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The SAT’s Shifting Strategies

by Julie 27. March 2014 11:09

Standardized tests are changing left and right, and the SAT is no exception. The test is being updated to align more closely with what students are required to do in high school. While these changes are being made, others will be included as well.


Keeping the Common Core in Mind


Dave Coleman, president of College Board, was also the “architect” of the Common Core, so it is no wonder he has decided to align the SAT more closely to the new standards. This is a smart move. 

•  It makes the SAT more relevant to testing students’ knowledge. 

•  It also makes the Common Core more relevant because it will be used on the SAT, which colleges look at during the admission process.


•  If states actually follow the Common Core, their students should be prepared for the SAT, which leads into the next change.

Leveling the Playing Field

By keeping the Common Core in mind and making a few additional changes, the College Board hopes to reach more lower-income students than in the past. According to Coleman, this country needs more opportunities and the College Board is renewing its commitment to delivering them.
•  Because of the Common Core connection, students should be prepared for the SAT without outside tutoring, SAT-specific lessons, or practice books. (Although, those additional services can still increase test scores.)
•  To prepare test-takers who want more help, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to create test-preparation materials. (We have also partnered with Kahn Academy, including some of their lessons in our Show What You Know® Online programs to prepare students for the Common Core or for STAAR with online assessments, lessons, and games.)
•  Income-eligible students will also receive fee waivers to apply to colleges.

Updating the Sections

In order to make the SAT more accessible, some of the sections are being updated in ways other than keeping the Common Core in mind.
•  The dreaded vocabulary section of the SAT will be updated to align closer to what students should already know. This means that it will test their current knowledge. However, there is an advantage to also testing the peculiar and challenging words: it tests college readiness. Students will likely come across words that they don’t know as they read. The current vocabulary section tests their ability to strategize and connect the words to similar words and their context to determine the meaning. While students will love the updates to this section and it will test what they have learned, it takes the strategy out of the test and reduces the test of their college readiness.
•  In addition, the essay will be optional and will be paired with a reading selection. Students will need to explain how the author used certain techniques to get their point across. They will not need to write their own persuasive essay. Students will be recognizing the techniques rather than recalling them and putting them into practice. This decreases the value of the essay because it does not show that the students are able to use what they know, which is needed in college and in many careers.

Taking and Scoring the Test
•  Students will have the option to take the SAT on the computer.
•  Students will no longer lose a 1/4 point when they answer a question wrong. This will encourage students to select the best answer for each question rather than skipping questions.
•  The test will return to a 1600-point scale with the essay being scored separately.

Find out more:
•  At EdNet Insight
•  From the New York Times
•  More from the New York Times
•  From NPR

The State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness (STAAR) Take Center Stage in The Lone Star State

by Lauren 9. January 2013 09:10
In the spring of 2012, the state of Texas overhauled their student assessments and introduced the new State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness (STAAR). Unlike the TAKS, the state’s old testing system that had been in place since 2003, STAAR is much more demanding and requires students to use their critical thinking and application skills, as well as demonstrate their knowledge.  Since this immense change requires time for teachers to adjust their lesson plans, the final requirements for STAAR are being slowly phased in. The testing requirements will grow in rigor each year until 2016, when the final performance requirements will arrive. After the first year of STAAR’s implementation, most educators find the new testing system promising. Throughout the state, students met expectations and, oftentimes, outperformed them.

In order to create this new testing system, public school & college educators, as well as testing experts, came together to develop new educational standards. Students are now tested on the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which are composed of Readiness Standards and Supporting Standards. Although Texas has not accepted the Common Core Standards, the TEKS are designed specifically to meet the increasing educational demands in a globalizing world. Most importantly, STAAR and the TEKS are meant to assess students’ college and career readiness. Educators believe this will help students make the transition from high school to college a little smoother. With more students taking AP courses and attending college, it is easy to see that STAAR is intended to take students to the next level.

In fact, the most significant changes between STAAR and the TAKS occur in high school.  Instead of the four tests students were required to pass in order to graduate, students will now have to pass twelve different subject exams. It is easy to see that this will require much more time and preparation, both for teachers and students.

Although college preparedness is vital, some teachers believe too much class time is spent on state testing.  Instead of gaining important skills, teachers often have to spend time focusing on assessment-specific material in order for their school to receive the grade or funds they need. Unfortunately, testing can often be more about making the school look good than ensuring that students are actually learning and growing. Likewise, general testing cannot always assess students’ knowledge accurately.  Students’ brains works differently; it seems almost silly to believe that one basic test will meet everyone’s needs and be able to accurately determine what a student has learned.

What do you think about state testing? Does it help students and schools in the long run? Or is it too broad and general? What do you think about Texas’ plan to gradually introduce STAAR requirements?

For more information on STAAR: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=2147504081&menu_id=692&menu_id2=796 

Check out our new test preparation system for STAAR, including student workbooks, parent/teacher editions, and flashcards.

New College Courses Emphasize Learning over Credit Hours

by Lauren 21. November 2012 13:17
If you have heard of MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, you know that they are the latest trend at many high-tiered college campuses. Professors offer these classes free for students, and virtually anyone can join. MOOCs are not usually offered for credit, but they do give many students from all over the world the opportunity to study new material with some of the leaders in academia. The first MOOC was offered by a Stanford professor in 2011, and over 160,000 students in 190 nations signed up for his free course. As a result, universities have been encouraged to remodel their ideas about classes and credit hours, envisioning a world where, someday, everyone can have access to a university-level education.

In particular, universities that now use MOOCs are often considered some of the top schools in the U.S. While Stanford started the trend, Princeton, Harvard, and MIT have all followed suit. The expense is often too much for smaller schools to handle, but it makes sense that universities where the “best” education is available would want to spread their knowledge to everyone who desires it. Since their names are extremely recognizable, it is also understandable that many students would be attracted to their free courses. In fact, top universities have the most to gain from MOOCS, which clearly help increase their reach and prestige.

So how do the courses work? Usually, the professor posts videos of his or her lectures. Online discussion boards are normally employed, but when there are 160,000 students in a course, it is impossible for the professor to view all the comments. Instead, students can vote on the best comments, so that they become more visible. This allows the professor to see the main points of discussion and tailor his or her lectures accordingly. Grading also become nearly impossible with these massive numbers, so peer grading is often utilized. Students might read and rate a few of their classmates’ essays. In the same strain, final grades for the class are usually pass/fail. Clearly, MOOCs are student-driven, and they require the student to take on new roles in the virtual classroom.

Additionally, some schools have seen the immense popularity of the MOOCs and decided to offer them for credit. For credit, students might have to pay for proctored exams or for a certificate of completion. However, universities are often concerned about giving credit when the final grade rests solely in students’ hands. Peer grading, while proven to be helpful for students, can also provide means for cheating or unfair grading. While professors have attempted to refine rubrics, peer grading will never be perfect. Thus, it remains to be seen how MOOCs will be used to fulfill college credit requirements.

Because of their massive numbers, MOOCs really emphasize learning over grades and requirements. Most likely, students who enroll in these types of classes would be more interested and enthusiastic about the material and less preoccupied with fulfilling a list of dull requirements. In other words, these classes might hold more engaged learners, maybe even more than the average college classroom. MOOCs can give retirees a way to continue learning and provide students in China with access to a Harvard-level education. While credit for these classes might not yet be ideal, MOOCs seem like a perfect way to offer free education for the masses.

What do you think about MOOCs? Should they be offered for credit or just for fun learning? What effects will this have on college education as a whole?

In the Classroom, Less Might Mean More

by Carolyn 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.

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Education

Classic Children's Literature: Why We're Still Teaching It

by Jonathan 20. October 2011 15:40
I love reading. Always have. Ever since my parents read to me from dog-eared copies of The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I've eagerly devoured literature of every sort.

LEP's homepage currently features a promotion for Story Squares(TM), a language arts resource that offers 800 reading comprehension and response activities based on 40 classic books from children's literature. I couldn't help but scan the list of included books. An impressive collection of memorable stories, timeless characters, and popular authors is on display. I've read many of the selections, and I'd be surprised if you or your children haven't experienced at least a few of them firsthand. Highlights include Charlotte's Web, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Whipping Boy, Matilda, and a Judy Moody tale.

This list is far from exhaustive, of course. If one were to attempt to include every classic of children's literature in a single resource, the page count would no doubt approach astronomic proportions - the index would intimidate even the most stalwart reader.

Allthat to say, reading through the list got us thinking: what makes a 'classic' book: the thrill of the story? the cast of characters? the lessons learned by last page's turning? Why are students still reading books that were published in the early 20th century and, in some cases, much earlier?

When I think of books I read in school, three specific titles spring unfailingly to mind: S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. The characters and their stories have stuck with me through more than 15 years and literally thousands of additional tales, novels, and poems. What makes these classics? In my opinion, it's in how they encourage readers to view life from new and challenging perspectives. In fifth grade (I believe I read TKAM somewhat further along), these new points of view were truly revelatory. What would I do, how would I feel, if I were to slip my feet into the characters' shoes? It was at that time that I realized literature's power to change me.

Perhaps it is more about who children are when they read so-called classics, rather than any single characteristic such books possess. Maybe it's all about the young mind's interaction and response, rather than an author's intent. One thing's for sure: the classics will continue to impact students so long as they're taught.

What do you think? What makes a classic? What books changed the way you looked at the world? What modern books will eventually become classics in their own right? Be heard in the comments section below!

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Classroom Topics | Education

America: Losing Ground in the Global Education Race

by Jonathan 16. September 2011 16:25

It's no secret that the modern economy demands workers that are increasingly skilled, particularly in advanced, specific skills like mathematics and engineering. Another obvious fact is the poor condition of the American economy. Combine the two, however, and a surprising and troubling situation emerges. Despite high unemployment rates, the aforementioned advanced jobs are available. The problem is filling these positions with capable, appropriately educated workers. America is not producing viable candidates, and companies are forced to hire more capable candidates from other countries. Why does this gap exist? Could it be that our education system is to blame?

A recent article appearing on Education Next compares the performance of U.S. students and other countries in the areas of mathematics and reading proficiency. The results are not encouraging. The comparisons are based upon two assessment organizations that are generally considered as "report cards" of American and global students. These are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (America) and the Program for International Student Assessment (global). For a full breakdown and explanation of the comparisons and results, check out the full article. It's absolutely worth a read.

The broad findings of the comparisons are this: U.S. students are consistently performing well below students from several countries around the globe in both mathematics and reading. The gap is much more pronounced in mathematics, which is without a doubt the skill more applicable to today's economy (and likely the future's).

Perhaps most stunning is the fact that only one U.S. state - Massachusetts - has above a 50 percent proficiency rating in either subject. Many states, in fact, score far below that mark. This means that the vast majority of our students are not proficient in either mathematics or reading. Statistics such as these reinforce the increasingly obvious fact that America, once the undisputed leader in global education, is steadily losing ground to parts of the rest of the world.

The pivotal question is, of course, what will we do about it? I ask you - what can be done? What should be done? Sound off in the comments section below.

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Education

 

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