14. May 2013 09:40
This week, high school students across the country are taking their AP (Advanced Placement) exams. AP classes are offered in most high schools, and they allow students to earn college credit before darkening the doors of a university. High-achieving students can choose between a wide variety of AP classes; English Composition and American History are the two most popular courses. Depending on the institution, colleges usually offer class credit if a student scores a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP exam. Oftentimes, the credits allow students to skip out on introductory English, mathematics, or history classes. Although the popularity of AP classes continues to grow, some professors are questioning the classes’ ability to provide students with the academic foundation they need to succeed in college.
In fact, Dartmouth recently decided to stop honoring AP test scores. In other words, a 5 on the English Composition exam will put you in the same Dartmouth freshman English class as everyone else. According to an article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post, “Dartmouth College faculty, without considering any research, … voted to deny college credit for AP, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses and tests, all taught by those high school teachers who can’t be as good as they are.” Since the Dartmouth professors are experts in their fields, they don’t believe any high school class can possibly match up to what they have to offer in an ivy-league college course. Of course, Dartmouth still recommends their students take AP courses to prepare for college, but it won’t get students out of taking any fewer classes.
Other prestigious universities like Georgetown still give credit for AP courses, but many professors there are also worried students are missing out on important skills taught in freshman classes. Many introductory college courses focus on critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing sources, and research. AP allows students to miss out on these skills, skills that will be necessary throughout their college careers. Professors are particularly worried about students’ research abilities, and many believe AP should further emphasize the importance of research. In many high schools, students are not required to compose extended research papers, which could put them at a disadvantage in college.
While some schools like Dartmouth can afford to be picky about AP exams, many state schools try to offer as much AP credit as they can. For these schools, AP credit can be a major draw for students. An incoming freshman might easily choose the less expensive state school that will offer them 6 credit hours verses a private university that will offer them none.
Additionally, when thinking about AP, money also comes to mind. If students aren’t given credit for AP courses, more courses have to be taken, and more money goes to the university. Some students (like those who would be accepted at Dartmouth) might enter freshman year with 15-30 credit hours to their name. Thus, it’s more advantageous to the university to be selective about the AP scores they honor. Today, it is more common to only honor higher scores, like a 4 or 5, and pass over scores of 3.
Do you think AP exams prepare students for college? Do you think colleges should continue to honor AP scores? Do you think money plays a big part into honoring test scores? Do exempt freshman miss out on important information in their introductory classes?
25. April 2013 16:33
Thanks to the Common Core Standards, performance testing might be making a comeback. Since the Common Core Standards encourage states to test students in a variety of ways, some states have decided to reintroduce performance testing. (Performance testing gained momentum in the early ‘90s, but No Child Left Behind made the assessments too costly for most schools). Instead of having students fill in bubbles on their answer sheets, performance testing forces students to show their understanding of the learning material, typically by producing an essay, a portfolio, or a presentation. Students are required to demonstrate their knowledge about a particular subject. For many educators, performance testing is a superior method of examination because it allows students to show they’ve attained the critical thinking skills needed to advance to the next grade level.
In fact, educators believe the reintroduction of performance testing could alter the landscape of American public schools. In order for performance testing to be profitable, though, teachers must learn how to score/rate the assessments. Teachers must agree on what a particular score means and apply that rubric to every student. This will also lead to additional teacher collaboration. Teachers will need to discuss the qualities of excellent, mediocre, or poor work. At several charter schools, collaboration has been extremely important for performance tests. There, groups of teachers will meet and design projects that will allow their students to demonstrate their knowledge.
Additionally, one Boston-based educational center has put forth several necessary qualifications regarding performance testing.
The Center for Collaborative Education has emphasized the importance of aligned instruction, task design, and data analysis. Performance tests must be aligned to Common Core Standards, so students can accomplish the tasks they need to succeed in both college and the workplace. Likewise, the performance tests must be designed in such a way that students are clear about all the demands that are being placed on them. Finally, teachers must be able to analyze performance tests and glean information about student learning outcomes.
Add your voice! Is performance testing a boon to students and teachers? How can they be regulated? Is it a good idea to integrate them in with Common Core testing?
Check out eSchool News’ Report
on Performance Testing.
20. February 2013 11:59
While Common Core seems to be pushing forward full-steam ahead, there could be trouble lurking on the tracks. During the past few weeks, Common Core has been making headlines, but mostly all take a negative view on the new standards. In The Huffington Post
, 2010 Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling questions if the Common Core “demoralizes” teachers. The state of Indiana is working on legislation where they could ensure the standards are no longer taught in their schools. Former Texas Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, has made it his personal mission to speak out against the Common Core. GED students are also being encouraged to complete their degree in 2013, before the test is drastically changed to the Common Core version. So, with all the negative press, it is clear that many educators are concerned about the inability of the standards to meet the needs of students.
For example, in her article, “Does the Common Core Demoralize Teachers?,” Wessling hashes through some of the major concerns surrounding the standards. She lists her concerns as follows: teachers already have too much to worry about, and the standards just add to the pile; the standards were written by people who are clueless about how a real classroom works; the standards ignore the needs of the student as a whole; and the standards take away teachers’ creativity. Wessling acknowledges the legitimacy of these concerns, especially for teachers who work in districts where funds and resources are limited.
Her article, however, takes a different tone when she encourages teachers to not let the Common Core get them down. Although it is bound to cause some issues, she gives some pointers for making the Core work in the classroom.
Other news, however, has been much more severe. Robert Scott, a past Education Commissioner in Texas, (one of the states that did not accept the Common Core), has been speaking against the standards. He believes the standards are not right for Texas, and he has been encouraging other states to follow suit.
In fact, he once called the Common Core a “perversion” of what a real education should look like. In a recent testimony in Georgia, Scott said that he was pressured to sign on to the standards before they were even written. He feels the standards are more of a power grab by the national government and that the Common Core lacks transparency, since it was written behind closed doors. You can see his speech on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WcpMIUWbgxY
In fact, this entire YouTube channel is dedicated to appealing the Common Core, where individuals hope local government will obtain control over local schools.
Leave a comment below! What do you think about the controversy surrounding the Common Core? Is the Common Core too much of a top-down approach, where the national government dictates what schools must do? Or is it necessary for the national government to have a set of standards that keeps education the same for all students? Would local government be able to better meet the needs of a local school?
6. February 2013 16:09
For years, teachers have heard over and over again that STEM classes are vital to students’ success in the real world. STEM courses, which emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are said to prepare students for available positions, particularly those that will bolster the U.S. economy and keep Americans competitive in the global market. Unfortunately, this focus on technical-related fields has caused art to be left by the wayside. Recently, the Rhode Island School of Design has started a movement to change STEM to STEAM, where art and design are considered equally important to a student’s education and to the American job market.
Proponents of STEAM believe art ignites the spark of the American creative spirit, which has helped Americans take the lead in innovation in the past. Likewise, art and design aid the development of new technology and can help consumers differentiate between American products and competitors. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are also major components of art and design, which can help students think outside of the box.
In fact, the ideas behind STEAM are already taking root in schools across the nation. In Chicago, public schools are implementing new arts education programs, while also focusing on college and career readiness. Charter schools in Atlanta, Georgia are also adhering to the STEAM plan. Educators must focus on STEM courses, but they are also required to concentrate on design and problem-solving, with real-world applications. In Maryland, educational researchers compared schools that emphasized art (AIMS-Art Integration-Focused Schools) to schools that did not stress the importance of art. Interestingly, schools that focused more on art and art integration had higher reading scores over the three-year testing period.
Although it seems there is not much backlash against adding more art into schools, however, it remains to be seen if art will actually be emphasized. With Common Core getting ready to take over, teachers are already feeling pressure about educational standards and curriculum. Unfortunately, teachers only have a certain amount of class time, and only so much can be squeezed in.
What do you think about STEAM? What are some of the other benefits of adding art? Will it positively affect students? Since many schools have tight budgets and
specific curriculum requirements, will art ever be equally weighted with math or science?
19. December 2012 15:37
In order to keep U.S. education competitive, five states have recently decided to extend classroom hours. As part of a three-year pilot program, certain schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee will all see longer hours, a drastic change that will affect 20,000 students in 40 schools. In fact, starting in 2013, these schools plan on adding over 300 learning hours to the calendar, either by extending the hours of a normal school day or by adding extra days to the calendar. This change stems from the desire of educational leaders, who believe spending more time in the classroom will give students access to information they might not have received before, particularly in more “critical” areas like math and science.
For the past several years, discussions have revolved around the quality (or lack thereof) of the American public school system. Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes American students have fallen immensely behind their counterparts in China and India, who spend much more time in class. Earlier in his career, Duncan mentioned that American schools should be open six or seven days a week and run 11 or 12 months out of the year. It is clear that other educators feel similarly. With the rise of charter schools, new student testing (like the Common Core Standards), and teacher evaluations, it is clear that some educators and parents want reform.
Additionally, education officials also believe that extended school hours are the best way to prepare students for success in the workplace. With extra time, teachers can craft a well-rounded education plan. For instance, instructors can emphasize the importance of art and music and aid students who have fallen behind. Educators also hope students will be able to become intensely familiar with technology by learning specific software programs or receiving training on how to write computer code.
However, these extra hours can be costly. In general, federal, district, and state funds are covering these schools’ extended hours. In Massachusetts, schools are also getting funds from the state’s expanded-learning program, and in Connecticut, a recent education reform law will help provide extra support. Not only is it more costly, but extended hours have also been a major point of contention for teachers. Earlier this year, the teacher’s strike in Chicago was due in part to longer school hours. Eventually, Chicago schools’ hours were extended. It remains to be seen how teachers’ unions will work with these extended hours. Perhaps, if teachers were paid and valued more, like in many European countries, American schools would not have to worry about extending hours at all.
Is It Worth the Money?
While extending hours is clearly pricy, others question the actual benefits for students. In the high-performing countries of South Korea, Finland, and Japan, students spend much less time in the classroom. These schools often use unique approaches to learning, where quality is emphasized over number of hours.
What do you think about extending hours in the classroom? Will it be more beneficial for students? Will it make the American education system more competitive? What would you change about U.S. schools?
For more information, check out this article about education in Finland, one of the world’s top-performers in educational testing: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/
14. November 2012 10:36
Although the funding of charter schools is often the center of fierce debate, recently, The New York Times
reported that charter school attendance is at an all-time high. In fact, over two million American students now attend charter schools, a number that has increased 13% from last year alone. For those who are unfamiliar with the details, charter schools are primary and secondary schools that receive public/government money, as well as private funding. However, unlike public schools, they are not bound by specific state and federal education laws. Instead, charter schools’ regulations stem from their charter, which usually indicates the goals of the specific school. Thus, charter schools seem to blend elements of public and private education, a formula that continues to draw the admiration and the ire of tax payers across the nation.
In New Orleans, after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, charter schools seemed to blossom overnight. Surprisingly, over 70 percent of New Orleans students now attend charter schools. In Detroit, Washington D.C., and St. Louis, charter school attendance is also high, at around 30 percent. Interestingly, out of 110 school districts across the nation, over 10% of district students attend a charter school.
So what makes parents want to send their children to a charter school? According to The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, parents like options. Most parents see charter schools as a personalized path of education. They believe charter schools cater to students’ specific needs and abilities, shying away from public schools’ one-size-fits-all-approach. In addition, charter schools usually offer more interest-specific classes, more AP or college-credit opportunities, and increased fine arts funding. In many cases, they also have greater access to new technology. Clearly, the budget of charter schools allows for more flexibility than their public school counterparts.
On the other side of the spectrum, opponents believe charter schools take needed funds away from public schools. For them, it makes more sense to invest in public schools for everyone than support the needs of a smaller group of elite students. They argue that more “gifted students” are attracted to these charter schools, which often leaves students who are harder to educate at public schools, where money is even tighter than before. Opponents also point out that the success rate of charter schools is not particularly stellar. While some do boast of higher test scores and college acceptance rates, other charter schools perform the same as public schools, or even worse.
With those arguments in mind, it will be interesting to see what happens with charter schools in the future. Their enrollment is growing, and states have continued to support their development. Georgia just passed a charter school bill, allowing them in the state, and Washington will soon decide if charter schools are allowed within their state lines.
Comment on charter schools! Do you think they limit public school funding, or do you think they are a viable option for students looking to excel? Will the growth of charter schools inhibit the growth of public schools?
26. October 2012 11:15
In the past, schools have relied on familiar methods of standardized testing, a system that usually includes multiple-choice questions where students fill in the designated answer bubbles. While this method does supply answers about students’ learning, new technology is enabling instructors to learn even more about the degree of their students’ knowledge. This new form of testing, called adaptive testing, is completed online. Depending on the program, students often have over 800 questions to choose from. Once a student starts the test, the software picks questions catered to that specific student, challenging him or her with questions he or she may or may not know.
The answer to the first question will influence the content of the second question and so on.
This provides an extremely detailed picture of how much a student actually knows.
In fact, adaptive testing was first introduced in Delaware. The Red Clay Consolidated School District picked up on the idea, and with parent and teacher support, along with state funding, they were able to implement these high-tech tests. The school district decided to make the change in order to gain a thorough understanding of their students. While regular, fixed-form testing works well with the majority of students, teachers often learn less about high performers and low performers. High performers might not miss many questions on fixed-form tests, so while these students know the material on the test, it is impossible to find out what else they really know. Testing the extent of their knowledge is limited by fixed-form tests. Likewise, low performers might miss many of the questions, and it can be hard for teachers to figure out how far behind they really are. Fortunately, adaptive testing can provide immediate insight.
Additionally, with adaptive testing, the percent of questions a student gets right is no longer applicable. In fact, most students will only get about half of the questions right. Instead, scores are created by assessing the level of a question’s difficulty. Since these tests are catered to a student’s specific needs, students have also reported that adaptive testing is more interesting and engaging. Questions with videos and graphics also help increase the interest of the test-taker. Likewise, because students are taking individual tests, chances of cheating are greatly reduced. Adaptive tests are truly about finding what a student actually knows on an individual basis.
Clearly, there are many reasons why schools should introduce adaptive testing, but like many new things, it has yet to be perfected. Writing is almost impossible to assess through the exams; the evaluation of writing really calls for human judgment. Because of that reason, the tests do not emphasize writing, and teachers are afraid students will miss out. Likewise, teachers remark that test results should be clear and more useful. Others believe the format is too challenging; when students keep answering tough questions incorrectly, they simply shut down. While adaptive testing may be in its early stages, it is evident that testing methods are leaning towards assessing students on an individual basis.
So, what do you think about adaptive testing? Would you want it implemented at your school? Does its emphasis on the individual help students in the long run?
Check out this video about adaptive testing: http://bcove.me/be40myzh
Here are some of the companies that are developing adaptive testing: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/
17. October 2012 10:19
If you spoke with any teacher, he or she would probably tell you that boredom is a major problem in classrooms across the nation. Teachers are extremely familiar with students’ yawning, clock watching, and blank stares. Usually teachers combat boredom with more entertaining, hands-on lessons, but more classroom excitement might not be the solution. Earlier this month, a new study was released from the Perspectives on Psychological Science
which links stress and boredom. In other words, students who are stressed about their family life, grades, friends, or other situations will be thinking about these issues during class, preventing them from wholly focusing on the lesson. While a bored student might blame his or her inability to pay attention on the teacher or material, in reality, a student’s boredom could stem from his or her mental stress.
First off, the study shows that students with ADHD are more likely to feel bored during the school day than students without ADHD. Instead of truly being bored, however, these students are usually caught up in a flurry of thoughts, which leaves them unable to concentrate. Likewise, students who are taking classes that are too challenging for them are also more likely to feel bored. These students are using more working memory to keep up in class, and as a result, they feel overwhelmed by the material and have a tough time concentrating. However, instead of recognizing that they are frustrated and discouraged, they will most likely say that they are simply bored.
Additionally, researchers also noted that discouraged, emotional, and down students also feel bored in the classroom. When students are stressed, it makes it harder for them to learn in the classroom. It truly is a vicious cycle; emotionally stressed students are more likely to disengage and be bored, which adds to their stress in the long run. Noise can also contribute to students feeling bored. Music, laughter, or a TV in the next room can prevent students from concentrating. While students believe their inability to concentrate means they are bored, their short-attention span can result from a variety of different factors and emotions.
Interestingly, stress inhibits the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that enables students to reason and remember specific facts. Disrupting this rational function allows the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, to take over. This explains why bored students are more likely to be tired, anxious, frustrated, or depressed. In response to their brain functions, bored students will either zone out or act out. Oftentimes, these students fidget, doodle, or appear sleepy.
With that in mind, how can teachers reduce students’ stress and help them concentrate? Surprisingly, researchers suggest that doodling/coloring is one way for students to control their drifting thoughts and stay on task. Most importantly though, it is vital that students learn to recognize their own anxiety and discover ways to re-engage their thoughts when they feel like they are drifting. Students who learn to identify their own emotions will be more successful in the classroom.
Discuss: What do you do to keep your students on task in the classroom? From your experience, do you believe stress and boredom are linked? What steps can be taken to reduce students’ stress?
1. October 2012 15:13
Lately, discussions surrounding Common Core testing have shifted in a new direction.
When the Common Core was in its earliest stages, educators believed that one single test would cover all students per grade.
In other words, fifth grade students in Ohio would take the exact same Common Core tests as fifth grade students in Texas or Maine.
All students (and teachers) would have the same expectations and responsibilities. Since the Common Core is coming from the national level, it makes sense to think that all states will be held to the same standards.
As it turns out, that might not be the way it works.
Recently, Common Core developers have started to look at creating a short version and a long version of the new standardized tests.
Not surprisingly, the push for two different tests has come from the state level. Many state governments are reluctant to spend more time and money on the Common Core. Although state budgets are tight across the nation, it seems terrible to think that education could suffer in the wake. In fact, with the short version, students spend approximately 6 ½ hours on multiple tests and classroom activities in grades 3-5, close to 7 hours in grades 6-8, and 8 hours in high school. The long versions, including multiple tests and activities, last at least 10 hours in grades 3-8 and 13 hours throughout high school. That four or five hour difference seems like quite a gap. So, how can the short version possibly cover all that is in the long version?
According to test-makers, it is possible. The short tests will follow the same blueprint as the longer version. Things like multiple-choice, constructed-response, and technology-enhanced questions will be present on both exams. Most importantly, both versions will supposedly meet the federal standards. Scoring will also be similar, but interestingly, test-makers were clear that the longer version would provide clearer results about a student’s performance. Likewise, the longer tests deliver a more detailed portrait for parents and teachers. The shorter version, on the other hand, provides severely limited information about test-takers.
As of now, it looks as if each state will be able to choose the short or long version of the Common Core tests. Additionally, because of the public’s antipathy towards standardized testing, as well as tight state budgets, the shorter tests might prove to be more popular. Many educators are worried that most states will opt for the cheaper, shorter versions of the test, leaving few states that will actually make the investment with the longer versions. Some are worried that this short cut will eventually lower the new, ground-breaking Common Core testing standards, making it resemble the outdated system that is currently in use. In other words, taking this short cut might just put schools right back where they started.
Contribute your opinion! Do you think the Common Core tests should be split into a long and short version? If it happens, will most states go with the cheaper tests? How would this affect students?
17. May 2012 15:34
In recent years, international test scores have shown that the United States has fallen behind other countries’ results. While many contributing factors have been debated, including cost and logistics, the effectiveness of the time students spend in school should perhaps bear the heaviest consideration.
Data from The Center for Public Education shows that most U.S. schools require as much or more instructional time as do other countries. Typically, American students in younger grades receive fewer instructional hours than students in higher grades; this is also the case in high-performing countries like Japan, Korea, and Finland. When the number of required hours increases, however, test scores don’t seem to tag along.
Collectively, the states require between 900 and 1,000 hours of instructional time per year depending on the grade level. According to the OECD, by 8th grade, students will have been required to receive more hours of instruction than students in most industrialized countries. Data shows that countries with less instructional hours, such as Japan (868), Korea (867), and Finland (777), have outperformed U.S. schools, suggesting that increased instructional time does not correlate with increased achievement.
Therefore, maybe it isn’t so much the number of instructional hours that matters, but the quality of instruction. Students should get the most out of their time in the classroom, so the question becomes, “How effectively is classroom time used?”
Are teachers engaging students? Are lessons and activities creative and well-developed? Will assignments advance the learning process rather than overwhelm students? Do supplementary materials actively involve students? Are teachers motivating rather than demanding?
Achieving the goal of increasing test scores in U.S. schools starts in the classroom. It is largely the responsibility of teachers to make material interesting for students and engage them in the learning process. One thousand hours is a lot of time to be used otherwise.