Posts tagged ‘National Assessment of Educational Progress’

August 17, 2012

Are smaller class sizes better? It’s complicated

by Grace

Class sizes have decreased by 40% since 1960 with no resulting improvement in achievement levels.  This historical data does not definitively prove anything about the effects of class size, but it certainly does not help support the cause for smaller class sizes.

In addition to class size, many other factors have influenced student achievement over the last 50 years.  Teacher caliber and preparation has changed, along with curriculum.  Classrooms have become more inclusive, presenting different challenges to teachers.  The home environment has changed, with a higher percentage of single-parent households.  Electronic distractions are a bigger problem today at the same time technology has made some aspects of learning easier.  It should be clear that reducing class size is not a magic bullet that will counteract all problems that public schools face.

Reducing class size is expensive.  Any decision to allocate funds to cut class sizes has implications that affect other areas of learning, as noted in a recent report, “Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times” released by the Southern Regional Educational Board

Complicating matters is the high cost of reducing class size — one of the most expensive education reforms. Lowering the nationwide average K-12 class size would cost $10 billion a year, the report finds. Furthermore, decreasing class size would require more teacher positions to be filled, and could lower average teacher quality in the process.

The benefits to reducing class size are unclear, as noted by Chingos and  Whitehurst in the research they conducted for the Brookings Institute last year.

… Despite there being a large literature on class-size effects on academic achievement, only a few studies are of high enough quality and sufficiently relevant to be given credence as a basis for legislative action. 

Nick Gillespie of Reason.com asks if we should hire more teachers, a political question of the season.

When it comes to teachers, in 2008 (the last year for which the federal government lists actual data), there were 15.3 pupils per teacher in public K-12 schools. That’s the lowest recorded number. In 1998, the number was 16.4 and in 1978, it was 19.3. Over this same time period, the amount of money per student has increased tremendously and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have stayed flat at best. Since 1970, the number of public-school students has increased by about 9 percent while the number of public-school employees (teachers plus everyone else) has increased by 96 percent. Something ain’t right there. It seems quite plausible that states and local school districts can lose a good chunk of teachers without significantly impairing the quality (that may not be the right word) of K-12 public education.

Related:

June 13, 2012

High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books

by Grace

High school students are assigned too many fifth-grade books, according to Sandra Stotsky in Minding the Campus.

According to Renaissance Learning’s 2012 report on the books read by almost 400,000 students in grades 9-12 in 2010-2011, the average reading level of the top 40 books is a little above fifth grade (5.3 to be exact). While 27 of the 40 books are UG (upper grade in interest level), a fifth-grade reading level is obviously not high enough for college-level reading. Nor is it high enough for high school-level reading, either, or for informed citizenship.

Closing the performance gap means dumbing down the curriculum.

… the average reading level of books read by “struggling” readers in grades 9-12 was 4.9. Does the average book reading level for all kids have to fall down to the fourth-grade level (it was 6.1 in Renaissance Learning’s first report–in May 2008) before we can declare victory on that egalitarian front and move on to what really matters–increasing everyone’s reading scores?…

… national scores in reading have been moving downward for almost 20 years. Average scores on the grade 12 NAEP reading tests were lower in 2009 than in 1992. In addition, average scores on the SAT fell in 2011, “with the reading score for the high school class of 2011 falling three points to 497, the lowest on record,” and the writing score continuing its decline since the writing test was introduced less than a decade ago. The latter trend is to be expected. As research consistently shows, writing is dependent on reading, and as average reading levels decline, so will writing achievement.

The classics are simplified for high school students.

… Many high school students are now reading “classics” rewritten at a second-, third-, or fourth-grade level (e.g., Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, A Tale of Two Cities, Romeo and Juliet,The Time Machine, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jane Eyre, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Scarlet Letter, and A Christmas Carol), although only Romeo and Juliet is on the top 40 list for all high school students. In a few years, struggling readers may be more familiar with the “classics” as rewritten than regular readers are with them as written. This is perhaps the most appalling insight I had after looking over these lists. And some graphic novels are now required reading in college-sponsored summer programs for incoming freshmen, according to a 2011 “Beach Book” report.

It is still unclear if the new Common Core Standards will raise reading levels.

We’ll find out when we can apply a readability formula (with a grade-level placement score) to the reading passages selected for the common tests. If most are well above the fifth-grade reading level from grade 7 on and the cut score by grade 10 or 11 reflects high school level reading, perhaps we can begin to turn the ship of state around 180 degrees, so to speak.

A warning about the future

This republic cannot flourish in the 21st century, no matter how much time English or reading teachers spend teaching “21st century skills” with texts deemed UG, if the bulk of our population is reading at or below the fifth-grade level….

From the Lexile website, some key research findings:

  • The text complexity of K-12 textbooks has become increasingly “easier” over the last 50 years. The Common Core Standards quote research showing steep declines in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks.
  • The text demands of college and careers have remained consistent or increased over the same time period. College students are expected to read complex text with greater independence than are high school students.
  • As a result, there is a significant gap between students’ reading abilities and the text demands of their postsecondary pursuits. Research shows that this gap is equal to a Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Our local high school
I was pleasantly surprised by this reading list from a local freshman English class.  Here are most of the books they read this year as a class, along with their Lexile scores.

A Separate Peace  —  1110L
Animal Farm  —  1370L
Durable Goods  —  620L
Fahrenheit 451  —  890L
Night  —  570L
Romeo and Juliet  —  NP*
The Odyssey  —  Approx. 1000-1100L depending on translation
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar  —  1330L
To Kill a Mockingbird  —  870L

* NP = Non-Prose, not measured by Lexile

Related:  Lexile® measures and grade levels

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