kitchen table math, the sequel: decline at the top - the best students fared worst

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

decline at the top - the best students fared worst

Back in 1977, having watched SAT scores fall for 15 years, the College Board, which developed and administers the SAT, engaged a panel to try to identify the underlying causes of the decline. A first hypothesis to be checked was whether the test had somehow become more demanding. But, no, to the contrary, indications were that scoring had become more lenient. A second prominent hypothesis was that the decline was due to changes in the demographics of the test takers. Analyses shows this hypothesis to be largely correct, but only for a brief while. Over the early 1960s, changes in the composition of the tested population accounted for as much as three-quarters of the test score decline—and, no wonder, for during this period the number of students taking the SAT tripled. Over the 1970s, however, though the test-taking population stabilized, the scores did not. Instead, the decline continued, even steeper than before, while the extent to which it could be ascribed to demographic shifts shrank to 30 percent at most. Furthermore, the scores that dropped most were those of the strongest students, the students in the top 10 percent of their class; the scores of students toward the bottom of the distribution held steady or even increased.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts
by Marilyn Jager Adams
American Educator | Winter 2010 - 2011


Mrs. P said...

So what is the reason that the top is falling behind? Lowered standards? mixed grouping?

lgm said...

Mrs. P: Read " A Nation Deceived"

Allison said...

The reason is an artificially depressed curriculum in all subjects.

Our students lack breadth and depth, starting in 4th grade. Acceleration merely pushes them along the path of this artificially depressed curriculum faster, but they see trivial problems in all of their subjects in grades 4-12 compared to their international peers.

Lisa said...

Is the lowered curriculum accounted for by the need to keep everyone together and not track or lane students or is it directly related to all the 'authentic' learning pushed by ed schools? Or of course I suppose it could be both. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

(1)characteristics of aspiring teachers,particularly at ES level; like kids, like artsy/crafty, touch/feely stuff, relatively uninterested in serious academics
(2)ed schools choosing to admit the above, failing to require serious content knowledge - again, especially at ES level, and wasting time with enough BS to repel serious students
(3)ed schools adhering to Romantic ideas of childhood, education and the social justice worldview; education must be natural, fun, child-centered, "authentic" etc, must be fully-inclusive, must be done in groups, must not include acceleration or honors work and should produce equal outcomes, particularly across racial/ethnic groups - boys, not so much; they're sort of defective girls and are likely to need medication for their pathology.
(4) really bad curriculum choices dictated by all of the above - no interest in Singapore Math, Core Knowledge, classical curriculum etc. - or in the idea that schools/teachers should explicitly teach kids as much as they can, as fast as they can master the material, in the most efficient manner possible, and that kids should be expected to develop self-control, suitable behavior and an appropriate work ethic - or else!

Allison said...

--Is the lowered curriculum accounted for by the need to keep everyone together and not track or lane students or is it directly related to all the 'authentic' learning pushed by ed schools? Or of course I suppose it could be both.

Not "keep everyone together". Let every child be their own precious snowflake, finding their own path. Tracking and laning is artificial and bad, but so is any attempt to teach children anything. That would be pushy, mechanistic. We must wait for them to learn it for themselves, and all we can do is provide various opportunities for them. This comes straight out of ed school and goes straight into the differentiated classroom as a result, no one is given any direction that would yield growth results above epsilon of where they are already.

In elementary school, few teachers have any idea how far their kids could go. Their ceilings are so low in expectations because of the above ideas that they really don't offer anything to those reaching out.

Kids don't know what they don't know. This is why they need direction, to open up universes in front of them. They can't do it on their own. But this idea is anathema to ed school, to most recent teachers, and to curricula.

The curricula reflect these ideas, now, so even the best teachers find it more and more difficult to raise expectations or push children to grow academically.

Lisa said...

Not "keep everyone together". Let every child be their own precious snowflake, finding their own path


LynnG said...

The author attributes the decline specifically to the quality of textbooks. One analysis showed that the average difficulty of textbooks used by 12th graders lay between the ninth- and tenth-grade levels.

Part of the textbook decline is a much shorter sentence length in books published after 1963. The average mean length of the sentence declined from 20 words to 14 in 8th grade books.

"The wording of schoolbooks published for eighth-graders from 1963 was simpler than the wording of seventh-grade texts published prior to 1963."

And to highlight how important textbooks and reading is to vocabulary acquisition, Donald Hayes did a study of oral language samples to compare to written.

"Regardless of the source or situation and without exception, the richness and complexity of the words used in the oral language samples paled in comparison with the written texts. Indeed, of all the oral language samples evaluated, the only one that exceeded even preschool books in lexical range was expert witness testimony." (p.5)

SteveH said...

"Let every child be their own precious snowflake, ..."

Good analogy.

My view is that the big change happened in K-8. High schools had to lower their standards based on what they got. My sister-in-law has taught high school English for 30 years and she says that the biggest change is the unwillingness or inability to do work outside of class. She resigned herself long ago to doing more in class and covering less material.

It's not that K-8 schools were so great before, but at least they tried to keep all kids on the same level for certain content and skills. I remember that the threat of being held back or having to go to summer school was a big motivator for kids ... and parents. Now, it rarely happens because they just spiral (circle) the kids along and assume that "they will learn when they are ready." Kids and parents never know that there is a problem until it's too late. In many cases, they never know there is a problem because everyone else is in the same boat.

I remember telling Catherine years ago that my son was a sponge for knowledge, but they were feeding him with a teaspoon. All the while, they talked of grand concepts like understanding and "voice". It dawned on me years ago that this was about lower expectations, not any fancy ideas of learning. They really believe in natural learning. It's quite convenient that this means that they can use all of their pet ideas of mixed-ability, in-class, discovery learning and never worry much about results.

They have abdicated all responsibility for ensuring that anything above minimum state cut-offs will ever get done. The minimum has become the maximum. This may be better for the lowest level students, but not the better ones. The older teachers have retired and have been replaced with young ones who see education in much more vague terms. They just keep pumping kids along and never see the consequences.

We had a meeting at the high school the other night about honors and AP classes and how much homework they require. Dire warnings - an hour and a half per class per night! I don't see it. Maybe a couple of teachers hit that level occasionally, but not very often.

I think I'll call it the second fundamental law of education. Educational entropy. Education always flows to a lower energy state. Lots more talk, but far less usable energy. They aren't building educational potential. Natural learning doesn't do that. Natural loses energy. Active learning in class is only about kinetic energy.

Public education reminds me of the joke about the three laws of thermodynamics:

First: You can't win.
Second: You can't break even.
Third: You can't quit the game.

Allison said...

But is the decline in textbook quality cause or effect?

If you've stopped being able to read words you don't know because you were not taught synthetic phonics or were not taught Latin (and therefore don't know roots of varieties of words), you won't be able to write higher quality passages nor read them.

William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale about the decline of the academy in 1951. It was already happening then at the university level (had already happened?), and so would start filtering into textbooks within a decade.

lgm said...

Textbooks are irrelevant here; they are rarely used. I suspect it is a matter of job preservation combined with the viewpoint that their usage is unfair to those who can't read English on grade level.

The "Raising Standards = Raising Barriers=discrimination" belief is the issue, as well as the problem of doing sufficient work in class.

Homework is actually not relevant -students can be successful without elementary school homework if enough classwork is done - I know, I grew up that way. Enough classwork can't be done in class now because of the belief that grouping by instructional need is racism/classicism/anti-spedism/etcism and of couse differentiating across the huge spread of ability is impossible for the teachers when they're doing crowd control.