Thursday, May 26, 2016

Strategies to help students comprehend expository writing

Educators call it the fourth-grade slump: a time when some children, faced with increasingly complex schoolwork, start to lose interest in reading. Yet classroom teachers may not employ the strategies that can get these students back on track, according to speech-language pathology researchers at University of the Pacific.

In a review of three decades of research, Pacific professors Jeannene Ward-Lonergan and Jill Duthie pinpointed the strategies that have proved most effective at helping young readers better comprehend "expository discourse," the complex academic language that becomes increasingly common beginning in fourth grade. Their findings appear in the spring issue of the journal Topics in Language Disorders.

Expository writing is used in subjects like history, science, geography and math, and is heavily emphasized in the Common Core State Standards. Hallmarks of this prose are phrases like "as a result," "can be interpreted as," "by comparison" and "to illustrate."

"Despite the difficulties that students have with comprehending expository text, teachers in grades four to 12 typically do not instruct students in the reading comprehension process," said Ward-Lonergan, founding co-director of the Language-Literacy Center at University of the Pacific. "Unfortunately many upper elementary, middle school and high school teachers presume that their students have mastered these fundamentals."

The right strategy can make a big difference. For example, research demonstrates that one approach, easily remembered with the mnemonic RAP, can increase reading comprehension by as much as 36 percentage points among students who struggle with expository writing. RAP stands for read a paragraph, ask questions about the main idea and details, and put main ideas and details into your own words.

Other successful strategies include:
  • graphically organizing information into visual maps
  • using a pencil or sticky note to mark confusing, important or surprising portions of a text with specific symbols (?,or !, for example)
  • underlining or circling key words and phrases that the reader doesn't understand and/or that occur repeatedly in a text
  • writing a very brief summary of each paragraph or section in the margin of the text or on a sticky note
Ward-Lonergan and Duthie hope their review will serve as a resource for classroom teachers looking for a comprehensive summary of effective techniques, as well as for speech-language pathologists and other specialists who support students who are experiencing learning difficulties.

"Language acquisition is complex and involves many parts of the brain, and some children's brains work differently and require different techniques," said Duthie, who co-directs the Language-Literacy Center with Ward-Lonergan.

Finding the right techniques is important. "The ability to comprehend and produce spoken and written expository discourse is critical for academic success and literacy development," Duthie said.

The Condition of Education 2016

The indicators presented in The Condition of Education 2016 provides an update on the state of education in America and includes findings on the demographics of American schools, U.S. resources for schooling, and outcomes associated with education.

Report findings include:

•    Ninety-one percent of young adults ages 25 to 29 had a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2015, and 36 percent had a bachelor’s or higher degree. Median earnings in 2014 continued to be higher for 25- to 34-year-olds with higher levels of education, and in 2015, the unemployment rate was generally lower for those with higher levels of education.

•    The percentages of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preprimary programs in 2014 (43 and 66 percent, respectively) were higher than the percentages enrolled in 1990 (33 and 56 percent, respectively), but these percentages have not changed much in recent years. In the fall of 2013, public school enrollment was at 50.0 million students—over 2.5 million of whom were in charter schools. Postsecondary enrollment was at 20.2 million students in the fall of 2014, including 17.3 million undergraduate and 2.9 million graduate students.

•    High-poverty schools accounted for 25 percent of all public schools in 2013–14. In that year, 24 percent of traditional public schools were high-poverty, compared with 39 percent of charter schools.

•    In comparison to 2013, the national average mathematics score in 2015 for 12th-grade students was lower and the average reading score was not significantly different. Of particular note is that in both mathematics and reading, the lowest-performing 12th-grade students—those performing at the 10th and 25th percentiles—had lower scores in 2015 than in 2013.

•    In school year 2013–14, an all-time high of 82 percent of public high school students graduated with a regular diploma within 4 years of first starting 9th grade. Sixty-eight percent of 2014 high school completers enrolled in college the following fall: 44 percent went to 4-year institutions and 25 percent went to 2-year institutions.

•    About 57 percent of male students and 62 percent of female students who began their bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2008, and did not transfer, had completed their degree within six years. In 2013–14, over 1 million associate’s degrees, 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, and over 750,000 master’s degrees were awarded.

•    Students who exhibited positive approaches to learning behaviors more frequently in the fall of kindergarten had greater academic gains in reading, mathematics, and science between kindergarten and second grade than their peers who exhibited these behaviors less frequently. The relationships between initial approaches to learning behaviors and these academic gains were more pronounced for students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) households than for students from higher SES households.

•    In fall 2013, among fall 2009 ninth-graders who had completed high school, three-quarters were enrolled at postsecondary institutions: 14 percent were taking postsecondary classes only and were not enrolled in a degree program, 3 percent were enrolled in occupational certificate programs, 25 percent were enrolled in associate’s degree programs, and 32 percent were enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs. The remaining 25 percent were not enrolled in a postsecondary institution at all.

•    While 86 percent of all young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s or higher degree were employed in 2014, differences in employment outcomes were observed by occupation, sex, and race/ethnicity. For example, female full-time, year-round workers earned less than their male colleagues in nearly all of the occupation groups examined and for every employment sector (e.g., private for-profit, private nonprofit, government).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Saxon Math "no discernible effects on algebra for secondary school students"

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) today released intervention reports on two core mathematics curricula that seek to improve mathematics achievement in secondary grades. The WWC reviewed:

•    The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and found it had potentially positive effects on both general math achievement and algebra outcomes for secondary school students; and

•    Saxon Math and found it had no discernible effects on algebra for secondary school students.

An intervention report is a summary of findings of the highest-quality research on a given program, practice, or policy in education. The WWC searches for all research studies on an intervention, reviews each against evidence standards, and summarizes the findings of those that meet standards.

The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) utilizes a student-centered approach to learning, incorporating problem solving, real-world applications, and the use of technology. The WWC found that UCSMP Algebra I has potentially positive effects on both general mathematics achievement and algebra for secondary students. In addition, the cumulative effect of multiple UCSMP courses was found to have potentially positive effects on general mathematics achievement for these students. No studies of UCSMP Geometry; UCSMP Advanced Algebra; UCSMP Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry; or UCSMP Precalculus and Discrete Mathematics meet WWC group design standards and therefore, more research is needed to determine their effectiveness. Read the full report.

Saxon Math is designed for students in grades K–12 and uses an incremental approach to instruction and assessment. The WWC found that Saxon Algebra I has no discernible effects on algebra achievement for secondary students. There were no studies of Saxon Geometry, Saxon Algebra II, or Saxon Advanced Math that meet WWC group design standards. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these courses for secondary students. Get the full report.

Earlier this month, the WWC restructured reviews of research on math interventions into two areas: Primary Mathematics and Secondary Mathematics. These two intervention reports are part of the new Secondary Mathematics review area which includes interventions that are organized by content area typically taught in grades 9–12. To see other WWC math reports and resources, check out What Works in Math and compare the evidence on math programs to find the one that’s right for your school or district.

A lack of racial diversity among teachers

The U.S. Department of Education released a report today titled “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” in conjunction with the National Summit on Teacher Diversity held at the Department. The report reviews trends in the diversity of elementary and secondary school educators, and examines the teacher pipeline from enrollment in postsecondary education to entrance into the teaching workforce and beyond.
The report highlights a lack of racial diversity among teachers at public elementary and secondary schools across the nation. Less than one in five U.S. public school teachers—18 percent—are individuals of color, while approximately half—49 percent—of public elementary and secondary school students are individuals of color. Since teachers of color can be positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and in preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society, this diversity gap suggests that the U.S. public school system is not reaping the known benefits we could experience if we had greater diversity in the teacher workforce.
The report reveals decreasing diversity at multiple points across the teacher pipeline through which teachers progress through postsecondary education, teacher preparation programs, hiring, and retention. The report finds that:
  • While bachelor’s degrees are almost always a prerequisite to entering the teaching force, bachelor’s degree students are less diverse than high school graduates.  Thirty-eight percent of bachelor’s degree students were students of color, compared to 43 percent of public high school graduates.
  • Students of color are underrepresented in teacher preparation programs. Students of color made up 38 percent of the postsecondary student population, but only 25 percent of those enrolled in teacher preparation programs.
  • Bachelor’s degree completion rates for students who major in education are lower for black and Hispanic students than white students. The completion rate gap between black and white bachelor’s degree students majoring in education is approximately 30 percentage points (73 percent versus 42 percent) and the completion rate gap between Hispanic and white education majors is more than 20 percentage points (73 percent versus 49 percent).
  • The teaching workforce is overwhelmingly homogenous (82 percent white, 2 percent black males)
The report also examines programs that produce a relatively higher proportion of teacher candidates who are individuals of color. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) enroll a small proportion of individuals who are preparing to be teachers (2 percent), yet a significant percent of all African American teacher candidates attend HBCUs (16 percent). In addition, alternative routes to teacher certification tend to enroll more racially diverse populations of candidates than traditional teacher preparation programs. 
Lastly, the report serves as a call to action for stakeholders including postsecondary institutions, K-12 schools and districts, and others to do more to support teachers of color at all points across the teacher pipeline so that students in U.S. public schools can yield the benefits of a diverse teaching force.

Teacher preparation programs face new requirements

Recent efforts to transform the teacher workforce have included a focus on increasing the selectivity for entry into teacher preparation programs. While this approach to improving P-12 student outcomes may be good for the teaching profession in the long run, increasing selectivity in a field that is currently struggling to recruit candidates will likely decrease the number of admitted students in many teacher preparation programs. In the short-term, these efforts will have consequences for both preparation programs and the school districts they serve.

Standard 3.2 of the Council for Educator Preparation (CAEP)’s new standards explicitly defines admissions requirements in two ways: 
  1. A provider must ensure “that the average grade point average of its accepted cohort of candidates meets or exceeds the CAEP minimum of 3.0.” 
  2. A provider must ensure that “the group average performance on nationally normed ability/ achievement assessments such as ACT, SAT, or GRE is in the top 50 percent from 2016-2017,” the top 40% in 2017-2018, and the top 33% by 2020.
Just over half (51%) of more than 2,100 teacher preparation providers in the United States are CAEP accredited, and these providers enroll about 65% of all teacher preparation candidates. 
 To get a better sense of how CAEP’s selectivity standards might impact the teacher preparation market, this report examines current GPA standards across providers and the potential effect of the nationally normed achievement test requirement on the field.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Middle school intervention program leads to long-term BMI reduction for obese students

A five-week obesity prevention program for seventh grade students in Southern California helped obese students lose weight over a long-term period, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The average reduction in body mass index (BMI) measured for obese students of average height two years later when they entered high school translated into about nine pounds lower bodyweight. The findings are published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The program, called Students for Nutrition and eXercise (SNaX), combined school-wide environmental changes and encouragement to eat healthy school cafeteria foods, along with a peer-led education and marketing campaign.
"We believe that SNaX may have triggered changes in physical activity and diet that were sustained from middle to high school, leading to the BMI reductions," said Laura M. Bogart, co-principal investigator of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Although we don't know why obese students in particular were affected by the intervention, this group of students may have had greater motivation to make behavioral changes, especially after being exposed to SNaX messages about health."
Five schools from the Los Angeles Unified School District were randomly selected to the intervention group and five were randomly selected for a control group. A total of 1,368 students' height and weight were assessed at baseline and two years after completing the program.
At the start of the intervention, 30 percent of the seventh grade students were classified as obese. The students in the intervention schools who were classified as obese at the start of the program showed a significant decline in their BMI two years later when they were in the ninth grade. 
The environmental changes triggered by the intervention included offering a greater variety of sliced/bite-sized healthy food and freely available chilled filtered water at lunch. A peer leader club incorporated a social marketing campaign with posters promoting physical activity, cafeteria food, healthy eating and nutritional postings about cafeteria food.
The marketing campaign included taste tests of cafeteria foods, as well as a short film shown to the entire seventh grade class that encouraged physical activity and healthy eating.
In addition, students were given pedometers and provided with instructions about different kinds of exercises that could be done safely at home, such as dancing and jumping jacks, and at school.
Immediately following the five-week intervention, researchers found significant increases in the proportion of students served fruit and lunch in the cafeteria, increases in water consumption and greater obesity-prevention knowledge, as well as an increase in positive attitudes toward cafeteria food. In addition, there was a decrease in the proportion of students buying snacks at school.
"It was exciting to see that students were interested in eating fresh fruit when it was made available and that many students volunteered to learn more about healthy eating and physical activity so that they could help teach other students," said Dr. Mark Schuster, principal investigator of the study, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct researcher at RAND.
The question for the research team was whether the immediate results in behavior changes would lead to a reduction in BMI. To help with the long-term impact, all seventh graders were given take-home activities to do with their parents during each week of the program. Also, students and parents were given concrete suggestions about new foods to try at home, as well as information about the risks of sugary drinks and the value of healthy eating.
"Although SNaX lasted only five weeks, a primary goal of the program was to teach students skills that could be transferred to their family and to peers, as well as to instill healthier habits and provide students and parents with strategies for longer-term behavior changes," Bogart said.
Researchers note that the long-term effects on BMI suggest that SNaX could have an even greater impact if it were extended throughout the school year to fit with existing school clubs and extra-curricular activities.

Only women benefit from interventions to help low-income, high-ability college students

This a study of two interventions in Texas that were designed to overcome multiple hurdles faced by low-income, high-ability college students. The Longhorn Opportunity Scholars (LOS) and Century Scholars (CS) programs recruited at specified low-income high schools, provided additional financial aid, and enhanced support services once enrolled in college if students attended University of Texas - Austin or Texas A&M - College Station, respectively. These flagship institutions are widely regarded as the top public universities in Texas.

Using administrative data that links K-12, postsecondary, and earnings records for Texas public college students, the study finds via difference-in-differences estimates that the LOS program had a large, positive effect on high-achievers: attendance at UT-Austin increased by 2.2 percentage points (81%), and the likelihood of graduating from UT-Austin increased by 1.7 percentage points (87%).

Twelve or more years post-high school, earnings of those exposed to LOS rose by 4.0%. These results entirely come from women, who saw enrollment at UT-Austin increase by 4.0 percentage points, graduation from UT-Austin increase by 2.6 percentage points and earnings increase by 6.1%

These results indicate that targeted recruitment combined with adequate supports and financial aid can substantially increase enrollment of low-income students in higher quality colleges and improve labor market outcomes. However, the differences in the LOS and CS program effects highlight the importance of understanding how to design these programs to maximize their impact on students.