Thursday, December 7, 2017

Special Education Student Classification Rates Across the Country=


The Frontline Research & Learning Institute has released a new report series focused on equity in special education classification rates for students across the country. A majority of surveyed education professionals believe that their state has classified an appropriate number of students for special education services, despite states having significantly different classification rates and criteria, according to the first report in the four-part report series.

The report, titled “Crossing the Line”, is based on a survey of over 3,600 educators in 19 different educational positions across their 12,000 educational organizations to analyze educators’ perceptions about the appropriateness of special education classifications by schools around the United States. The research series aims to provide actionable insights that inform discussion about how states and local districts equitably address the needs of students.

Data from the survey revealed that a majority (56%) of participants believe the appropriate number of students are classified as special education students, while 21% said that somewhat fewer students should be classified as having learning-related disabilities in their school system. Notably, when respondents disagreed about their state’s classification rate, participants in high classification states advocated for reductions, while those in low classification states advocated for increases in classifications.

“IDEA has provided states with increased flexibility that resulted in special education identification and classification rates varying dramatically from state to state, it’s important to analyze and understand how teachers and administrators are responding to and perceiving their state’s standards,” said Dr. Thomas Reap, co-author of the report and Executive Director of Special Education and Interventions at Frontline Education. “With this report, we have discovered that variation in special education classification across the country doesn't necessarily mean educators disagree with who gets identified.” 

In addition to analyzing how superintendents, administrators, teachers, and related service providers perceive their state’s classification rate, the report also examined how classification rates vary from state to state and region to region.

According to the findings, states with the highest classification percentages, such as New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Pennsylvania, are clustered in the Northeast, while states with the lowest classification percentages, such as Texas, Idaho, Colorado, and Hawaii, are spread across the country.

Participants from the four states with the lowest classification rates were more likely to agree that the appropriate number of students were classified in their school systems whereas respondents in the four states with the highest classification states were less likely to agree that the right number of students were classified.

Respondents across the board agreed that there are a number of contributing factors to perceived under and over-classification such as the extent to which “Response To Intervention” (RTI) being promoted by the reauthorization of IDEA as a multi-tiered approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs actually translates to classification. Students who are identified for support early may never get classified for special education.
“Beyond identifying how state special education classifications are perceived, we also found that, despite our survey revealing substantial differences in opinion regarding whether the correct number of students were being classified for special education, our respondents consistently identified a few key factors that caused them and their peers to perceive under and over-classification,” said Jo Ann Hanrahan, co-author of the report and Frontline Director of Research and Data Analysis. “We’re looking forward to continuing to explore these issues in our research over the next year.”

Students Who Change Majors in College

Among undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major, about 30 percent had changed their major at least once within 3 years of initial enrollment.

The National Center for Education Statistics released a new Data Point report today (December 7), entitled Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment. This Data Point examines the extent to which first-time associate’s and bachelor’s degree students change their majors after 3 years of enrollment, focusing on how the rate at which students change major varies with their degree program and field of study.

Key findings include the following:

• About one-third of students who were enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs changed majors, compared with 28 percent of those enrolled in associate’s degree programs.

• About half (52 percent) of students whose original declared major was mathematics switched majors within 3 years. Mathematics majors changed majors at a rate higher than that of students in all other fields except the natural sciences.

This report uses data from the nationally representative 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Preschool program helps boost skills necessary for academic achievement

Children growing up in poverty face many challenges, but a preschool program that aims to improve social and emotional skills may help increase their focus and improve learning in the classroom, according to researchers.

Researchers observed two groups of children from preschool through third grade. One group participated in the Head Start REDI (Research-based, Developmentally Informed) program and the other did not. Each year, the researchers measured the students' executive function (EF) -- skills that help children focus, control their impulses, remember details, and other skills essential in the classroom.

Karen Bierman, Penn State Evan Pugh Professor of Psychology, said that while most children seemed to benefit from the REDI program, it was the children that started out with the lowest executive function that benefited the most.

"We saw a bit of an improvement in EF skills after REDI ended at the end of preschool, but the bigger effects emerged over time in the children that started out with lower EF," Bierman said. "We think that the social and emotional skills they built in the program boosted the EF in this group of kids, which in turn helped them engage in the classroom and benefit cognitively."

The researchers -- who published their findings in the journal Psychological Science -- said executive function skills are critical for all students, but they tend to be lower in children that grow up in poverty. Bierman said that if students are low in executive function and can't regulate their behavior in the classroom and focus on their schoolwork, it's hard for them to learn.

"Some people describe executive functions as the neural architecture for learning," Bierman said. "They help you organize and focus your attention, support your working memory, and promote your self-control. They help you stop and think through something. EF is governed by the prefrontal cortex, which grows very rapidly during the preschool years. So preschool is a great opportunity to work on these skills."

The REDI program was developed at Penn State as a way to build upon the existing Head Start program, which provides preschool education to low-income children. The REDI program aims to improve social and emotional skills, as well as early literacy and listening skills, by incorporating stories, puppets and other activities that introduce concepts like understanding feelings, cooperation, friendship skills and self-control skills.

The researchers suggested that REDI's focus on these skills would also help strengthen executive function. They recruited 356 children for the study, with 192 participating in the REDI program and 164 participating in a traditional Head Start curriculum.

As the children moved from preschool through third grade, the researchers checked in each year and measured executive function and academic performance. In addition to comparing the REDI students to the control group, they also noted the differences in children that started with high, medium and low executive function within the REDI program.

After analyzing the data from all five years and across all groups, the researchers found that the children in the low executive function group showed more growth in EF than the control group. The researchers also saw better reading fluency and language arts and math performance in the third grade in the lower executive function group compared to the control group.

"We saw that this enriched preschool intervention can really have long-term academic benefits, especially, in this case, for kids who were at highest risk for having school difficulties because of their low executive function," Bierman said. "The greatest benefits for the larger group of children were in the area of social and behavioral adjustment when they moved into elementary school. And for the kids with lower executive function, we also saw improved academic skills."

Bierman said she believes that boosting executive function in the kids that needed it most, gave them the skills to participate and focus in the classroom.

In the future, the researchers said they want to continue following the children in the study as they move into middle and high school to continue measuring the lasting effects of the REDI program.

Lack of sleep could cause mood disorders in teens

Chronic sleep deprivation--which can involve staying up late, and waking up early for work or school--has become a way of life for both kids and adults, especially with the increasing use of phones and tablets late into the night. But this social jet lag poses some serious health and mental health risks: new research finds that for teenagers, even a short period of sleep restriction could, over the long-term, raise their risk for depression and addiction.

University of Pittsburgh's Peter Franzen and Erika Forbes invited 35 participants, aged 11.5-15 years, into a sleep lab for two nights. Half the participants slept for 10 hours, while the other half slept only four hours. A week later, they came back to the lab for another two nights and adopted the opposite sleep schedule from their initial visit.

Each time they visited the lab, the participants underwent brain scans while playing a game that involved receiving monetary rewards of $10 and $1. At the end of each visit, the teens answered questions that measured their emotional functioning, as well as depression symptoms.

The researchers found that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a role in goal-based movements and learning from rewards. When participants were sleep-deprived and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn't show any difference between high- and low-reward conditions.

Franzen and Forbes also found connections between sleep restriction and mood: after a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activation in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression. This is consistent with findings, from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry, that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain's reward system.

The results suggest that sleep deprivation in the tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards, which could disrupt mood and put a person at risk of depression, as well as risk-taking behavior and addiction.

Kids and screen time: Signs of addiction

I t's a familiar sight in the majority of young families: young children bent over a screen for hours, texting or gaming, lost in a digital world.

Many parents worry, how much screen time is too much?

But a recent study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that may be the wrong question. The findings suggest that how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction. This held true after researchers controlled for screen time.

"Typically, researchers and clinicians quantify or consider the amount of screen time as of paramount importance in determining what is normal or not normal or healthy or unhealthy," said lead author Sarah Domoff, who did the research while a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.

"Our study has demonstrated that there is more to it than number of hours. What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity."
Much research exists on adolescents and screen use, but Domoff said that to her knowledge this is the first tool in the United States that measures screen media addiction in children ages 4-11. She believes it will be a valuable tool for parents, clinicians and researchers.

Some of the warning signs include: if screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy.

Kids who use media in unhealthy ways have problems with relationships, conduct and other emotional symptoms, Domoff said. The study didn't examine whether the emotional and behavior problems or the media addiction came first.

Los Angeles Unified School District: 80,000 students, 14.3 percent, chronically absent

 Research shows that students who attend school more often do better in school and students who are chronically absent, meaning they miss at least 15 days of school in a year, fall behind. 

Reducing absenteeism is a significant challenge for which there are no simple solutions. Many LAUSD students and their families face real and significant barriers which prevent students from making it to school including inadequate transportation, health issues, and other conditions related to living near or below the poverty line. 

According to a new report, in School Year 2016–2017 (SY16-17), over 80,000 LAUSD students, 14.3 percent, were chronically absent. That percentage increases to almost one-third of LAUSD students missing significant amounts of school if one adds the 17.9 percent of students who missed 8-14 days. 

The financial impact of student absence is significant as well. The vast majority of revenue the District receives is tied to daily student attendance. For SY16-17, the District’s budget target for chronically absent students was 11% and the impact of not achieving this target was approximately $20 million in foregone revenue. Further, if every child in LAUSD attended one more day of school, the District would have approximately $30 million more to invest in the classroom.

Students’ early test scores do not predict academic growth over time

Poverty does not determine school system's quality

For years, parents and policymakers have looked to test scores to gauge the effectiveness of school districts and teachers. New research from Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Sean Reardon provides a different measure: students’ academic progress over a period of years.

A Stanford study shows that growth rates in many low-income school districts outpace those where students enjoyed greater access to learning opportunities in early childhood. 

Reardon examined test scores for students in third through eighth grade at 11,000 school districts across the country. Third-grade test scores, he found – whether they were higher or lower than the national average – did not correlate to students’ academic growth through elementary and middle school. In fact, growth rates in many low-income districts outpaced those where students enjoyed greater access to learning opportunities in early childhood.

“There are many relatively high-poverty school districts where students appear to be learning at a faster rate than kids in other, less poor districts,” said Reardon, who holds an endowed professorship in Poverty and Inequality in Education. “Poverty clearly does not determine the quality of a school system.”

The findings were released in a working paper on Dec. 5 and drawn from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA), a massive online collection of roughly 300 million math and reading test scores from every public school district in the United States during 2009-15.

Average third-grade test scores in a school district, Reardon noted, reflect the extent of learning opportunities available in early childhood and early elementary grades – opportunities that are strongly related to a district’s socioeconomic resources (families’ incomes and parents’ education levels). But Reardon found that the average rates of academic growth between third and eighth grade bore very little relationship to third-grade scores and early childhood advantages.

“There’s a widespread belief that schools exacerbate inequality, that schools are worse in poor communities and better in rich ones,” said Reardon, who led the development of SEDA and devised the statistical methods used to compare test results from state to state. “It’s true that there’s a lot of inequality among students when they start school. But these data suggest that at least in some systems, schools are equalizing forces – that it’s possible for schools in disadvantaged communities to be forces for equity.”

Intriguing patterns

Not unexpectedly, third-grade test scores were highest in many suburban school districts around metropolitan areas (particularly in the northeast and on the California coast), and low in much of the Deep South and the rural West. But growth rates were more varied. Many districts had low third-grade test scores but above-average growth rates. Others had above-average test scores but very low growth rates.

Even in large, urban districts where third graders tested well below the national average, Reardon and his colleagues found substantial academic gains between third and eighth grade. In Chicago, for example, students advanced on average the equivalent of six years of learning in only five years.
“Chicago students start out with low test scores in third grade, but their growth rate is much higher than the national average – 20 percent higher,” said Reardon. “That is true for all racial and ethnic groups in the district.”

Community impact

Reardon speculated that the findings could help promote more equitable demographics among communities by revealing above-average learning opportunities in a lower-income area.
“To the extent that information about school quality influences middle-class families’ decisions about where to live, data on growth rates might provide very different signals,” he said. “You might find parents ranking communities differently if they weren’t relying on average test scores, which are highly correlated with socioeconomic background.”

Meanwhile, he noted, the findings can help researchers identify districts that are outperforming expectations and explore what these school systems have done to produce such remarkable results.
“There are many places where learning rates are much higher than you might predict on the basis of families’ economic resources,” he said. “We have to learn what those places are doing and build on those lessons.”