Areas with relatively high levels of economic segregation exhibit the highest school test-score gaps between low-income students and other students


Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools: Metropolitan Profiles

An analysis by The Brookings Institution
of national and metropolitan data on public school populations and state standardized test scores for 84,077 schools in 2010 and 2011 reveals that:

- Nationwide, the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams. This school test-score gap is even wider between black and Latino students and white students. There is increasingly strong evidence—from this report and other studies—that low-income students benefit from attending higher-scoring schools.

- Northeastern metro areas with relatively high levels of economic segregation exhibit the highest school test-score gaps between low-income students and other students. Controlling for regional factors such as size, income inequality, and racial/ethnic diversity associated with school test-score gaps, Southern metro areas such as Washington and Raleigh, and Western metros like Portland and Seattle, stand out for having smaller-than-expected test score gaps between schools attended by low-income and middle/high-income students.

- Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school. This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

- Large metro areas with the least restrictive zoning have housing cost gaps that are 40 to 63 percentage points lower than metro areas with the most exclusionary zoning. Eliminating exclusionary zoning in a metro area would, by reducing its housing cost gap, lower its school test-score gap by an estimated 4 to 7 percentiles—a significant share of the observed gap between schools serving the average low-income versus middle/higher-income student. As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.


Students who bring water into exams may improve their grade by keeping hydrated


Researchers recorded the behavior of 447 undergraduate students across three different cohorts in relation to whether students brought drinks, and the type of drinks they brought, into exams. Students who were in higher levels of the university degree were much more likely to bring drinks into the exam that those in their first year of undergraduate study.

The researchers related the marks attained by students in the exam to whether those students brought water into the exam. Importantly, they controlled for general ability using coursework marks to ensure that they were not simply assessing the possibility that more able students were more likely to bring water into the exam. The results showed that those who took water into the exam, and presumably consumed the water, did better in the exam than those who did not.

Dr Pawson said: "The results imply that the simple act of bringing water into an exam was linked to an improvement in students' grades. There are several physiological and psychological reasons that might explain this improvement with water consumption."

Dr Pawson raised the possibility that water consumption may have a physiological effect on thinking functions that result in improved exam performance.. He also proposed the possibility that consuming water may alleviate anxiety, which is known to have a negative effect on exam performance.

Dr Pawson said: "Future research is needed to tease apart these explanations, but whatever the explanation it is clear that students should endeavour to stay hydrated with water during exams."

These findings could have implications on policy for access to drinks during examinations at all levels of education. They also suggest that information about the importance of keeping hydrated should be targeted at first-year undergraduate students who are less likely to bring drinks into exams.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In NYC: An inequitable distribution of educational resources


In New York City public schools, a student’s educational outcomes and opportunity to learn are statistically more determined by where he or she lives than their abilities, according to a new report, A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City, released by the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Primarily because of New York City policies and practices that result in an inequitable distribution of educational resources and intensify the impact of poverty, children who are poor, Black and Hispanic have far less of an opportunity to learn the skills needed to succeed on state and federal assessments. They are also much less likely to have an opportunity to be identified for Gifted and Talented programs, to attend selective high schools or to obtain diplomas qualifying them for college or a good job. High-performing schools, on the other hand, tend to be located in economically advantaged areas.

Key Findings


• A Black or Hispanic student is nearly four times more likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest performing high schools as an Asian or White, non-Hispanic student.

• Districts with higher poverty rates have fewer experienced and highly educated teachers and less stable teaching staffs. 

• A student of any race or ethnicity eligible for free or reduced-price meals is most likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest performing high schools; an Asian or a White, non-Hispanic student is highly unlikely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest-performing schools.

• Students from low-income New York City families have little chance of being tested for eligibility for gifted and talented programs.

“While the term ‘redlining’ might seem strong, this report reveals evidence of blatant disparities tantamount to Apartheid-like separations accepted in New York for far too long,” said Pedro Noguera, education professor at NYU, who wrote the foreword to the report.

“Unequal learning opportunities for poor students and students of color have become the status quo in New York City,” said John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation. “The current policy landscape in New York does very little to give these young people access to the supports, type of schools or qualified teachers that give them a substantive opportunity to learn. We need creative leadership to promote greater equity and alignment so the city no longer relegates our neediest children to the most troubled schools with the most limited resources, thereby limiting their potential for future success.” 

Education Redlining bases its findings on an “Opportunity to Learn” Index that examines 500 NYC middle schools across the city’s 32 Community School Districts (CSDs). The report identifies a series of inequalities between and within districts—that largely correlate to race and poverty level. The Opportunity to Learn Index is calculated by sorting New York City middle schools by their results on the New York State Grade 8 English Language Arts assessment. Schools are then sorted into four citywide groups based on average test scores. The percentage of students in the highest-scoring group in each CSD indicates the opportunity that a student in that group has to attend one of the city’s top schools in their district.

Community School Districts with no schools among the top set of schools—with Opportunity to Learn indices of 0.00—are in the city’s poorest neighborhoods of Harlem, the South Bronx, and central Brooklyn. Schools with the highest scores are found in northeastern Queens, the Upper West Side, and the Upper East Side.

To read the full report, including district by district analysis and policy recommendations, click here.

Schott Foundation Policy Recommendations

The Schott Foundation’s Education Redlining report offers several recommendations for how New York City can improve education outcomes for all of its students by providing equitable access to the DOE’s best schools and programs:

• New York State should restore and increase funding that has been dramatically cut in the past two years, cuts that have effectively reversed the impact of CFE v. State of New York; November 2006, which requires the state to provide a “sound basic education” to all children.

• All New York City middle schools should offer the courses necessary for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and tutoring should be offered freeto all students eligible for free and reduced-price meal programs.

• The NYC DOE should administer the Gifted and Talented program test to all prospective kindergarten students; tutoring should be offered freeto all students eligible for free or reduced-price meal programs.

• New York State and City Departments of Education should direct additional resources to schools on a non-competitive basis according to student need: schools serving students from homes with fewer resources should receive significantly more per-student funding than those serving students from homes with greater resources. 

• Every school should conduct an “opportunity audit” to determine if they are offering each student a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. The NYC DOE should then set a goal of bringing every school’s Opportunity to Learn Index to no less than .80 by 2015 and 1.0 by 2020, indicating an improvement in available resources for students who attend.

Learn more and download the full report >

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Preschoolers' reading skills benefit from 1 modest change by teachers


A small change in how teachers and parents read aloud to preschoolers may provide a big boost to their reading skills later on, a new study found.

That small change involves making specific references to print in books while reading to children – such as pointing out letters and words on the pages, showing capital letters, and showing how you read from left to right and top to bottom on the page.

Preschool children whose teachers used print references during storybook reading showed more advanced reading skills one and even two years later when compared to children whose teachers did not use such references. This is the first study to show causal links between referencing print and later literacy achievement.

"Using print references during reading was just a slight tweak to what teachers were already doing in the classroom, but it led to a sizeable improvement in reading for kids," said Shayne Piasta, co-author of the study and assistant professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University.

"This would be a very manageable change for most preschool teachers, who already are doing storybook reading in class."

Piasta conducted the study with lead investigator Laura Justice, professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State, as well as co-investigators Anita McGinty of the University of Virginia and Joan Kaderavek of the University of Toledo. Their results appear in the April 2012 issue of the journal Child Development.

The study is part of Project STAR (Sit Together And Read), a randomized clinical trial based at Ohio State to test the short- and long-term impacts associated with reading regularly to preschool children in the classroom.

The study involved more than 300 children in 85 classrooms who participated in a 30-week shared reading program. As a group, the children came from low-income homes, started with below-average language skills and were at substantial risk for later reading difficulties.

The children were separated into three groups: high-dose STAR (four reading sessions per week), low-dose STAR (two reading sessions per week) and a third comparison group who also had four reading sessions per week. All teachers in the three groups read the same 30 books to their students.

Teachers in the two STAR groups were trained to make specific print references while reading the books. Teachers in the comparison group were told to read as they normally would, and were not prompted to make print references.

Results showed that both one and even two years later, preschoolers in the high-dose STAR classrooms had higher word reading, spelling and comprehension skills than did children in the comparison group. The benefits were not as clear for those in the low-dose STAR classrooms, although they did seem to have slightly better skills than those children in the comparison classrooms.

Piasta said it was particularly notable that students in the high-dose STAR classrooms scored higher on tests of reading comprehension.

"If you're getting kids to pay attention to letters and words, it makes sense that they will do better at word recognition and spelling," she said.

"But the fact that they also did better at understanding the passages they read is really exciting. That suggests this intervention may help them become better readers."

How do print references help preschoolers become better readers? Piasta said research suggests it helps children learn the code of letters and how they relate to words and to meaning.

"By showing them what a letter is and what a letter means, and what a word is and what a word means, we're helping them to crack the code of language and understand how to read," she said.

While this study shows the value of using print references with preschoolers, research suggests very few teachers and parents do this systematically, according to Piasta.

An earlier study by Justice and her colleagues showed that untrained teachers reference print about 8.5 times per reading session – compared to up to 36 times for those who were trained.

Parents are even less likely to make print references while reading to their children. One study suggests that parents use such references only about once during a typical 10-minute reading session.

"One of the best things about the power of print referencing is how easy it would be to implement during shared reading in the classroom," Piasta said.

"Compared to a lot of interventions, this only requires a small adjustment to teachers' typical reading style. But it pays large dividends in reading skills."


Same-ethnicity mentors boost students' commitment to STEM careers


Youths from African American, Native American, and Latino backgrounds are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (known as STEM subjects). Although having a mentor of the same ethnicity is widely seen as one way to engage these youths in STEM subjects, no study has asked these young people if they consider having a mentor who shares their background to be important. Now a new study of African American and Latino youths has found that having a "matched" mentor does matter, but only if having such a mentor is considered important by the adolescent.

The short-term longitudinal study was carried out by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Santa Cruz. It appears in the journal Child Development.

Ethnic-minority teens' ability to imagine themselves in STEM careers could be hindered by the comparatively small number of ethnic-minority teachers and professors in these fields. This study sought to answer the question of whether having a matched-background mentor would help overcome that perceived barrier.

The researchers surveyed 265 high school students who were attending a four-week summer residential science camp in California called COSMOS—the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Sciences. The teens were ethnically diverse and very high achieving—most had GPAs at or above 4.0; about a quarter were from underrepresented minorities (African American and Latino).

Students filled out surveys at the start and end of camp, answering questions about their prior contact with mentors of the same background, their desire to have a mentor who shared their ethnicity, and their feelings about being a science student. Teens had contact with mentors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds throughout the course of the camp.

The study's results revealed a lot of variability in adolescents' contact with same-ethnicity mentors and how important it is to them to have such mentors. About 65 percent of underrepresented students said they had such a preference, compared with 45 percent of White students. While the study confirmed the assumption that ethnic minorities prefer to have mentors who share their background, it also suggested that there are individual differences in students' desires.

Further, taking preference into account mattered. Among those students who said having a shared-background mentor was important who had contact with such a mentor during the camp, feelings of belonging as science students incre`sed.

"Seeing and interacting with successful figures enables adolescents to envision themselves in similar roles, thereby strengthening their identities," explains Moin Syed, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, who led the study. "Having a strong sense of identity as a science student may be particularly important for underrepresented minority students, given the immense barriers they experience to pursuing careers in STEM fields."

Mentoring programs that assign mentors on the basis of race and ethnicity should be sure to ask students about their preferences and matches should be made accordingly, suggests Syed. "Doing so may help maintain underrepresented students' interests in STEM fields."


States face challenges to improve writing standards


Far too many K-12 students have inadequate writing skills, and the current efforts to improve instruction in the United States may be more challenging than anticipated, research from Michigan State University shows.

According to an initial sample of seven states, the existing standards for teaching writing vary widely in comparison to a new set of common standards that are in the process of being implemented by most states.

Study co-director Gary Troia of MSU, along with Natalie Olinghouse at the University of Connecticut, said educators and policymakers in many parts of the country will have to make significant changes to bring existing curriculum, materials and teacher training in line with the Common Core State Standards for writing and language.

The new K-12 standards are intended to improve instruction in mathematics and English language arts, including writing, nationwide.

“Everyone needs to know how to write well, and we are not doing a good enough job to prepare students,” said Troia, associate professor of education. “What we are finding is that states are going to be faced with a misalignment between the content standards and curriculum materials they are using and what the Common Core requires them to cover.”

The research team has a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study writing standards, assessments and student performance in all states except Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia, which elected not to participate. Their first findings, presented at the American Educational Research Association meeting April 17, reflect an analysis of states representing a range of demographics and writing test results: California, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, New York and Massachusetts.

The researchers also evaluated the scope and quality of the Common Core writing standards, expected to be implemented in 46 states by 2014. They found the common standards are easy to interpret, succinct and balanced in terms of covering content across grades and topic areas. However, some important aspects of writing, such as student motivation, peer and teacher feedback, and mastery of an expanded range of writing purposes, are not included in the Common Core.

“Things that do matter at an early age like spelling and handwriting are not addressed very well,” said Troia. “States have to think about whether they want to add anything to the common standards as opposed to implementing them as is.”

Policy research has shown that content standards affect what is taught and how students perform. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, up to two-thirds of U.S. students are not considered proficient in writing.

“That presents a pretty bleak picture, and yet the expectations for writing in college and the workplace are being ramped up,” Troia said. “The Common Core can provide consistency and a lot of opportunities to enhance instruction, but there are gaps as well and we don’t want those to be ignored.”

The four-year study also is exploring how states’ writing standards and assessments reflect research knowledge about best practices as well as the types of writing skills students are expected to demonstrate after graduation.


A healthy recess can reduce bullying, improve learning time


Strengthening recess transforms the school climate, paving the way for less bullying and more focus on learning, says a new study from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University. The randomized control trial specifically looked at what happened when schools partnered with Playworks, a national nonprofit that is currently providing healthy recess and other playtime to schools in 23 cities nationwide.

Researchers found that investing in recess and organized play can prevent bullying, improve students’ behavior at recess and readiness for class, and provide more time for teaching and learning. The study is one of the most rigorous scientific trials to find an effect on bullying in schools, and one of the first that evaluates a recess-and play-based program as a potentially promising school-based solution.

“Our research shows that Playworks makes a difference. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess relative to control school teachers,” said Susanne James-Burdumy, Ph.D., associate director of research at Mathematica. “Playworks also facilitated students’ transitions back to classroom learning.”

The study compared schools using Playworks to a control group of similar schools without the program during the 2010-2011 school year in five cities across the country. Researchers found the following ways in which Playworks improves the school climate:

* Less Bullying. Teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess than teachers in control schools.
* Better Recess Behavior and Readiness for Class. Teachers at Playworks schools tended to report better student behavior at recess and readiness for class than teachers at control schools, and they were more likely to report that their students enjoyed adult-organized recess activities.
* More Time for Teaching. Teachers in Playworks schools reported having fewer difficulties and spending significantly less time transitioning to learning activities after recess than teachers in control schools. Playworks students were also more likely than control students to report better behavior and attention in class after spnrts, games and play.
* Safer Schools. Teachers in Playworks schools perceived that students felt safer and more included at recess, compared to teachers in control schools.
* Satisfied Teachers. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in Playworks schools reported that they wanted the program in their school again the following year.


Recess and other school-based play time are some of the least studied elements of the school day. Principals and teachers often say, however, that a bad recess period has a negative effect on the entire school day.

“This research confirms what we have seen as schools across the nation partner with Playworks to provide kids with healthy play every day. These new findings, taken together with existing data, tell us that kids better relate with one another, resolve conflicts constructively, get plenty of physical activity on the playground and return to class focused and ready to learn,” said Nancy Barrand, special advisor for program development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “Increasingly, health and education leaders are recognizing that recess and play are effective ways to strengthen schools and foster children’s social, emotional and physical development.”

This new research, sponsored by RWJF, contributes to a growing body of evidence that a safe, healthy recess environment is a key driver of better behavior and learning.

A recent University of California, San Francisco study compared physical and emotional health outcomes between students who receive Playworks and control students and found that students exposed to Playworks fared better. In another evaluation, the Harvard Family Research Project credited Playworks with improving cooperation among students and strengthening bonds among students and between kids and adults in school. In Baltimore, the Open Society Institute saw suspensions plummet at schools that partnered with Playworks.

“For our education system to succeed, our schools need to be able to create the conditions for learning,” said Jill Vialet, CEO and founder of Playworks. “The good news is that we’ve developed a model that can be replicated almost anywhere and produces positive and measurable results.”


Teen Dating Violence Behaviors and Risk Factors Common Among 7th-Grade Students


Experts Believe Prevention in Middle School Matters

A new study of 1,430 7th-grade students released today reveals that many 7th-graders are dating and experiencing physical, psychological and electronic dating violence. More than one in three (37%) students surveyed report being a victim of psychological dating violence and nearly one in six (15%) report being a victim of physical dating violence. The study also found that while some attitudes and behaviors associated with increased risk for teen dating violence are pervasive, nearly three-quarters of students surveyed report talking to their parents about dating and teen dating violence. Parent-child communication is considered a protective factor that reduces the risk for teen dating violence.

The study was conducted by RTI International (RTI) on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation as part of an independent evaluation of their Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships (Start Strong) initiative. The data released today is the baseline for this larger evaluation to assess the overall impact of the program. Start Strong is one of the largest initiatives ever funded that targets 11- to 14-year-olds to promote healthy relationships in order to prevent teen dating violence and abuse.

The Start Strong evaluation is one of the few studies, and one of the largest, to look in-depth at the dating relationships of middle school students. Although it is not nationally representative, the study sample included 1,430 7th-grade students from diverse geographical locations. The study collected data on teen dating violence behaviors, as well as risk and protective factors linked to dating violence, such as gender stereotypes, sexual harassment, the acceptance of teen dating violence and parent-child communication.

“There is limited information on 7th-graders and these data provide important insights into teen dating violence behaviors and risk factors among middle school students,” said Shari Miller, Ph.D., lead researcher from RTI. “From this study, we are learning that many 7th-graders are already dating and teen dating violence is not happening behind closed doors with so many students in this study witnessing dating violence among their peers. While we need to do much more to understand this young age group, our data point to the need for teen dating violence prevention programs in middle school.”

Among the key findings:

- 75% of students surveyed report ever having a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- More than 1 in 3 (37%) students surveyed report being a victim of psychological dating violence in the last 6 months.
- Nearly 1 in 6 (15%) students surveyed report being a victim of physical dating violence in the last 6 months.
- Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) students surveyed report being a victim of electronic dating aggression in the last 6 months.
- More than 1 in 3 (37%) of students surveyed report having witnessed boys or girls being physically violent to persons they were dating in the last 6 months.
- Nearly 2 out of 3 students surveyed (63%) strongly agree with a harmful gender stereotype, such as “girls are always trying to get boys to do what they want them to do,” or “with boyfriends and girlfriends, the boy should be smarter than the girl.”
- Nearly half of students surveyed (49%) report having been a victim of sexual harassment in the past 6 months, such as being “touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way,” or that someone ”made sexual jokes” about them.
- Nearly three-quarters of 7th-grade students surveyed report that, in the last 6 months, they “sometimes or often” talk with their parents about dating topics such as, “how to tell if someone might like you as a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

Prevention in Middle School Matters

“Dating violence is a pressing public health challenge and these new data are important and powerful. We know that middle school provides this critical window of opportunity to teach young adolescents about healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence,” said James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president and director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group. “Through Start Strong, we are identifying and spreading effective ways for parents, teachers and communities to help young people develop healthy relationships throughout their life.”

The Start Strong program utilizes a multi-faceted approach to rally entire communities to promote healthy relationship behaviors among middle school students. The Start Strong model utilizes innovative program components to: i) educate and engage youth in schools and out of school settings; ii) educate and engage teen influencers, such as parents, older teens, teachers and other mentors; iii) change policy and environmental factors in schools and communities; and iv) implement effective communications/ social marketing strategies to change social norms. “By combining the findings of this new study with the lessons learned in Start Strong communities, we are developing the essential tools needed to promote healthier relationships for young people,” said Peter Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation.

Parent engagement is a key component of Start Strong. As the study shows, many 7th-graders are talking to their parents about dating topics, including teen dating violence. This highlights the important role parents can play in prevention efforts. Start Strong educates parents of middle school students about these issues so they can help their children navigate new relationships (both online and offline), including teaching parents the warning signs of abuse and how to start conversations about healthy relationships at an early age.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Countries that best prepare math teachers share similarities


Countries that best prepare math teachers meet several key conditions generally lacking in the United States, according to the first international study of what teacher preparation programs are able to accomplish.

The study, led by Michigan State University, suggests that in countries such as Taiwan and Singapore, future math teachers are better prepared because the students get rigorous math instruction in high school; university teacher-preparation programs are highly selective and demanding; and the teaching profession is attractive, with excellent pay, benefits and job security.

The Teacher Education and Development Study, or TEDS-M, provides strong evidence of the benefits of teacher-preparation programs at colleges and universities. The six-year study was funded by the National Science Foundation, which provided $4.2 million, as well as the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, or IEA, and the participating countries.

"Some critics of teacher education believe you can bypass colleges of education and prepare teachers in an easier, faster way, but our study doesn't support that," said Maria Teresa Tatto, international study director and MSU associate professor of education.

"In Taiwan, for example, nobody graduates without the demonstrated ability to teach mathematics," she said. "Here in the United States, far too many of our graduates lack the knowledge of mathematics and how to teach it, which they will need as they begin to teach.

The researchers collected data from representative national samples that included about 500 higher education institutions in 17 countries that prepare primary and secondary school teachers. Some 22,000 future teachers were surveyed and tested, and 5,000 instructors were also surveyed. The full data from the report will be published soon on the IEA's website.

The researchers looked at how well the teaching students knew math and how much they knew about how to teach it.

The differences between top and bottom scoring countries were very large, Tatto said. Taiwan and Singapore did far and away the best in preparing math teachers. Russia also scored highly. Poland, Switzerland and Germany did well partly because they rely more on specialist teachers in lower grades.

The United States generally finished below this group but above other countries that scored way below the international average, Tatto said.

John Schwille, a researcher on the project and MSU education professor, said the results offer grounds for optimism about what can be done to improve teacher preparation and overcome a climate of skepticism.

The study, he added, is in part a response to the belief among many in the United States that teachers are "born and not made, so why are we wasting our time on university programs?" Critics argue that university-based teaching programs are costly and take longer than the alternative of just hiring talented liberal arts graduates and putting them more directly in classrooms.

But this argument doesn't hold up, Schwille said.

"There are some 'born' teachers, sure, but not enough to fill the classrooms," he said. "So you're going to have to prepare them. And the countries that do it best rely on university-based teacher education programs."


Early screening for anxiety disorders in children helps mental health


A University of British Columbia researcher has developed a simple two-question test to screen kindergarten-aged children for future anxiety disorders - the most commonly reported mental health concern among children.

The screening questions, which ask parents about shyness, anxiety and worrying in their children, were found to be 85 per cent effective in identifying children who went on to be clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

"When children enter kindergarten, they are screened for hearing and vision problems and difficulty reading so that these issues can be identified and treated early," says Lynn Miller, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC who is presenting this research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Vancouver. "It only makes sense to screen for anxiety at this age too."

Miller evaluated three questions in a study of 200 kindergarten children from the Lower Mainland. The two questions that Miller found to be most effective in identifying anxiety disorders in children are:

Is your child more shy or anxious than other children his or her age?
Is your child more worried than other children his or her age?

One in ten children is affected by a mental health disorder and the majority are anxiety disorders. Anxiety is associated with a number of psychological and educational difficulties such as impaired peer and family relationships, school avoidance, greater rates of depression, increased rates of alcohol and tobacco use, and development of related anxiety disorders.

"The good news is that anxiety disorders are among the easiest to treat and the best way to treat these disorders is when kids start school," says Miller, of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education.

Miller explains that parents, teachers and community members can teach children how to cope with anxiety in four steps.

Children are first taught to identify when they're feeling anxious. They are taught a variety of techniques to cope with anxiety and learn which techniques work best when they feel scared or frightened. Children are taught to evaluate what makes them anxious and then begin taking steps to face their fears.

"We don't talk about mental health disorders in children of this age but it is the best time to intervene and prevent future problems," says Miller. "Anxiety has tendency to masquerade as other things - children who are anxious don't have to suffer."


Football-related catastrophic brain injuries on the rise


Catastrophic brain injuries associated with full-contact football appear to be rising, especially among high school students, according to a new report.

The increase is alarming and indicates more coaches and athletic trainers should change how they teach the fundamental skills of the game, according to researchers based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Until recently, the number of football-related brain injuries with permanent disability in high school had remained in the single digits since 1984. However, the tally rose to 10 injuries in 2008 and 2009, and there were 13 in 2011, according to the latest catastrophic football injury research annual report from the UNC-based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.

"These 2011 numbers are the highest since we began collecting catastrophic brain injury data," said Fred Mueller, Ph.D., the report's lead author, director of the center and professor emeritus of exercise and sports science in the College of Arts and Sciences. "This is a major problem."

About 4.2 million football players compete nationwide, including 1.1 million high schoolers.

The center has collected data and published annual reports on catastrophic football injuries, including fatalities, disabilities and serious injuries, for 48 years. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Federation of State High School Associations and the American Football Coaches Association fund the research.

The center's work is believed to be directly responsible for nearly eliminating football fatalities, as well as drastically reducing the number of cervical cord injuries to single digits, between the late 1960s and the early 1990s.

Since 1977, about 67 percent of football-related catastrophic injuries have been suffered by players as they made tackles. Mueller said part of the problem is that despite being prohibited in 1976, head-to-head contact – such as butt-blocking, face tackling or spearing tackles – is still occurring. These strategies make the head the initial and primary contact point with an opposing player, and often lead to cervical spine fractures or permanent brain injuries.

Some players recover fully after surgery and rehabilitation following injuries. However, many only recover partially, living with paralysis or mental deficiency, relying on intensive lifetime medical care. Since 1984, there have been 488 cervical cord and cerebral injuries with incomplete recovery, including 164 brain injuries, of which 148 were among high schoolers. Additionally, the years between 2001 to 2010 saw a 25 percent jump in football-related disability brain injuries over the previous decade, increasing to 66 from 52 incidents among all types of players.

Other potential reasons for the apparent increase in brain injuries may be because of heightened awareness of the issue. Also, this year's report updated the number of football participants. However, Mueller noted that neither of these factors likely influenced the overall figures, since the report's definition of catastrophic injuries (defined as injuries that resulted in brain or spinal cord injury or skull or spine fracture, which involved some disability at the time of the accident) and data collection methods have remained unchanged.

Mueller said reversing the trend required several changes, which some in the football community are already implementing. Coaches must be well versed in the signs and symptoms of concussions, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and light sensitivity, and pull players from games if they exhibit those indicators. Players should not return to play until cleared by a physician. Teams also should hold pre-season meetings to discuss concussions, conduct medical evaluations of all players and emphasize that the head should not be used in tackling or blocking.

The report's recommendations also note that schools should hire coaches who teach proper fundamental skills, and retain athletic trainers certified by the National Athletic Trainers' Association. Referees must be vigilant about throwing flags when they see illegal tackles and parents also must be involved in meetings and discussions about concussions.

"All of these measures are important if we want to continue to make a positive impact on the game," he said. "We have to continue research in this area. Accurate data not only indicate problem spots, but they also help us offer appropriate precautions and reveal the adequacy of our preventive measures."


Math teachers demonstrate a bias toward white male students


While theories about race, gender, and math ability among high school students have long been debated, a recent study found that math teachers are in fact, unjustifiably biased toward their white male students. This study was published in a new article released in the April 2012 issue of Gender & Society (GENDSOC), the official journal of the Sociologists for Women in Society, published by SAGE.

"This speaks to the presence of a perhaps subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: Math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," wrote the authors.

Researchers Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Melissa Humphries analyzed data collected by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) that consisted of a nationally representative group of about 15,000 students. Their data also included teacher surveys in which math teachers were asked to offer their personal assessment of individual students, indicating whether they felt that the course was too easy for the student, the appropriate level, or too difficult. The researchers compared these assessments with other data about the students such as their math GPA and their score on a standardized math test in order to determine if the teachers' perceptions of their students' abilities matched up with the students' actual scores.

After analyzing this data, the researchers found disparities between teachers' favorable perceptions of the abilities of their white male students and these students' scores. Conversely, white female students were perceived by teachers to be doing more poorly in their math classes than they actually were.

The researchers did not, however, find the same disparities between white students and minority students. In fact, they found that math teachers actually favored black female students, claiming that these students were more successful in their math classes than they actually were.

The authors wrote, "Once we take into account that, on average, Black and Hispanic male and female students have lower grades and test scores than white males, teachers do not rate the math ability of minority students less favorably than students belonging to the traditionally advantaged category of white males."

Riegle-Crumb and Humphries offered some explanations for their findings. For example, since few black females were enrolled in high-level math courses, teachers may have viewed the black female students in their advanced courses as overcoming more to be successful in mathematics, thus illustrating more perseverance and academic potential. Additionally, they explained that teachers may be more sensitive to their own tendencies towards racial bias than gender bias as gender bias may be so socially ingrained that it is harder to notice and therefore harder to resist.

The authors wrote, "The occurrence of bias in high school classrooms indicates that cultural expectations likely function to shape interactions and re-create inequality throughout the math pipeline that leads to high-status occupations in related fields of science and technology."


Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core


Evidence shows that instructional materials have large effects on student learning. However, little research exists on the effectiveness of most instructional materials, and very little systematic information has been collected on which materials are being used in which schools.

In this new Brooking Institution report, Russ Whitehurst and Fellow Matthew Chingos argue that this problem can be efficiently and easily fixed by states, with support from the federal government, non-profit organizations, and private philanthropy. Here are highlights from their recommendations:

State education agencies should collect data from districts on the instructional materials in use in their schools. The collection of comprehensive and accurate data will require states to survey districts, and in some cases districts may need to survey their schools. In the near term, many states can quickly glean useful information by requesting purchasing reports from their districts’ finance offices. Building on these initial efforts, states should look to initiate future efforts to survey teachers, albeit on a more limited basis.

The federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics should aid states in this effort by developing data collection templates for them to use through its Common Education Data Standards (CEDS), and providing guidance on how states can use and share data on instructional materials.

Organizations with an interest in education reform should support this effort. For example, the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have put their reputations on the line by sponsoring the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Research based on current and past state standards indicates that this initiative is unlikely to have much of an effect on student achievement in and of itself.

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) should use its influence in this area to encourage states to collect information on the use of instructional materials and support them in their efforts to gather these data. The DQC should also help states use the data once they have been collected.

Philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education could have a major impact by providing the start-up funding needed to collect data on instructional materials and support the research that would put those data to use.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Transfer Incentives Help Bring Highest-Performing Teachers to Low-Achieving Schools in Seven Cities


By offering $20,000 per teacher, seven school districts piloting a transfer-incentive strategy, known as the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), filled 90 percent of their targeted vacancies in hard-to-staff schools with some of the districts’ highest-performing teachers. A new study from Mathematica Policy Research highlights the implementation experience and intermediate impacts of TTI, which is intended to expand disadvantaged students’ access to the most effective teachers. Previous research conducted by Mathematica shows that, on average, low-income middle school students are significantly less likely to have access to the highest-performing teachers.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the new study focused on early impacts of TTI on teacher hiring and support as well as on student-assignment practices in the participating schools. The schools came from seven large and diverse districts in Alabama (Mobile County Schools), Arizona (Tucson Unified School District), North Carolina (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Guilford County Schools and Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools), Tennessee (Knox County Schools) and Texas (Houston Independent School District). The study revealed that:

- A large pool of candidates (16 per slot in this study) is needed to yield an adequate number of successful transfers.
- In addition to their high value-added scores, TTI teachers had an average of five years’ more teaching experience and were significantly more likely to have a post-graduate degree than were teachers who would normally have been selected to fill vacancies at the low-achieving schools.
- On average, TTI teachers moved to classrooms with a lower percentage of white students (12 versus 30 percent in their original schools), a higher percentage of Hispanic students (42 versus 31 percent) and a higher percentage of low-income students (89 versus 64 percent).
- There was no evidence that TTI changed the way students were assigned to teachers within schools.
- Principals in receiving schools did not report significant impacts, positive or negative, on teacher collaboration, trust and sharing of ideas.
- TTI teachers used less mentoring and spent more time mentoring their colleagues (25 minutes per week, on average, compared to less than one minute per week for non-TTI teachers), even though there were no specific requirements for TTI transfers to serve as mentors.

Detroit parents as school shoppers


This report provides a descriptive profile of the school shopping behavior of 1,073 Detroit households with 1,699 school-age children. Based on doorstep interviews and focus group discussions with these families, the report represents one of the most comprehensive and aggressive attempts nationally to answer important questions about how parents, especially low-wealth families, think about and pursue school options within a major urban setting. The report also provides rich descriptions of how four different school shopper types approach the school search and selection process.


Cyberbullying and bullying are not the same


University of British Columbia research comparing traditional bullying with cyberbullying finds that the dynamics of online bullying are different, suggesting that anti-bullying programs need specific interventions to target online aggression.

"There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well," says Jennifer Shapka, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC who is presenting this research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Vancouver.

"What we're seeing is that kids don't equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying. As such, we shouldn't assume that existing interventions will be relevant to aggression that is happening online."

Shapka is presenting a study that involved 17,000 Vancouver, B.C. students in Grades 8 to 12 and a follow-up study involving 733 Vancouver, B.C. youth aged 10-18.

Results of the studies show that about 25-30 per cent of youth report that they have experienced or taken part in cyberbullying, compared to 12 per cent of youth who say they've experienced or taken part in schoolyard bullying. However, "Youth say that 95 per cent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only 5 per cent was intended to harm," says Shapka. "It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying."

According to Shapka, the findings suggest that in cyberbullying adolescents play multiple roles - as bullies, victims, and witnesses - and "downplay the impact of it, which means that existing education and prevention programs are not going to get through to them."

"Students need to be educated that this 'just joking' behaviour has serious implications."

Being victimized online can have consequences for a person's mental health, developmental wellbeing, and academic achievement, according to Shapka. In extreme cases, there have been reports of suicide.

Traditional bullying, or schoolyard bullying, is often associated with three main characteristics: a power differential between bully and victim, a proactive targeting of a victim, and ongoing aggression.

Shapka says, research is beginning to show that cyberbullying does not necessarily involve these three characteristics. Traditional power differentials - size and popularity - do not necessarily apply online. There also seems to be more fluid delineation between the roles youth play; it is not unusual for an individual to act in all capacities - bullies, victims, and witnesses - online.

Previous work by Shapka and her colleagues has shown that in contrast to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is rarely associated with planned targeting of a victim.


Study: Reasons for suspension and expulsion complex, race still central


An Indiana University study presented on Friday at the American Educational Research Association meeting in Vancouver shows that race continues to be an important factor in determining who receives out-of-school suspension and expulsion, and that racial disparities in school discipline are most likely due more to school characteristics than to the characteristics of behaviors or students.

Russ Skiba, professor in counseling and educational psychology at the Indiana University School of Education, led the study, exploring factors affecting disproportionate rates of suspension and expulsion for African-American students. Skiba is director of The Equity Project, offering evidence-based information on equity in special education and school discipline, based in the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU Bloomington.

"For overall rates of suspension and expulsion, the study found that discipline is not just a function of difficult students receiving punishment but is more complex," Skiba said.

Type of misbehavior, student characteristics including race and socioeconomic status, and school characteristics, such as the principal's views on school discipline, all predict which students will be suspended or expelled. In particular, the study found race to be a key factor.

"It continues to be a powerful predictor of the severity of school punishment, independent of poverty status or the type of behavior students engage in," Skiba said. "In particular, schools with more African-American students are more likely to use more exclusionary forms of discipline such as suspension or expulsion."

He said the researchers found that poverty rates and more disruptive behavior didn't account for the racial disparities. Instead, the characteristics of schools themselves, including principal attitudes regarding discipline, are most important in accounting for racial differences.

Here are some of the findings:

- After controlling for both poverty and the seriousness of behavior, African American students remain 1.5 times more likely than white students to receive an out-of-school suspension.
- Students in schools with higher proportions of black students are almost 6 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension.
- Students in schools where a principal supports preventive alternatives to suspension are 30 percent less likely to receive an out-of-school suspension, and more than 50 percent less likely to receive an expulsion.

Skiba said the results are consistent with other recent reports, including a report released last month by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that found national data indicate African-American students are far more likely than peers to be suspended.

"It is especially troubling that these results support previous research in showing that schools with higher proportions of African-American students use more punitive procedures, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the schools," Skiba said.

"It's no surprise that schools face tough and complex decisions in trying to keep schools safe and orderly," Skiba said, but he added that the results also have important implications for addressing racial differences in discipline. "If we really wish to make a difference in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in suspension and expulsion, these findings suggest that we would do better reflecting upon school policies and practices than focusing on characteristics of students or their behavior."


US Students Need New Way of Learning Science


American students need a dramatically new approach to improve how they learn science, says a noted group of scientists and educators led by Michigan State University professor William Schmidt.

After six years of work, the group has proposed a solution. The 8+1 Science concept calls for a radical overhaul in K-12 schools that moves away from memorizing scientific facts and focuses on helping students understand eight fundamental science concepts. The "plus one" is the importance of inquiry, the practice of asking why things happen around us -- and a fundamental part of science.

"Now is the time to rethink how we teach science," said Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor of statistics and education. "What we are proposing through 8+1 Science is a new way of thinking about and teaching science, not a new set of science standards. It supports basic concepts included in most sets of state standards currently in use and complements standards-based education reform efforts."

The group of scientists has met with Schmidt in an effort to rethink how science should be taught since 2006, when it was originally part of the PROM/SE research project (Promoting Rigorous Outcomes in Mathematics and Science Education) funded by the National Science Foundation.

The 8+1 concepts were derived from two basic questions: What are things made of and how do systems interact and change? The eight concepts are: atoms, cells, radiation, systems change, forces, energy, conservation of mass and energy, and variation.

Traditionally, science in the United States has been taught in isolated disciplines such as chemistry, biology and physics without clear connections being made between the subjects. The 8+1 effort encourages K-12 teachers to use the eight science concepts to build understanding within and between their courses as students advance through the grades.

"The natural world seems to operate through these laws and concepts, but when it comes to schooling we don't teach children these laws and then show how these apply in different situations," Schmidt said.

Simon Billinge, an 8+1 committee member and professor of applied physics and mathematics at Columbia University, said the aim is for students to see, for example, the physics within biology and the chemistry within physics, so they can gain an understanding of science that transcends disciplinary lines.

Today's frontiers in science often occur at these disciplinary edges. Aided by the explosion in technology and scientific discoveries, new fields are arising that were hardly imagined a generation ago such as synthetic biology, digital organisms and genomics.

Most states are participating in a process to develop new K-12 science standards that are more relevant, coherent and based on international benchmarks.

Stephen Pruitt, vice president of Achieve, a nonprofit organization managing the state-led effort, said 8+1 Science can work hand-in-hand with his organization's effort -- called Next Generation Science Standards -- "to change the way we think about science education."

"The emphasis is about helping students learn key concepts in science, rather than just facts," Pruitt said.

Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress show only 34 percent of fourth-graders and 21 percent of 12th-graders were proficient in their science knowledge. Internationally, U.S. students ranked a mediocre 23rd in their science knowledge among countries studied by the Program for International Student Assessment.

Further information on 8+1.

Measuring Risk Intelligence


Tests exist for evaluating personality, intelligence and memory. However, up to now, it was not easily possible to find out how good someone is at making decisions in risky situations. "Yet this is an important skill that has an enormous influence on many of our decisions," says psychologist Edward Cokely, who came up with the idea of developing a quick test for this skill at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in 2007. In the intervening five years, he has carried out 21 sub-studies in 15 countries with colleagues from Max Planck Director Gerd Gigerenzer's group at the Institute in Berlin and the Michigan Technological University.

One of the results of the studies is the first quick test for establishing an individual's risk intelligence.

The "Berlin Numeracy Test" is available at the website.

The test works twice as well as previous methods and only takes three minutes. Traditional tests, which tend to determine general cognitive capacities, like intelligence or attention control, provide little information about a person's risk competency. A high level of intelligence does not necessarily mean that the person is equally skilled in all areas. "My doctor may be very intelligent, but that does not mean that she can repair my car particularly well or can fill out my tax return," explains Cokely.

To develop their tests, the psychologist and his colleagues carried out experiments with several thousand subjects in North America, Europe and Asia. The test participants had to complete tasks from different areas. For example, 300 participants in a sub-study in Berlin were faced with psychological tasks that were intended to establish, among other things, their personal emotional stability, general life-satisfaction and exam anxiety. They also had to interpret information about risks. "We wanted to find out how well they understand weather forecasts, for example," says Cokely.

It emerged from these tests that highly-educated individuals often also have difficulty interpreting information on risk probabilities. "However, if we want to have educated citizens who make decisions based on information, we need people who understand information about risks," explains the scientist. Seen in this way, risk intelligence is just as important a skill as reading and writing. "Fortunately," he adds, "it can also be learned." In fact, as the researchers discovered over the five years of testing various tasks, risk intelligence is closely linked with mathematical skills. They designed their test accordingly: all three tasks are based on the field of percentage calculation.