Friday, October 16, 2009

A good idea out of India... and the NAEP

Two interesting news items on the education front. First, everyone had the headline yesterday about American school children's scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This nationally benchmarked test is equivalent from state to state and year to year, and so, unlike many state tests used for No Child Left Behind, it actually means something. And unfortunately, what it showed wasn't great. Despite the accountability movement and an increased emphasis on teaching basic reading and math skills, 4th grade math scores did not improve from 2007 to 2009. Eighth grade math scores were up slightly, which is good, but the improvements weren't large enough to call for celebrating in the streets. What is clear is that for all the complaints from some parents and teachers of kids being stressed out by constant testing, or the emphasis on math and reading crowding out the arts, music, recreation, etc., all of that is either an exaggeration, or if it's true, then it isn't working.

This, of course, raises the question of what does work to raise student achievement and build the skills necessary for later careers -- and brings me to an interesting idea coming out of India on the science front. According to this article from the Times of India, the National Council of Science Museums has decided to create 1,000 "school science centers" across the country. Sometimes located far from any science museum, these centers will involve professional scientists mentoring teachers on how to help students conduct experiments, and will try to emphasize the hands-on nature of science.

Of most interest to us at Gifted Exchange, though, according to the article, is that this push to train more students in scientific methods is not just about broadening access. It's about using this broad access to identify top talent for future nurturing. The chairman of NCSM said, "We will keep a database of gifted students and follow their career paths closely after school." Another person involved in the project said the students identified as scientifically adept by the school science centers would get an opportunity to "work at the grass-roots level and help the community in solving its problems."

I personally think this is a fascinating idea. We may be trying to upgrade American school children's skills these days, but for the most part, very little about the push to do more testing has involved using individual results to identify top talent and then do something with it. Wouldn't it be interesting if we replaced state-level NCLB tests with the NAEP (or an equivalent internationally benchmarked test) and then not only got aggregated results, but identified the top 1% of scorers on, say, the math section, for further talent development? Wouldn't it be great to do this in other subject areas, too?

For years, people have tried to do similar things with the out-of-level tests used in talent searches (e.g. the SAT for 7th and 8th graders), but as long time readers of Gifted Exchange know, the vast majority of schools do absolutely nothing with these results. Kids who can afford it can use their high SAT scores to go to summer camps at Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and elsewhere. But schools for the most part give kids a certificate or an awards ceremony (if that) and then stick them right back in their grade-level classes. No wonder we're worried about falling behind India on the math and science front.


J. said...

"Despite the accountability movement and an increased emphasis on teaching basic reading and math skills, 4th grade math scores did not improve from 2007 to 2009. Eighth grade math scores were up slightly, which is good, but the improvements weren't large enough to call for celebrating in the streets."

DESPITE the accountability? Not because?

At my personal risk, I'll quote Alfie Kohn. "You can make a child do something, but you can't make him love it."

I know we're talking math here but I'll address reading, for example. My daughter is a ravenous reader, so much so that I've had to hide books so she'll do her homework. She didn't become the consummate bibliophile by being drilled. It was a slow cultivating process. It starts in the womb. No, no Baby Einstein, no flash cards later, no formal reading introduced before she was five. We just read to her all the time. She watched us read. She saw us love it. Granted, she was hard wired to begin with, but we nurtured and watered it.

Enter public school in 5th grade. A Gifted Talented Center. They are prepping for the state test, something most of these kids would have scored finely on if they'd never seen it before. I lived in fear all those next few years they'd kill her love of books. Because surely it appeared to me they were doing everything imaginable to make that happen.

Reading logs, dreary reading responses, being told she could only read to page 113 but not further, endless book reports designing covers (she loves art but you get my drift, no educational value, a waste of time, time better spent, well, reading), and interminable worksheets.

Is it small wonder many children hate reading today? Mine does not but it's in spite of test prep and not because.

din819go said...

Mine lost his love of reading in 4th grade when AR became a mandatory part of their grade vs a contest to see how many books one read and passed the AR test as they did in 3rd grade. Thank goodness that love of reading is returning in his private school.

On the NAEP -- if I am correct, Tennessee has abandoned the TCAP for the NAEP. Parents will definitely be caught off guard as those that think they have "advanced' or high achieving kids will find they are merely proficient.

But if this switch really means TN is truly moving to higher standards AND up grading its teaching staff (highly unlikely) this is good. NAEP, if I remember correctly measure proficient as mastery of the subject matter being tested not whatever the TCAP measured.

We will see. The results from the 2009 tests show TN ranks near the bottom (42 or something similar) when the NAEP is used. With standards that have received a grade of D or F the scores make sense. We will see. It will take several years to bring scores up to a respectable level.

J. said...

din 819, there was a long discussion on, Sara Bennett's blog on AR and how it has destroyed the love of reading in many a kid. Luckily,the program was optional in my daughter's elementary private school and if I may say a few good things about the elementary ps GT Center, at least I never heard a blasted word about that dreaded program. How sad that a reading program has done such a marvelous job in killing reading!

My daughter read ravenously and continuously during those early private school years (and that has not stopped to this day, now a high school senior). She always had a book in her hand. She'd get bored in class so she's sneak a read and at the end of each year, her teacher returned a mountain of confiscated books!

Since I'm an Alfie Kohn devotee, I never reminded my child to take those AR quizzes. I didn't tell her not to but I didn't remind her, which amounted to the same thing. She took them when she remembered which was not often. ADD-ish kid.

The only pang I felt was on the last day of school. She was hands down the most voracious reader in that school yet never once won the "kid who read the most books" award because she didn't take the AR tests. I momentarily felt bad for her and then reminded myself the goal here is reading, not accolades. She was already doing that so in my book, she was quite the winner.

My abiding philosophy? If it ain't broke, don't fix. AR wasn't going to turn her into a better reader. She was already reading all the time, Wuthering Heights in 5th grade. The AR risk was unmerited.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe we are falling behind India in math--it's a continuation of American anxiety over getting "beat" by our economic and political rivals that dates back at least to the Cold War. See the research of Dr. Yong Zhao at Michigan State for very interesting perspective on this:

And read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers." It's not all about IQ, it's also about opportunity and hard work.

Katharine Beals said...

Why not also take a look at the math and science curriculum used in India, and how it compares to ours? Without reversing the watering down of our math and science curricula (the textbooks, the assignments), we will never challenge, or properly educate, our math and science buffs, no matter how much mentoring our science teachers get from scientists on how to conduct experiments.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a great deal lately about gifted education. That said, last year we had a RYE student live with us from Germany. She said something that I've further backed by books comparing US schools, to German Schools and Japanese schools. There appears in general terms in the US, we teaching critical thinking subjects very differently in that in class, we present the problem along with the solution. In german and japanese schools, the teachers present the problem and then the students, perhaps with help but not always from the instructor, solve the problem. Then after solving the problem on their own, they practice with other problems. IF we are spoon feeding the solution to the problems, the kids don't learn how to solve the problems on their own especially when they arent' at the top of the class. THis would lead to a loss of critical thinking skills which is really what we want our kids to have (not memorizing the solution or the way to get to the solution.) I remember learning this way in school 35 years ago...Leisa