Research Notes

April 09, 1997 | Corrected: February 24, 2019 4 min read

Corrected: The third item in this article gives the wrong figure for the estimated time that it will take to eliminate the achievement gap between black and white students. The correct figure, according to the study, is 140 years.

Benefits of the Weekly Reader

A new study says that reading the Weekly Reader can increase students’ knowledge of current events--particularly in the early elementary years.

Carolyn Huie Hofstetter and her colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and San Diego State University collected data on 2,332 children between the ages 8 and 12 in four cities: Boston, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco.

Some of the students regularly read the Weekly Reader in their classrooms. Others read another current-events periodical geared to classroom use. Some read both, and others read none at all.

To test their knowledge of current events, all of the students took a 29-item test.

In grades 2 and 3, the researchers found, readers of the Weekly Reader significantly outscored students from the same grade levels who read no classroom magazine at all or who read some other periodical.

Curiously, the readers of Weekly Reader did even better than students who read both that periodical and another publication. This was true, the researchers found, even after they controlled for other factors, such as the amount of television news the children watched at home, that might have explained the higher scores.

Reading the Weekly Reader also appeared to give students in grades 4 through 6 a slight edge in current-events knowledge over the other groups of upper elementary students in the study, the researchers found. But the differences in scores between that group and their counterparts who did not read the publication were negligible.

“As children get older they can access other types of reading materials like newspapers, and other curricular materials related to current events,” said Ms. Hofstetter, a UCLA doctoral student. “We think the younger children might not be able to access those other types of media.”

Even though the Middletown, Conn.-based Weekly Reader Corp. paid for the study, Ms. Hofstetter said the findings were a surprise to the researchers. They expected the benefits from the periodical to disappear once they factored in children’s exposure to outside media.

They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, held March 24-28 in Chicago.

Hands-On Science

It’s no secret that science tests with hands-on activities are more expensive to administer than paper-and-pencil tests. Inclined planes, pendulums, and other equipment needed for the activities can add up.

Also, students need more time to take the tests. Teachers and staff members must be trained to administer the new items, and precautions must be taken to ensure that students taking the tests cannot see other students’ work.

A study published this month in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis gives some idea just how much more expensive those added considerations can be.

Researchers Brian M. Stecher and Stephen P. Klein of the RAND Corp. analyzed the costs of six hands-on activities in a science assessment for 2,000 5th and 6th graders. Overall, they found, the performance-based measures cost three times as much as open-ended writing assessments.

The cost per student was $34 per class period for a bare-bones version of the hands-on assessments that lasted a single class period, and $102 per student for a longer assessment spread over three periods.

Test developers could cut expenses by using teachers rather than hiring outside test administrators or by reducing test-development time, the study found. Even then, the costs were still 20 times higher than for standard multiple-choice tests for a comparable amount of testing time. In addition, many of the costs recur yearly because students tend to remember hands-on activities longer than they do multiple-choice items, meaning that new test items have to be designed.

Even so, the researchers say, the results of their analysis should be viewed as more of a challenge than a disappointment for proponents of the newer tests.

That challenge, they write, is “to find ways to demonstrate the value of performance measures by showing the non-monetary benefits that accrue from this type of assessment.”

Closing the Achievement Gap

Eliminating the achievement gap between black and white students will take decades, a University of Chicago researcher has concluded.

Amy Claire Thoreson analyzed data on high school students culled from six sets of national studies conducted between 1965 and 1992. The numbers show that differences in test scores between black and white students seem to have slowly decreased over 27 years but that they still remain large. At the rate the gap has been shrinking so far, Ms. Thoreson said, it will take 60 years to close.

When she adjusted the data to account for differences between black and white students in social and economic backgrounds or the quality of the schools they attended, the gap decreased further. But even so, Ms. Thoreson said, “black students attending similar schools as white students will not attain equality for 30 years.” What is more, among the top achievers, white students outnumbered African Americans by a 5-1 ratio in 1992--the same as in 1965--once socioeconomic factors are taken into account.

Ms. Thoreson is among four graduate students who are working with Larry V. Hedges, an education professor at the university, on a long-term project to use national databases to analyze trends in group differences in achievement.

The research team, which presented some of its findings at the AERA’s annual meeting, is drawing its data from the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress, the National Education Longitudinal Study, and the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, among others.