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Turnabout is not fair play

More than half the high school victims of sexual harassment admit having harassed a schoolmate themselves at some point in their school careers.

That's what researchers Valerie E. Lee, Robert G. Croninger, Eleanor Linn, and Xianglei Chen found when they re-analyzed data from a 1993 survey of 1,203 public school students in grades 8 to 11. For their study, published in the Summer 1996 American Educational Research Journal, the four researchers used data from a widely publicized American Association of University Women survey and weeded out responses from students whose experiences with sexual harassment did not occur in a school setting.

Like other researchers before them, they found that:

  • School-based sexual harassment is "almost out of control." Eighty-three percent of girls and 60 percent of boys said they had experienced unwanted sexual attention in school;
  • Students of lower socioeconomic levels are no more prone to experience sexual harassment than other students;
  • Nearly half of all students who had been harassed said they had experienced academic problems as a result; and
  • Students who had been perpetrators of sexual harassment tended to be more severely harassed themselves.

Although their findings point to a culture that seems to breed sexual harassment, the researchers argue that such behavior should not be written off as an inevitable phase of adolescent development. Schools need to actively address the problem. Moreover, they add, some of the policies schools have already put in place to combat sexual harassment may not be doing the job.

"When over half of all high school students (male and female) identify themselves as having occupied both the victim and perpetrator roles," they write, "it is difficult to think that a policy of punishing the perpetrator and protecting the victim will be effective in eliminating sexual harassment in schools.''

Instead, they argue, "sexuality among adolescents should become an important and upfront subject of discussion in schools--a front-burner item."

Testing 1, 2, 3

In the early 1990s, critics of a proposed national testing system often maintained that U.S. students were already the "most heavily tested on earth." But were they right?

The answer depends on how you count the tests, says Richard P. Phelps, a senior research analyst at the American Institutes for Research in Washington. Phelps took a new look at data from four national and international survey studies conducted from 1990-1991.

When he counted the number of hours students spent taking tests, U.S. students ranked closer to the least heavily tested on earth. Students in France, Italy, Denmark, and Belgium, for example, spent more than five times as much time taking high-stakes tests than did U.S. students.

So Phelps instead counted the simple number of tests that students took. Again, the U.S. ranked low.

"Such a count reveals that 10 of the 13 other countries or states had more systemwide tests than the U.S. average of systemwide tests of 2.5," he writes in the Fall 1996 Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice.

But individual tests can be given more than once during the school year and at several different grade levels, so Phelps decided to count each grade-level or seasonal administration separately. Measured this way, the U.S. does appear to test more frequently. In one study of 13 nations, only Scotland and Germany had more individual test administrations.

Phelps concludes that, while U.S. educators may not necessarily test more, they certainly test differently than their foreign counterparts. Where other countries tend to give students lengthy tests at key transition points in their schooling, U.S. school districts rely on shorter, off-the-shelf tests and administer them at several grade levels. Moreover, the U.S. tests tended to be low-stakes ventures--meaning that students were not held accountable for their performance--and norm-referenced rather than pegged to any criteria for student achievement.

"Our students face the lowest amount of high-stakes, mandated, and criterion-referenced testing in the world," Phelps writes. "Instead, our students face a plethora of ... well ... unimportant tests."

Money Matters

Education researchers and economists have argued for more than 30 years over whether larger school budgets will boost student performance. Now, a new book from the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, draws together prominent thinkers on both sides of the issue. Their collective answer: Maybe yes, maybe no.

"In the recent past, some infusions of extra resources have helped students in some schools; and additional school resources in the more distant past have been associated with sizable and significant gains in adult earnings," writes the book's editor, Gary Burtless, a senior fellow in Brookings' economic-studies program. "The studies in this book suggest, on balance, that the case for additional resources is far from overwhelming."

Information on ordering Does Money Matter? The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement and Adult Success is available from the Brookings Institution Publications Dept., 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.; Washington, D.C. 20036; (800) 275-1447.

Number Crunching

Suppose you were given three kinds of algebra problems to solve. The first was a typical symbolic equation, such as 3 x 5 + 34 = y. The second problem was a word equation. "Starting with 100," it might read, "if I subtract 40 and then divide by 3, I get a number. What is it?" And the last was a typical story problem.

Which is hardest for students to solve? Kenneth R. Koedinger and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to know. So they put the question to teachers. And their findings--from two separate studies--suggest that teachers often fail to predict what kinds of problems their students will find most difficult.

Most of the 173 math educators surveyed thought the story problems or the word equations would be hardest for students. But the students studied, most of whom were 9th graders in urban schools, made more errors on symbol-only equations.

The reason students had better luck with verbal problems, according to the researchers, may be because those kinds of equations fit in better with their real-life thought processes. But typical algebra courses, in contrast, comport more with teachers' thinking. They start out with symbolic equations and build up to seemingly more complicated story problems.

"We're not very aware that we think of arithmetic operations more verbally than symbolically," says Koedinger. "This puts a focus on the idea that teaching is more than knowing content." Teachers who know where students' thinking patterns go astray can better tailor their instruction, the researchers say.

Koedinger and his colleagues Mitchell J. Nathan and Hermina Tabachneck presented their findings last spring at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting in New York.

--DEBRA VIADERO

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