Archive for ‘preparing for college’

June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000″.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”

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Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.

June 12, 2014

Hochman Method prepares students for college by teaching how ‘to think and write clearly’

by Grace

Want Students to Succeed in College? Teach Them to Write in K-12

A new nonprofit has the potential to profoundly improve educational outcomes —including college completion— for low-income students. Called The Writing Revolution, the organization exists for one simple and powerful purpose: to teach K-12 children to think and write clearly.

Teaching kids to write seems like a universal goal of our educational system. Yet it is not being met. Millions of students are graduating from high school lacking this fundamental skill.

In fact, 3 out of 4 U.S. high school seniors cannot write coherent sentences or paragraphs, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). More specifically, NAEP results show that only 24 percent of 12th graders demonstrate “the ability to accomplish the communicative purpose of their writing.”

The fact that 76 percent of our high school seniors cannot effectively communicate in writing is inextricably linked to our nation’s abysmally low college readiness and completion rates.

The Writing Revolution is based on a method of writing instruction developed for learning-disabled students by Judith Hochman.

A “consistent and structured” approach

Hochman had a strong hunch that the same things that made her method so effective for learning-disabled students could also help students from lower-income families. Both groups often lack the rich linguistic skills needed to inform their written expression. As such, both groups can benefit immensely from consistent and structured exposure to the building blocks of language use.

Sentence composition is at the core of the Hochman Method of writing instruction.

… students learn that what words they use matter, and so does the order in which they use them.  With enough practice, virtually every student who uses Hochman’s method gets better at turning words into meaningful sentences. Students then learn to use conjunctions and clauses to expand those sentences and make them more information-rich.

Over time students learn to combine these information-rich sentences into paragraphs, and their paragraphs into essays.  In that process, students learn to recognize what information is most salient to an argument, to take effective notes on what they hear and read, and to create complex outlines of their ideas.  The Hochman Method enables students to constantly hone skills that are extremely relevant to academic success in K-12 and in college classrooms.

The program is being piloted in four Washington DC public schools, with initial reports calling it a transformative process.

I believe most students from all levels of income and ability could benefit from a  “consistent and structured” approach like the Hochman Method, particularly after having observed “so many approaches used and so much time wasted in our public schools’ writing curriculum”,

Related:

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Jennifer Wheary, “Want Students to Succeed in College? Teach Them to Write in K-12″, SparkAction, June 2, 2014.

May 28, 2014

American teens are not interested in summer jobs

by Grace

Fewer teens are working.

… In 1978, nearly three in four teenagers (71.8%) ages 16 to 19 held a summer job, but as of last year, only about four in 10 teens did, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of July analyzed by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas . It’s been a steady decline, seen even during good times: During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, when national unemployment was only about 4%, roughly six in 10 teens held summer jobs….

20140527.COCDeclineSummerJobs2

And they are not very interested in getting jobs. Only 8.3% of teens who were not working last summer said they even wanted a job.

20140527.COCTeensDisinterestedJobs2

This doesn’t mean that teens are simply tanning by the pool or binge-watching Bravo (though some certainly are). Challenger says that many teens are in summer school (rates of summer school attendance are at one of the highest levels ever, he says), volunteering, doing extracurricular activities to pad their college applications and trying out unpaid internships. And all of these are worthwhile endeavors (well, minus the tanning and Bravo), especially as it becomes more competitive to get into many elite colleges.

Lack of work experience can be a disadvantage.

That said, experts say that paid work has value for a number of reasons — and that teens (even those who plan to go to college) who don’t do it may be at a disadvantage. “It’s critical for teenagers to work, to begin to understand the working world, the value of a paycheck” says Gene Natali, co-author of “The Missing Semester” and a senior vice president at Pittsburgh investment firm C.S. McKee. “Choosing not to work a paid job has consequences.”

The good old days?

One of my older relatives had a job in high school delivering both the morning and afternoon newspapers.  He and a friend would rise early each day to roll up and deliver papers before their first class, and then repeat the routine after school.  He was also in the school band, played varsity tennis, and maintained good grades, clearly demonstrating he was able to manage his time effectively.  A generation or two later, it’s hard to imagine many kids successfully maintaining a similar schedule of activities. Many of them need reminders to take their Adderal in the morning, and think they are too busy for a part-time job.  Maybe my relative was a remarkable young man, but many of his peers also worked during high school.

Times have changed.  Expectations have changed.  Kids have changed.

Related:  “Teens are too busy preparing for college instead of working” (Cost of College)

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Catey Hill, “American teens don’t want to work”, MarketWatch, May 3, 2014.

‘Teen Summer Job Outlook Teen Employment Culd Remain Flat as More Say “Nah” to Summer Jobs’,  Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., April 28, 2014.

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May 23, 2014

Should we restrict ‘opportunity hoarding’ by high-income families?

by Grace

In a previous post I wrote that “cognitive skills are very important in escaping poverty”.

87 percent of poor smart kids escape poverty 

Looking at the other end of the wealth spectrum, it’s clear that family income is also very important in avoiding poverty.

74% of rich, low-skills kids escape poverty.

Here’s the same chart used in my previous post, but this time I’m looking at the orange bar on the far right.  It shows that 74% of children with the lowest cognitive skills who grew up in the highest income quintile manage to avoid a life of poverty in adulthood.  But most of these children do slip into a lower income level, with only 4% managing to stay in the highest income group when they become adults.

20140510.COCBrookingsSmartPoorKids2

 …

A college degree helps create a “glass floor” for high-income children.

The authors of the study described this resistance to falling very steeply down the income scale as a “glass floor”.  There is at least one factor that seems to be quite significant in helping these high-income adolescents of “modest skills” stay in the higher income groups.

Getting a college degree is associated with a 23% greater chance of an adolescent of modest skills—i.e., predicted to fall—remaining in a higher-income household as an adult.

Of course wealthier families are more able to afford for their children to complete college.  Their outlays typically include not only tuition and other direct costs, but also expenses like tutors, high quality K-12 schools, freedom from having to work part-time, and extra-curricular activities that pave the way to a college degree.  Non-monetary support in the form of encouragement and connections are also important.

Is there a problem of “opportunity hoarding” at the top?  And if so, should it be addressed?

Committed parents work very hard to make sure their own kids do as well as possible. They invest time, love, money, and energy into their well-being and prospects. This is a natural, commendable instinct, one of the deepest instincts of any of us. Indeed, we want more parents to feel like this. Why shouldn’t they do everything they can to help their children do well, even if—perhaps especially if—they are somewhat dim? What’s the problem here, exactly?

Of course advantage is passed down from one generation to the next in many ways that are benign, fair, and legitimate. Nobody is going to suggest affluent parents stop reading bedtime stories to their children in the interests of equal opportunity. But there may be some transmission mechanisms that are less legitimate. The use of social networks to close off certain areas of the labor market (e.g., the informal allocation of internships) could be seen as unfair hoarding of opportunities. Gaining preferential access to valuable education opportunities—for example, through legacy admissions—is another potential opportunity-hoarding mechanism. At the same time, the accumulation and transmission of financial wealth may also contribute to immobility at the top. Greater capital may, for example, ease transitions to higher education, or help with getting a foothold on the housing ladder in an area with good jobs.

Here, then, is the problem: the laudable desire of parents to do the best for their own children translates into systematic opportunity hoarding at the top of the income distribution. There is a strong meritocratic argument that lower-skill rich children should not triumph over the highly-skilled poor, and take up disproportionate space at the top.

It’s hard to find agreement on whether “hoarding” should be curtailed.  One idea would be to focus greater resources in providing support for the “poor smart kids” to attend colleges commensurate with their achievement levels.

How to get more high-achieving, poor students to attend selective colleges’

An important caveat from the study, which used the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) to measure cognitive skills :

… Needless to say, adolescent AFQT and coding speed scores are far from a pure test of merit, or market ability. They simply measure certain skills that have developed up to the time of test taking. A whole host of factors—family background, formal education, and social environment—will have influenced this development. It is important to stress that our measures do not—cannot—capture innate levels of skill or ability.

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Dylan Matthews, “87 percent of poor smart kids escape poverty”, Washington Post, November 20, 2013.

Richard V. Reeves and Kimberly Howard, “The Glass Floor:  Education, Mobility, and Opportunity Hoarding”, Center on Children and Families at Brookings, November 2013.

April 24, 2014

‘Reading ability is very topic dependent’

by Grace

E.D. Hirsch explains why “reading scores on standardized tests flatten out in 12th grade”.

… “Reading ability is very topic dependent.”  Given two passages of equal difficulty in syntax and vocabulary, the same reader will comprehend one better than the other if the reader knows something about the subject matter of the one and little about that of the other.  The idea of a general reading ability that functions independently of what is read is “a misleading abstraction,” Hirsch says.  If a reading test has ten passages with 8-10 questions on each, the same student will perform variably from one to the next depending on background knowledge.  It’s an arbitrary system.  If, by chance, you did volunteer clean-up work one summer and one of the passages concerns how cities and towns dispose of their trash, you will fly through it.  A passage on a sport you never played, though, will slow you down, even though passage difficulty is the same.

Here is the explanation for divergent trends among 4th- and 12th-graders.  Passages for older students are more knowledge-intensive than those for younger students.

Schools changed from a “knowledge intensive” curriculum to a “test-prep” curriculum.

… A cumulative, knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.  Over 13 years of knowledge-intensive schooling, students, including disadvantaged ones, can learn quite a lot about a lot of topics, greatly increasing their ability to make high scores on a reading test, and making them ready for college or a career.

Will Common Core Standards make a difference?

The solution is simple, yet far-reaching.  We need the reading curriculum to be more knowledge-aimed and less skill-based.  Hirsch: “A cumulative knowledge-oriented curriculum will, over time, produce higher verbal abilities than a test-prep curriculum.”  That means more set content and common readings in English, history, and civics, a sharper determination of “cultural literacy” (to use the title that made Hirsch famous), a narrower and more coherent curriculum.

Botched implementation?

The biggest question seems to be how well CCS will be implemented.  Among the many problematic issues surrounding CCS so far, there seems to be general agreement of a “botched” implementation.

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Mark Bauerlein, “The Test Score Solution”, Minding the Campus, October 15, 2013.

April 16, 2014

How to talk to your kids about paying for college

by Grace

When should parents have the “talk” with their children?

Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed.  According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late.  And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.

It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.

“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.

If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”

So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.

In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk.  It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding.  Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.

One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions.  It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

March 12, 2014

Public universities want more ‘smart students who can pay’

by Grace

Public colleges and universities have shifted their financial aid priorities away from need-based to merit-based awards.  Low-income students are feeling the brunt of this change, but pressure on schools to admit only college-ready students and to raise revenue will probably cause this trend to continue.

Public colleges are turning away from their mission to offer access to an affordable college education for all students.

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that, from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants—as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts—to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets the hardest.

Universities feel the dual pressures of raising their revenues and ratings.

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Donald R. Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve those goals, colleges use their aid to draw wealthier students—especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition—or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a college might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT and who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student will.

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”

The student profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article offered a clue to the reason many low-income students are losing out.  They are academically unprepared for college-level work.

Ms. Epps had a combined SAT score of 820 on mathematics and critical reading…

That score is below the College Board SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, indicating a lack of “skills and knowledge that research demonstrates are critical to college and career readiness”.  The same low SAT scores that disqualify some students for merit aid also signal they are at high risk for dropping out of college.

Problem should be addressed before the college years.

The answer is not to give more need-based aid to students who are not prepared for college, but to do a better job of educating students to be college and career ready.  That is the job of K-12 education and community colleges.

Related:  Increasing college merit aid decreases enrollment of minority and low-income students (Cost of College)

March 10, 2014

High school students spend only about half the time expected by teachers on homework

by Grace

We know there is a disparity between the amount of homework teachers assign and the amount of homework students actually do.  Here are some numbers that illustrate that difference.

HOW MUCH HOMEWORK IN HIGH SCHOOL?

Harris Poll 2013 Assigned by teachers: 3.5 hours a day 
National Center for Educational Statistics 2007 Done by students: 1.4 hours a day

Admittedly, this data probably does not show fully accurate numbers.  For one thing, six years separate the times when the two different surveys were conducted.  Plus the information is self reported, so some error is likely for that reason.  Still, I’m willing to accept that it reflects what goes on in real life.

On average, students complete about half of the homework assigned by their teachers.

Or, more accurately:

On average, students spend about half the time expected by their teachers in doing their homework.

Why the difference?

Teachers cannot always accurately predict how long it will take their students to complete assigned homework.  And clearly there are slacker students who simply don’t do their school work.  Another element is the cynicism about the value of homework, sometimes prompting both parents and students to ignore some assignments.

This anonymous comment from a teacher captures some of the reasons for the cynicism felt by families.

Funny I was just thinking about this and other things we do in our school to satisfy parents who want their kids “busy” . I teach kindergarten and we give homework! We do it so the After School workers have something to do with the kids. Most of our kids don’t go straight home they go to daycare or After School so rather than have them do unrelated work we send work for them to do.

I don’t think homework is necessary and find that many teachers use it as an abdication of their own teaching. Many teachers, for example, will tell parents to practice reading sight words because their child is not learning to read in school. Right there parents are made responsible for teaching their child to read. Parents often made to feel guilty about their child not learning. This is just one example of how homework turns into school work.

I spiral the work so it’s always something the kids can do independently.

We have been told as teachers that homework is to teach self discipline but it’s really to show the parents that their kids are doing something in my school.

Some homework is just for show?

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Related: Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

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March 6, 2014

SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)

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