09/25/2012

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Do standards actually work? Raise the bar and raise performance. For 20 years, that principle has guided school reform efforts in the United States and abroad. Since the early 90s, every U.S. state has developed systems standards, student testing on those standards, and accountability for results on those tests. More recently, 46 states have signed on to Common Core standards, which promise to raise the bar even higher. A new report from Harvard University, however, may cast some doubt on whether tougher state standards actually raise student performance. The study analyzed third-party ratings for state standards—and in particular, changes in those ratings—with changes in statewide student achievement data from 1994–2011. One problem with this kind of analysis is that the two organizations that rate standards (Fordham Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers) don’t agree on much, including how they rate state standards. For example, AFT’s ratings appear to suggest that nationwide, mathematics standards rose in quality in the 90s, peaked around 2001, and then declined. Fordham’s ratings, on the other hand, suggest that mathematics standards nationwide flat-lined until about 2006, when they sharply improved. Nonetheless, Harvard researchers found that irrespective of the ratings systems they used, no correlation existed between changes in ratings and student performance—even when allowing a three-year lag for better standards to translate into better learning. The researchers offered two conclusions for the generally weak link between standards and achievement. First, it’s possible the ratings themselves are not terribly accurate measures of the quality or rigor of standards (after all,...
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What about science? So often we hear parents talk about their children digging in the dirt, chasing butterflies during baseball games, and climbing trees. Or that their children are experimenting in the kitchen by mixing salt, water, and corn syrup…just to see what happens. Children are natural scientists, enthusiastic and motivated to discover more about the world around them. Research suggests that the majority of adult scientists developed their interest in the field prior to middle school (Maltese & Tai, 2010) suggesting that early exposure to science at the middle and younger grades is important to attract students into science and engineering (Tai, Liu, Maltese, & Fan, 2007). Yet many children do not receive adequate science instruction in the early grades. At a time when educators could turn children’s curiosity into a lifelong passion for science, instruction is often narrowly focused on mathematics and reading. In 2009, only one-third of U.S. fourth graders scored proficient or above in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Inadequate exposure to science content among students, low levels of student motivation toward science, and poor teacher preparation and self-efficacy in science may lead to this marginal science achievement. Students who do not learn science during the elementary years are likely to have poor science understanding through adulthood. While we recognize the need for scientifically literate citizens, the time and demand for good elementary science teaching often does not get the same attention as mathematics and literacy. We might not realize that both mathematics and literacy are...

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