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October 16, 2012 3 min read
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| NEWS | K-12 PARENTS AND THE PUBLIC

Study: Parents Influential in Academic Success

Parents who want their children to succeed academically in school have more influence over that outcome than the schools themselves, according to a study by researchers from three universities.

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” said Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a co-author of the study.

To arrive at their findings, researchers used National Education Longitudinal Study data to evaluate social capital at home and at school. Parcel said her group evaluated results from 10,000 12th graders, taking into account their composite test scores in math, reading, science, and history to measure achievement levels.

Researchers compared measures of “family social capital” —such as parents’ checking homework and attending school events—and “school social capital"—like teacher morale and student participation in extracurricular activities—discovering that even in schools that had low social capital, students were more likely to excel if their family social-capital scores were high.

—Michele Molnar

| NEWS | INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Brain Research Targets Reading Development

Could a brain scan be added to the developmental measures children receive at the pediatrician’s office before starting school? Jason D. Yeatman, a psychologist at the Stanford University Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging, hopes researchers will soon be able to identify biological indicators for reading development, just like height and weight.

Yeatman and fellow researchers from Stanford and Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, found that in order to learn to read, a young child’s brain must be developed enough to process the information, but still capable of fast growth, according to a new longitudinal study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers tracked development of reading skills and brain growth in 55 children ages 7 to 12 during a three-year period. Two separate processes are hard at work in a child’s developing brain during this time, Yeatman explained. Learning and practicing a skill creates and strengthens the neural pathways connecting the associated parts of the brain, represented by white matter. At the same time, however, unneeded connections deteriorate over time.

“In good readers, they are balanced and going at the same time and being influenced by the child’s experience,” Yeatman said. “In the poor readers, the growth process has already stopped, and you only see the pruning process.”

—Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | DIGITAL EDUCATION

Report: Teachers Need Ready Access to More Data

Digital Learning Now! has released its second report in a series that aims to provide guidance for states on implementing common-core standards while transitioning to a digital learning environment. This report focuses on the sharing of student information and data.

Most teachers know little about the students they receive at the start of the school year, the report says, which prevents them from being able to personalize learning. The report suggests creating data backpacks and learner profiles that would follow each student from year to year. The digital backpacks would store demographic information, state testing data, and any student supports, as well as an electronic portfolio of student work, attendance and behavior records, end-of-course grades, and learning gains tied to standards.

Learner profiles would focus on the overall progress students are making toward college and career readiness.

With the data, teachers would have a much more well-rounded and holistic picture of each student before they even set foot in the classroom, says the report. Such fluid and flexible sharing of information has its challenges. For one, schools will have to put safeguards in place to comply with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

No such platform currently exists that would meet the demands of what the report calls for. Currently, many schools’ data systems exist in silos (e.g., the system that keeps track of attendance data is different from the system that keeps track of students’ standardized-test scores). Getting those systems to talk to each other will require an overhaul of current systems as well as collaboration between state policymakers, educators, industry players, funders, and state leaders.

—Katie Ash

A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2012 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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