kitchen table math, the sequel: testable hypothesis

Saturday, March 6, 2010

testable hypothesis

Elizabeth wrote:
Here is a quote from Sally Shaywitz's "Overcoming Dyslexia, A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level" p. 261:

"In one Tallahassee, Florida, elementary school where such a program [scientifically proven prevention and early intervention programs] was implemented, the percentage of struggling readers dropped eightfold--from 31.8 percent to 3.7 percent."

I would guess 1% using Webster's Speller and teaching both spelling and phonics at the same time, its focus on spelling and syllables is very helpful for my struggling students.

BTW, that's a great motto, "Education not remediation." Every smart students learn more when taught explicitly.

palisadesk answered:
The Shaywitz example that Elizabeth quotes is a fairly representative one. Schools that use effective instructional methods and materials significantly reduce their "struggling reader" populations, usually to a 1-digit %ile. There are many examples; most however are school-based. We don't see scaled-up replications of this type of success on a district basis.

The 1% that Elizabeth cites is reasonably the percent of children who would still flounder even after intensive 1:1 teaching with effective methods and materials over a significant period of time. However, it would not be likely to represent what could be achieved in general education classrooms at our current level of knowledge and operational constraints.

Students with severe disabilities must be taken on a case-by-case basis, as their learning needs are highly specific; in other cases, important variables are not always under school control -- for instance, students with high levels of absenteeism and/or frequent changes of residence. You can have the best-ever teaching, but the student has to actually be there and participate in order to benefit.

So hard data on what is the lowest percentage of students who we can expect will still lag *far* behind despite our best efforts is not available. What we do know is that the number of "struggling" students is far too high.

From intensive work with students at all ability levels, I believe it's a testable hypothesis that 99% could be taught foundation skills in reading, writing and math that are commensurate with their level of receptive language comprehension and cognitive functioning. Some cases would be extremely labor-intensive, and this becomes a time and resources issue. Public schools realistically do not have enough instructional time to be as successful with some high-needs cases as private services can be. I can think of cases where children have needed 4-6 hours a day of intensive therapy in several areas to make significant progress. Schools are not set up to provide this, and perhaps it's a separate question: should allowances be provided to parents of such children to purchase the needed services using special education funding? Should the school district contract these out?

We are talking about a small number (percentage-wise) of students, but their needs are real and not easily met.

Getting all students reading at the K-2 level is realistic for most schools. It is, however, only a step in the process. Children who master decoding and spelling early on may be strugglers later. That is why careful progress monitoring of all students is needed.


farmwifetwo said...

Sorry, there's plenty of time to teach the 3r's in a school day. They've done it for generations... well before the last 25yrs or so.

You can homeschool a child on less than 2hrs/day... you can teach a class in 6.

Truth is... they don't want to.. we now have some crap they are doing where they do the reading tests and now plan all the children's work separately. Where they work with kids with the same LD's as they do... WT???

Simple fact is.. they aren't taught the basics. In Kindergarten they are doing journals without ever learning how to spell. They never actually learn to spell. They definately aren't interested in teaching them basic math skills. Then they blame the parents when they can't read b/c we must not be teaching them at home... HUH?? Then why are we sending them to school?? To justify the Ont Teacher's Unions $70,000/yr wages??

30%+ of teenagers cannot pass the Gr 11 litteracy test in Highschool.. 30%+ of teenagers are getting a certificate - USELESS - instead of a diploma....

But this is OK????

I always figure... atleast the school system does respite... b/c schooling's being done at home.

farmwifetwo said...

Sorry, the teachers aren't working with the kids with the same LD's.. the kids are put into groups with kids with the same LD's in the classroom and told to work together as the teacher monitors the classroom in general.

How do you ever grade that???

K9Sasha said...

Part 1

You're assuming everyone has the same goals and environment. Not true.

Last year I taught at a small private school. The school was so small that I taught 3 grade levels - 4th, 5th, and 6th, and still only had 13 students. There is no way financially that the school could have operated with separate teachers for each grade. Within these three grade levels, I realistically had somewhere around 7-8 ability levels. At one end of the scale was the 4th grader who read at a 1st grade level, and who couldn't memorize the 7 continents when we studied geography. At the other end I had a brilliant 5th grader with autism. Academically he was able to remember and comprehend material at a high school level. His autistic traits made it difficult to teach the rest of the class because he would blurt out confounding variables to the simplistic, basic information I was trying the get the rest of the class to understand and remember. While everything he said was true, all he did is confuse the rest of the class.

For math I had to prepare three lessons. For reading I had to prepare three lessons. For language arts I had to prepare three lessons. For geography, health, science, etc., I had to prepare three lessons. I had to prepare three lessons, activities, and/or worksheets so that students could be working somewhere in the vicinity of their abilities. In order to do this, I worked 50 - 60 hours a week, for $24,000 pay for the year. I was anything but overpaid and underworked.

Even though parents chose to send their kids to private school, even though parents chose to pay for private school, they still didn't value schooling. My students often didn't do their homework, but parents signed off on their reading logs anyway. I had students who didn't come to school because they went fishing or hunting. And, I had students picked up early from school so they could go to football practice. Football practice! More important than school!

K9Sasha said...

Part 2

I was laid off at the end of the year (actually during Teacher Appreciation Week) because I wasn't "dedicated enough" to the job. I live in a small area and somewhere around 100 teachers were laid off last June because of budget cuts. When districts did have a position here or there to fill, it went to teachers that had been laid off by that district. I didn't expect to find a job, but I did. In fact, I landed a wonderful job. I'm one of those Tier 2 RTI Reading Teachers. But it’s a temporary job, through the end of the year. No job security here.

My job is wonderful for many reasons. For one thing, I work with kids in small groups of 3 - 8. Even the students who have behavior problems in the classroom are pretty well behaved for me because I can give them the attention they desperately need (not want - need. These kids do not come from middle class homes).

My groups are sorted by ability. Within a reasonable variation, I can go at the right rate and level for every student. No one has to be bored, no one has to be left behind.

I use effective materials. I use Rewards with one reading group, and different levels of Corrective Reading with the others. These materials also don't require much preparation on my part. Another plus in my book (compared to the hours of preparation I spent last year).

In addition to teaching reading, I teach math in the afterschool math program. Students are "invited" to participate in the program if they haven't passed the state test in math. This group is bigger, but still not big - only 19, but it is diverse. Instead of dividing the kids by ability, as I did when I set up my reading groups, the afterschool math program is set up by grade level. While everyone is below level, some are just barely not passing, and others don't understand place value to 10's.

I teach the 3rd grade group, and it's well known at the school that the third grade cohort is by far the most difficult behaviorally. Three students were removed from my group the first day for outright defiance, and I asked to have another one temporarily removed last week so the students who wanted to learn could hear me.

Many of the students at the school where I teach are from Mexico, and their families go back to Mexico for extended periods of time - a month, or 6 weeks, or more. Of course, the students are out of school during this time, and that interferes with their learning. It's more important for the families to visit their extended families in Mexico than to have their children stay in school.

So, there are many reasons why students in schools don't make as much progress as homeschooled students. My experiences in just the last two years illustrate several of them. Parents who value hunting, fishing, vacations, and football more than they value schooling. Disruptive students preventing other students from learning. And huge discrepancies in ability and achievement levels making it hard to know who and how to teach.

Anonymous said...

k9Sasha: "I had students who didn't come to school because they went fishing or hunting. And, I had students picked up early from school so they could go to football practice. Football practice! More important than school!"

A football mom may think she's tough but I wouldn't want to mess with a math mom!


Anonymous said...

I think Catherine is really on to something with the fact that ineffective instructional materials and textbooks force the growth of the public sector because of the resulting need for remediation.

I think that's a big part but there's a bonus aspect too. If you want political power in the long term, which group of citizens is easier to control and predict-

fluent readers able to read anything they are curious about who have been trained to think analytically through the logic of solid math, science and grammar instruction? or

readers who can only read the words that they have been exposed to with frequency who have learned to write in terms of personal experiences and to think in terms of their ethnic identity and cultural background.

Which would produce a malleable group of voters in the long term?

palisadesk said...

There is instructional time available to teach the majority of students effectively in a public school setting, but there is *not* enough time to teach those with multiple challenges successfully, and there was no time in the past where the public system did this, either. Such children were typically excludeed from school entirely, or at best segregated. The knowledge of how to teach them effectively was not out there; much more is known today about how to get results with students with varying disabilities or learning challenges.

These students' needs are very individualized, but all need an intensive, accelerated program to help them master the basic foundation skills, whatever their particular limitations are. That's why school districts pay for individual kids to attend schools like Ben Bronz Academy or Morningside Academy which have very specialized, research-based and innovative programs for students with severe learning disabilities, and Mariposa School for children with autism.

The programs offered in schools like this could not be implemented in a regular public school setting, although some effective practices developed in these specialized setting could be (and are) taught to teachers in public schools and can improve programming for students there. Morningside has a summer "Teachers Academy" that I highly recommend -- it's 3-4 weeks of intensive learning and application where you learn more than in a couple years of "teacher professional development."

The way schools and districts, address the needs of LD or mildly disabled students varies a great deal; they may get "pull out" resource support, or some "push in" resource support, or their needs may purportedly (I stress purportedly, because I have found no evidence that this actually works) be met by "differentiation" within the classroom. However, none of these options address the needs of kids in the bottom percentiles for *intensive,* accelerated teaching in a systematic, sequential way, nor do they take into account the amount of sheer repetition some students need to attain mastery, especially at the early stages.

Whereas the "average" child may learn something with 5-10 reps, a slower child with 25-50, a truly challenged kid may need thousands (this has been documented in some controlled studies done in the 1970's). There is simply inadequate instructional time in the public school day to do this.

I do think that if the will were there, lab-type schools like Morningside or Ben Bronz or Mariposa could be developed within the public system, but the will is *not* there in part because the importance of intensive teaching and early mastery is not understood or recognized.

P.S. K9Sasha, who is the "You" in the first sentence of your first post? It's not clear to me whether you are addressing my points Catherine cited above or the response of the first responder. Thanks for the detailed elaboration of your experiences -- it serves to underline the importance of organization of instruction and school climate as well as methodology and/or hard work. If hard work and commitment were the main ingredients, my school would be excelling, which is not the case. Curricula and inadequate materials and teacher knowledge (despite much PD) have a huge impact.

palisadesk said...

A propos of Kindergarten children being asked to write journals and stories without any instruction in spelling (or even in pencil grip or how to form the letters), and also children being taught -- or not -- number facts and algorithms, this discussion has come up on a couple of other boards I read. One important issue stands out: there is enormous variability in what is required and/or permitted to be taught in these areas.

I advise all parents to get a copy of your district's curriculum documents, if you can (many have them online) and see what teachers are being told to do. It may surprise you. In many places, expectations for teaching the mechanics of writing -- pencil grip, letter formation, manuscript or cursive writing styles, even spelling -- have been *completely* removed from the curriculum. Teachers can of course model them or give instructions en passant, but cannot actually focus on these things as objects of lessons.

Catherine has brought up the use of "instructional coaches." This is becoming more and more common, and one of their (unstated) roles is to act as "literacy police" or "numeracy police." If they see teachers doing spelling, or printing, or teaching math facts systematically, they are to discourage these things and also discuss it with school administration. My district no longer requires math facts to be taught, and teachers have actually been forbidden to practice them in class. They can assign math fact practice for "homework" which is another way of outsourcing to parents, as Catherine has pointed out in the past. This disproportionately penalizes low-SES kids whose parents don't have the time or sometimes the expertise to teach these things to their children.

It's very often not a matter of teachers not wanting to teach "the basics," but of their being prevented from doing so. Many of my colleagues grumble quietly about it, but because it is ordered from on high it can't be openly flouted. It's not clear to me who makes these curriculum decisions higher up the ladder, but sometimes it does seem (as an anonymous person said earlier) that the goal might just be to keep the proles in their place! In my darker moments I am tempted to think this is so.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thanks for the detailed elaboration of your experiences -- it serves to underline the importance of organization of instruction and school climate as well as methodology and/or hard work.

ABSOLUTELY - and it is SO difficult to perceive this and to write about it.

That's what Richard DuFour & the "professional learning communities" are all about: creating the organizational and cultural 'structures' (is that the word) that make it possible for everyone to do his best.

K9Sasha said...

K9Sasha, who is the "You" in the first sentence of your first post?

It was addressed to farmwifetwo who is appalled that students can't learn as much in 6 hours of schooling as homeschooled children can learn in 2 hours. My long posts were to explain some reasons why that could be.

From farmwifetwo:
You can homeschool a child on less than 2hrs/day... you can teach a class in 6. Truth is... they don't want to..

Catherine Johnson said...

but sometimes it does seem (as an anonymous person said earlier) that the goal might just be to keep the proles in their place! In my darker moments I am tempted to think this is so.

wow -- really???

Actually, in my own high-SES district, there is a rhetoric of 'helping' students that is subtly undermining - and sometimes not so subtly undermining.

Here's an example.

In my district, the number of administrators has doubled in 10 years' time with enrollment nowhere near doubling - and now in free fall for the next several years. So there is strong sentiment in the community that we need to cut the number of administrators.

So the administration held a forum to explain why we need all the administrators we've got - and to indicate that we need lots more quasi-administrators in the form of instructional coaches. They're doubling down.

The public was asked to submit questions beforehand, so one of my questions was: "The number of administrators has doubled in 10 years' time. Why have we seen no corresponding increase in student achievement?"

One administrator told the audience that there is no link between increasing administrators and increasing achievement.

So there you go.

**Then** he said the real question is: what would have happened to students if we **hadn't** hired all those administrators?

His point being: our kids are in danger of decline. Administrators save our kids from certain failure.

This 'negative' view of what the district does for students comes up quite often -- e.g. in the constant focus on "Extra Help." The never-spoken assumption is that our kids will have problems learning, and the school will generously provide Extra Help.

We are the Extra Help district.

If you listen to our administrators' words, the image of children here isn't: bright kids who will soar.

The image is: ordinary kids who are in danger of falling.

Catherine Johnson said...

A football mom may think she's tough but I wouldn't want to mess with a math mom!


Schools should not mess with math moms.

Catherine Johnson said...

K9 Sasha - what kind of private school were you teaching in? (What was the philosophy, the parents - etc.)

I've never heard of a private school with a student body that diverse (I don't know much about private schools - )

Catherine Johnson said...

I think Catherine is really on to something with the fact that ineffective instructional materials and textbooks force the growth of the public sector because of the resulting need for remediation.

The costs here are going to be fantastically high.

Response to Intervention, in my district, will be treated as an unfunded mandate and, thus, a justification for further expansion of teaching & administrative staff. Empire-building, in short.

My district will opt for compliance, not results.

And that's gonna cost.

Catherine Johnson said...

Giving kids an ineffective education and then trying to fix it through remediation is fantastically more expensive than giving them an effective education in the first place.

Relying on "Extra Help" is like going car shopping & buying a lemon because you can take it to the shop.

palisadesk said...

Thanks, K9Sasha. I have homeschooled and homeschooling family members, and we all see how much more rapidly children can learn in the 1:1 (or even 1:3 or 4) environment, with materials at exactly their instructional level. My sister was surprised how much her not-very-academically-inclined daughter could get done in the one or two mornings they worked on "school" per week. When they came back from their sailing odyssey, my niece had to take a test to ensure she was ready for fifth grade (had been a low average kid in third). She aced it -- was ready for sixth grade! And my sister admitted she was closer to an "unschooler" than a "homeschooler" and got serious about schoolwork in fits and starts.

Beyond that, although we think of the school day as 6 hours, it isn't 6 hours of instructional time in most places. My district's school day is 300 instructional minutes, although the actual time kids are in school is 8:30 to 3:00 -- six and a half hours. 50 minutes for lunch, 15 minutes each for morning and afternoon recess, and entry/dismissal times eat up that hour and a half, so we only have 5 hours of instruction, of which maybe 60% (if you're lucky) is dedicated to "the three R's." There are many interruptions -- PA announcements, assemblies, fund raising events. Students also have music, gym, library, art, science, social studies and health -- all important, too. The science and social studies are often incorporated into the literacy and math by very good teachers, but doing this well isn't easy, and the curriculum materials available are little help. Many teachers have to "write their own curriculum" because they don't have materials ready to hand. What a waste of time!

Then there's the whole issue of so many levels in one classroom. This means that inevitably some students' needs will be overlooked. My district is firmly committed to "differentiating instruction" and "full inclusion" of all but the most violent students, but they do not put their money where their mouth is. Every time I get the opportunity, I suggest to the higher-ups: WHY doesn't the district commission a cadre of experienced teachers/curriculum experts to produce units for different grade levels that match the curriculum and have differentiated reading materials, problems, activities and assessments? For example, a unit on explorers for fifth grade could have reading material from a first to a seventh grade level, map work, project topics and materials for kids from the very beginning level (they could learn the continents and make a globe model, for example) to challenge activities for the high achievers. They could have these for every major curriculum unit, and sell them to other districts and make money. Why are teachers having to write their own curriculum for 6 different grade levels in multiple subjects? It absolutely doesn't work. No wonder they use foldables.

So five hours of instructional time quickly gets whittled down. In classrooms with many levels, the actual teaching time at the student's level for those at the extreme ends of the spectrum (true for the gifted AND the very challenged) is only 1 or 2 % of the time available. No wonder that studies have found that students with the lowest level of reading skill read only about two or three minutes a day. Yikes!

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk -

What are your thoughts on whether differentiated instruction is a form of hidden tracking?

I'm very worried about this.

In my district, teachers now have a software bank of math problems ranging from easy to hard. Teachers are supposed to use it to differentiate instruction, which means the slowest kids get the easiest problems.

My question is: do the slowest kids ever do the hardest problems?

Or are they getting the easy problems all the way through?

I don't see how you accelerate the slowest kids in heterogeneous classes with differentiated instruction --- ?

K9Sasha said...

The private school I taught in was a Lutheran School. Other than religion, there was no philosophy. No plan to provide a certain type of education. The goal was simply to get and keep as many students as possible since the school was in danger of failing financially.

@Palisadesk and farmwifetwo:
My son went to school until Spring Break of his 8th grade year. At that point, I had had it with him not knowing how to write, and not even knowing his basic math facts. I told him that we had four years to get him ready for college and that it would take all four.

I was a little concerned about him getting into college from a homeschooling situation, but he applied to 6 schools and was accepted at all 6. He was strong enough academically to take Chemistry at the community college his junior year, and Writing and Physics there his senior year. The school I removed him from felt good if their students were ready for the community college after high school. I used the community college as part of high school to get him ready for university. What a difference in expectations!

One of the things that really stands out for me: When my son came home from taking his first PSAT test, the first thing he said was, "Thank you for making me learn my math facts. The first math problem was a simple doubling problem and I had it answered by the time everyone else got their calculators out."

K9Sasha said...

One of the things I absolutely love about tutoring is that I can go at exactly the right rate and level for each student. It's also what I enjoy about my small reading groups.

Teaching in a classroom is so much more frustrating. Do you target the high achievers? The middle? The low students? The students with active parents? Do you plan 3 lessons for each subject every day? And then there are the behavior issues. Students being taught above or below their ability level often act out because they're getting nothing out of the classroom, and some students just act out no matter what. It's so much harder to teach in those circumstances.

Laura said...

Palisadesk (or anyone else who might know):

Have you ever heard of a scripted curriculum being used for just one group of kids in a mainstreaming kind of situation? Basically, pushing in a scripted reading curriculum, for example, that one group of kids can be taught while the rest of the class is doing independent reading?

I'm trying to think of options here, and I'm wondering if I have even the slightest chance of convincing my district to purchase something like Reading Mastery or some Orton Gillingham curriculum (if that makes sense past second grade--I only looked briefly at the website) to use as an experiment with my son and a small group of kids on a similar reading level, as an alternative to putting him a more restrictive setting.

I mean, it would be less costly for them, wouldn't it?

Catherine Johnson said...

Is there any reason why I should be a fan of differentiated instruction & homogeneous grouping??

Anonymous said...

Catherine, differentiated instruction is not really a hidden form of tracking (although it does perpetuate the existence of a group of struggling students who won't be able to catch up). The reason why is that differentiated instruction is a very weak response to the issue of widely divergent readiness levels. It doesn't really help struggling students catch up, but it also doesn't really let strong students accelerate. If the core lesson is the same for all students (which is what we're talking about with differentiation), the "differentiation" can't have a very powerful effect.

Anonymous said...

Laura, using a separate curriculum (scripted or not) for a group of children would be the same as having three or four reading groups in a grade-level classroom. If the children are at a similar level, it could work well.

lgm said...

Laura, that scenario is done here as part of the regular LA block for the upper grades. The upper grades do group by ability - a group of 20-30 with each head classroom teacher (above, on, below grade level) and a group of below below grade level with each of the sped teachers who co-teach. There is no independent reading time scheduled here, although students who work quickly do have the time to read. Beyond that, it's small group pullouts with the sped teachers or reading specialists while the rest of the class is doing classwork or a nonessential lesson.

Laura said...

thanks anonymous and lgm--that's helpful to hear!

Allison said...


Did you ever see my post on Practical Differentiated Instruction? It will give you a bit more detail to what differentiated instruction comes down to in reality: