Friday, July 21, 2017

Just 36 percent of new secondary science teachers are teaching only in their trained subject


Ryan Nixon spent four years studying matter, energy and the universe -- and learning how to teach those and other physics-related concepts to teens. In his first year as an eighth-grade teacher, he hit a roadblock. He was supposed to teach his students geology: something he hadn't learned a thing about since, well, eighth grade.

"As a new teacher, you don't know what you're doing, but if you let teenagers know, that's not a good thing," he said.

Nixon, now a Brigham Young University assistant professor of science education, teamed with colleagues from the University of Georgia to explore both the rates and predictors of secondary science teachers who were assigned classes out of field, focusing on teachers in their first five years on the job. Among their findings published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching: 40 percent of these new teachers taught mostly or entirely out of field, and 64 percent had at least one out of field course in their first five years.

The team focused on early career teachers, he said, because it's a group already facing myriad challenges adapting to the classroom setting: 50 percent don't make it past their fifth year. "When you're a new teacher and you want a job, you take the job the principal gives you," he said. "And if you're assigned out of field, maybe you figure it out and do a good job with it, but it makes your life hard."

Though past research has looked at various aspects of out of field teaching, this is the first study that has explored secondary science out of field teaching in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. In 2004 NCLB mandated that teachers be "highly qualified" in their subjects, which at first, Nixon said, essentially prohibited out of field teaching. But with a loosened definition of "highly qualified," just 36 percent of new science teachers are teaching only in their trained subject.

Those numbers, Nixon said, aren't great news for students either. "Their teachers are working really hard, but they're teaching subjects they're not really prepared to teach. And the teacher can try again next year, but if you're the kid in 11th-grade chem, you don't get to try again."

But science is science is science, right? Nope.

Each of the disciplines has its own areas of focus, structures, rules, methodologies, languages. When teachers don't know the content of a particular discipline, Nixon said, their classes become more constrained, more about rote memorization and repetition than working through ideas in depth.

"If science teaching and learning is about making sense of the world and understanding how experts in these disciplines work, then that's an issue," he said.

One particularly troubling finding in the study was that urban and rural schools and schools with high English-language-learner populations are more likely to have teachers doing out of field instruction. These schools, Nixon noted, are often already underfunded and often already have more new teachers than other schools. "It's just adding to the challenges these students are already facing to be given these teachers who aren't prepared to teach the things they're teaching."

Though the problem has its root in a number of areas, including vague policy, Nixon believes important change can come when administrators are aware of the issue.

"I wonder if administrators really realize it's a problem. 'You're a science teacher: why does it matter? Teach whatever,'" he said. "But when it comes down to it, administrators need to say, my teachers need to be where they can teach best."


Causes of severe antisocial behavior may differ for boys and girls


The causes of severe antisocial behaviour may differ between boys and girls, which could pave the way for new sex-specific treatments, according to a major new study published today (Friday 21 July).

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-techniques to map the brains of over 200 teenagers aged 14 - 18 years, researchers from the University of Bath (UK) and several other European universities conducted the most comprehensive study ever to analyse differences in brain development between children with conduct disorder (CD) and a group of typically-developing children (the control group).

Findings from the study, which involved 96 young people with CD and 104 typically-developing young people, are published today in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

They show that the brain's prefrontal cortex - the region responsible for long-term planning, decision-making, and impulse control - is thinner in boys and girls with CD compared to typically-developing boys and girls, and that young people with more severe forms of the condition have more abnormal brain structure.

It also shows that specific areas of the brain differ in structure between boys and girls with antisocial behaviour - for example, some brain areas showed lower cortical thickness in boys with CD, but higher thickness in girls with CD. This highlights, for the first time, that there may be sex differences in the brain-based causes of CD.

CD as a condition is poorly understood and thought to be under-diagnosed and often untreated. Symptoms range from lying and truancy, through to physical violence and weapon use at its more extreme end. It is thought that at least 5% of school age children are affected by the disorder, and it is three times more common in boys than girls. Previous studies have shown that around half of those who develop CD in childhood go on to show serious antisocial behaviour or criminality in adulthood.

Current treatments largely depend on parenting programmes, as the condition is often attributed to poor parenting or growing up in a dysfunctional family. The researchers behind the new study were keen to point out that although sometimes useful, these programmes are not widely available and may not get to the root of the problem. No specific drug treatment exists yet for CD, although ADHD medication, such as Ritalin, is sometimes given.

Senior author from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, Dr Graeme Fairchild, explains: "Our results indicate that the development of the brain is disrupted in boys and girls with severe antisocial behaviour. These findings suggest that the causes of severe antisocial behaviour, and particularly the biological basis of these behaviours, may differ between boys and girls. This could lead to the development of sex-specific treatments or prevention programmes for at-risk young people."

Lead author, Dr Areti Smaragdi from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, added: "We hope that our findings will prompt other researchers to consider possible sex differences in future studies of antisocial behaviour and other disorders that are more common in boys, such as ADHD. Our findings may also have practical implications for treatment or prevention programmes."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

20 Hours of SAT Practice on Khan Academy == 115-Point Average Score Gains on Redesigned SAT


Score improvements consistent across gender, family income, race, and ethnicity


New data show studying for the SAT® for 20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy. Out of nearly 250,000 test takers studied, more than 16,000 gained 200 points or more between the PSAT/NMSQT® and SAT.

Khan Academy and the College Board announced the new findings today based on data from the first full year of the new SAT.

“On the new SAT, it’s easier than ever for students to show their best work. Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is free and personalized, and we see students achieving substantial score gains,” said College Board President David Coleman. “The SAT has now become an invitation for students to practice and grow.”

In addition to the 115-point average score increase associated with 20 hours of practice, shorter practice periods also correlate with meaningful score gains. For example, 6–8 hours of practice on Official SAT Practice is associated with an average 90-point increase.

“The SAT is a strong measure of college readiness.  It is heartening to see this positive association between personalized practice on Khan Academy and growth in college readiness,” said Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan. “This was only possible because of the hard work of many people, especially incredible teachers, counselors and school districts who have leveraged these practice tools for their students.”

The College Board waited for a large enough sample size and a full year of data to analyze and release these results.  Researchers confirmed that practice advanced students regardless of gender, race, income, and high school GPA. The College Board will further explore the role of motivation in producing these results as well as how best to encourage more students to practice productively.

Since its launch in June 2015, more than 3.7 million students have used Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy. Nearly 40 percent of all test takers reported using Official SAT Practice, making it the number one tool for SAT preparation.

Khan Academy and the College Board developed Official SAT Practice to create free, personalized tools so students, regardless of their income level or background, can prepare for the SAT and college-level courses.

Each student accesses a plan built just for them. By linking their College Board and Khan Academy accounts, students can use their scores from the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT™ 10, and PSAT™ 8/9 to determine what areas to focus on.

Through Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy, students access video lessons, test-taking tips and strategies, and over 10,000 interactive practice questions. And they get eight full-length, free practice tests written by the College Board test design team.

Official SAT Practice reinforces what students learn in school by letting them focus on the knowledge and skills most essential for college. Behind every story of a student succeeding is a teacher, counselor, adviser, coach, parent, or other caring adult. Approximately 28 percent of usage on Official SAT Practice happens during school hours. In the next year, Khan Academy and the College Board will continue to work with educators to support students’ SAT practice.

The redesigned SAT, first administered in March 2016, makes it easy for students to show their best work. There’s no penalty for guessing, gone are “SAT words” that no one has seen before or will likely see again, and only relevant math concepts are tested.

The class of 2017 is the largest in history to take the SAT, with nearly 1.7 million students taking the redesigned test as of April 2017.


Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students


New research finds that states must do more to put data in the hands of people, especially parents and teachers. While states have made progress in shifting the culture of education data use from one of compliance to one of continuous improvement, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) finds that there is more work to be done to make data work for students.

DQC’s report, Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People, illustrates how states’ investments in data over the last decade have begun to change perceptions, policy, and practice. This marks the first report on states’ progress to realize DQC’s Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students, released last year. The report also presents specific and immediate actions state leaders and advocates can take.

The report identified significant findings about the landscape of education data, such as:
  • Data is no longer being used only as a hammer. State data collection and use have expanded beyond solely being a tool for accountability and compliance. Only 18 percent of teachers say that they believe data is used to punish teachers and schools.
  • Families and educators still don’t have all of the information they need to support students.
    • Only 38 percent of public school parents strongly agree that they have easy access to all the information they need to make sure that their child gets a great education.
    • 67 percent of teachers are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to on a regular basis.
  • While state and district leaders have prioritized data use, that information will not fully meet the needs of all children until people representing multiple perspectives and specific needs are at the table when important decisions are being made about what data is being collected, who has access, and how it’s being used.
    • Only seven states have evidence of a cross-agency data governance body with members who represent a diversity of perspectives and needs, especially those who have been traditionally underserved such as English language learners, students with disabilities, and military-connected students.
    • Only one state publishes student achievement data about students who are in foster care on its report card.
“After prioritizing robust education data for over a decade, states are focused on using that data to better support students,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president and CEO of DQC. “States now have the hardest work ahead of them, which is putting data in the hands of those closest to students to serve every child. States will not realize the goal of the Every Student Succeeds Act unless they build on these efforts to shift the role of data from compliance to continuous improvement.”

“Just collecting the data is not enough,” said Kristen Amundson, president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education. “Unless parents, policymakers, and educators know what to do with information, our country is missing out on a big opportunity to improve education for all students.”

With a stronger data infrastructure now in place, policymakers can and must prioritize getting teachers, families, and students the data they need to answer questions, take action, and make corresponding changes in classrooms—where it matters the most. Without this intentional focus, states will fail to maximize the investments in education data that they have made and lose a critical opportunity to make data work for all students.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Educational progress and challenges students face in the United States by race and ethnicity


The number of students finishing high school has increased over time for students in all racial/ethnic groups. However, the rate of progress has varied and racial/ethnic gaps persist.

The National Center for Education Statistics released a new report today (July 18) entitled Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups, 2017. This report provides details on the educational progress and challenges students face in the United States by race and ethnicity. The report presents 28 indicators on topics ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes.

The new report shows that public schools are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Between fall 2003 and fall 2013, the percentage of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools decreased for students who were White (from 59 to 50 percent) and Black (from 17 to 16 percent). In contrast, the percentage increased for students who were Hispanic (from 19 to 25 percent) and Asian/ Pacific Islander (from 4 to 5 percent) during the same time period.

Other key findings include:

  • In 2014, the percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty based on the official poverty measure was highest for Black children (37 percent), followed by Hispanic children (31 percent), and White and Asian children (12 percent each);
  • In 2014, about 4.7 million public school students participated in English language learner (ELL) programs. Hispanic students made up the majority of this group (78 percent), with around 3.6 million participating in ELL programs;
  • On the NAEP reading assessment, the White-Black gap in scale scores narrowed in Grade 4 from 32 points in 1992 to 26 points in 2015, while the White-Hispanic gap (24 points) was not measurably different from 1992. In grade 8 reading, the White-Hispanic gap narrowed from 26 points in 1992 to 21 points in 2015, while the White-Black gap (26 points) was not measurably different from 1992;
  • From 1990 to 2015, the high school status completion rate for 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 59 percent to 88 percent for Hispanic students, from 83 percent to 92 percent for Black students; and from 90 percent to 95 percent for White students. Despite this progress, the completion rates for Hispanic and Black 18- to 24-year-olds remained lower than the White rate in 2015;
  • The number of bachelor's degrees awarded to Hispanic students more than doubled between 2003–04 and 2013–14. During the same period, the number of degrees awarded also increased for Black (by 46 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander (by 43 percent), and White (by 19 percent) students; and
  • In 2014, among those who had not completed high school, higher percentages of Black and American Indian/Alaska Native adults (both 22 percent) were unemployed compared to White (13 percent), Hispanic (8 percent), and Asian (7 percent) adults.

New Data on Postsecondary Tuition, Fees and Degrees


Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, the average tuition and required fees at 4-year public institutions increased more than 4 percent for both in-state and out-of-state students (after adjusting for inflation). During that same time period, tuition and required fees increased about 5 percent at 4-year nonprofit institutions and increased about 1 percent at for-profit institutions.


The National Center for Education Statistics released a new First Look report today (July 18) that presents preliminary data findings from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) fall 2016 collection. This collection included three survey components: Institutional Characteristics for the 2016-17 academic year, Completions covering the period July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, and data on 12-Month Enrollment for the 2015-16 academic year.

Other findings include:

  • In 2016-17, there were 6,760 Title IV institutions in the United States and other U.S. jurisdictions—2,918 were classified as 4-year institutions, 1,995 were 2-year institutions, and the remaining 1,847 were less-than-2-year institutions;
  • Of the roughly 3.3 million students receiving degrees or certificates at 4-year Title IV degree-granting institutions, more than 58 percent received a bachelor's degree. This percentage varied by control of institution, with about 64 percent of the 1.9 million students at public institutions receiving a bachelor's degree, roughly 53 percent of the 1.1 million students at nonprofit institutions receiving a bachelor's degree, and about 42 percent of the 286,000 students at for-profit institutions receiving a bachelor's degree;
  • Institutions reported a 12-month unduplicated headcount enrollment of about 27.0 million individual students. Of these, roughly 23.1 million were undergraduates and approximately 3.8 million were graduate students.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More children living in high-poverty neighborhoods following Great Recession


More children are living in high-poverty neighborhoods following the Great Recession - a troubling shift because children in these neighborhoods are a year behind academically, according to new research from researchers at Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin.

"Family Poverty and Neighborhood Poverty: Links With Children's School Readiness Before and After the Great Recession" examines how neighborhood and family poverty predict children's academic skills and classroom behavior when they start school, and whether associations have changed over a period of 12 years that included the 2008 recession. The researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study and examined cohorts of kindergarteners from across the U.S. in 1998 and 2010.

The research revealed that more children whose parents were not already poor were living in high-poverty neighborhoods following the Great Recession. In 1998, 36 percent of children lived in moderate-low, moderate-high and high-poverty neighborhoods. In 2010, the number rose to 43.9 percent.

The researchers defined a high-poverty neighborhood as one where 40 percent or more of residents live below the poverty line. A moderate-high-poverty neighborhood was defined as having poverty rates of 20-39.9 percent; moderate-low, 14-19.9 percent; and low, 13.9 percent or less.

When broken down by race, non-Hispanic white children had the largest change in terms of living in high-poverty neighborhoods. In 2010 they were 13.2 percentage points more likely to live in moderate-low-, moderate-high- and high-poverty neighborhoods than in 1998. In contrast, in 2010 non-Hispanic black children were only 4.1 percentage points more likely to live in a moderate-high-poverty neighborhood. Hispanic children were 5 percentage points more likely to live in a high-poverty neighborhood in 2010.

Rachel Kimbro, a professor of sociology in Rice's School of Social Sciences and founding director of the Kinder Institute's Urban Health Program, cautioned that these numbers do not mean that things got better for minority groups; it meant that things got worse for non-Hispanic whites.

"Although post-recession, more white kids were living in higher poverty neighborhoods, minority children are still significantly more likely overall to live in higher poverty neighborhoods," she said.

Kimbro said she and her fellow authors are uncertain whether this shift is because higher-income families moved into high-poverty neighborhoods due to home foreclosure or other factors, or families within moderate-poverty neighborhoods losing income and becoming poorer (thus increasing the number of poor residents). Regardless, the results are worrying, she said, because children who live in poor neighborhoods are, on average, a year behind academically, according to standardized math, reading and writing assessment tests of the students.

"Regardless of individual family income, there is something about living in a higher poverty neighborhood that negatively affects education outcomes," she said. "This is a topic that should be of great concern for educators and policymakers alike."

Kimbro hopes the research will shed light on the impact of neighborhoods on academic success and will allow educators and policymakers to design interventions to help underperforming students.