10/09/2012

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Can standards raise the ceiling of student performance? In my last blog, I noted that a recent Harvard study found mixed results for raising state standards on student performance with one notable exception: low-income and minority eighth-graders in low- performing states appeared to benefit from their states adopting better academic standards. This would suggest that standards may have raised the floor on student performance, but what about the ceiling? Have more rigorous standards helped to raise the performance of students at the upper end of the spectrum? At a McREL Network for Innovative Education event, Harvard professor Martin West reported that after he dug deeply into data from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compared student performance in 30 developed nations, he noticed an alarming “other achievement gap” between the top performing American students and top performers in other developed nations. West analyzed results from the 2005 NAEP exam and the 2006 PISA exam, specifically looking at comparable levels of “advanced” student performance. His work showed that top six percent of U.S. students performed at the same levels as 28 percent of students in Taiwan, 21 percent of students in Finland, 15 percent of students in Canada, and 13 percent of students from Australia. So why do other nations have larger percentages of students performing at the same level as top students from the United States? Have we set our standards too low? One of the premises behind the Common Core State Standards, in fact, is that we need “fewer, clearer, higher” standards to move...
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Taking a page from the video game playbook Why is it that a child can spend hours glued to his Xbox, but can’t sit still for ten minutes to complete a single page of math homework? Sure, video games are fun—and math?—well, maybe not as much. But there’s more to it than that, as we note in our September column in Educational Leadership. Research strongly suggests that timely, appropriate feedback can positively impact student achievement. In an updated meta-analysis conducted for the second edition of Classroom Instruction That Works, researchers found an effect size for feedback of .076, or about a 28 percentile point achievement difference. Prensky suggests that video games are addictive, at least in part, because they provide prompt, actionable feedback that allows players to adjust their strategies for near-immediate results. So does it make sense for teachers to take a cue from Guitar Hero and adjust their feedback to provide real-time results for their students? Like most education issues, it’s not quite that straightforward. Feedback that’s delivered weeks after an assignment or test, when students have moved on to other subjects and tasks, clearly isn’t optimal. Immediate feedback works best in most cases, and may help students avoid misperceptions when they’re wrestling with complicated concepts or procedures. However, some research suggests that feedback that is too immediate can lead students to give up too easily; in other words, when students know that their teacher will provide the correct answer within microseconds, they’re less inclined to work through any frustration to complete the work on their...

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