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Low-Performing 4th Graders Make Greatest Strides

Recent increases in 4th and 8th graders' reading scores can be attributed to improvements by the lowest-achieving students, according to a new analysis of federal test data.

In 1998, 4th grade students at the 10th percentile scored 167 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress' 500-point scale, up from 159 four years earlier. Students at the 25th percentile rose from 189 points to 193 points. By contrast, students at high-achievement levels did not make any progress.

Likewise, 8th graders at the lower reaches scored significantly higher in 1998 than in 1994. They also scored higher, though by not as much, than in 1992.

Overall, NAEP reading scores showed statistically significant increases from 1994 to 1998 in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades—the three grades in which the test is given. Only 8th graders' results were statistically higher than in 1992. The U.S. Department of Education has given this form of the NAEP reading test to 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in 1992, 1994, 1998, and this year.

The news isn't all good for students at the bottom of the scale, according to the brief report compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Education Department. The average score for high school seniors at the 10th percentile fell from 249 to 242 between 1992 and 1998, while students at the upper ranges of achievement increased at statistically significant rates over the same period.

Next spring, the NCES will release the results of NAEP's reading test taken this past February.

The analysis of the 1998 results, "1998 Reading Results for Low- Performing Students," is available online. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

High-Stakes Tests: A recent poll suggests that the public supports the national emphasis on standards-based education and is backing the most controversial piece of the initiatives: high-stakes tests.

Three-fourths of those questioned said that students should pass reading and mathematics tests before they are promoted from the 4th grade to the 5th grade, the survey of 1,012 members of the public found. Two-thirds of the respondents said the students should be required to pass the tests even if their grades qualify them for promotion.

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents said high school students should pass a test before earning a diploma. They also said that grades are a better indicator of whether students should graduate.

At least 80 percent of those surveyed agreed with statements that said test results are useful in helping teachers evaluate their students, communities rate their schools, and parents track their children's progress.

The Business Roundtable, a Washington-based alliance of major corporations, commissioned the telephone poll, which was conducted between July 12 and 26 by the Washington firm of Belden Russonello & Stewart Research and Communications. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The poll's results are at odds with a separate survey of voters released last summer that found a majority disagreed with the idea that a single test can accurately measure students' progress for a school year. That survey was conducted for the American Association of School Administrators. ("Poll Shows Public Concern over Emphasis on Standardized Tests," July 12, 2000.)

National-Board Infusion: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is being put to the test at a suburban Washington elementary school.

In a bid to turn around what has been one of their lowest-performing sites, Fairfax County, Va., school officials this year transferred four board-certified teachers to Riverside Elementary, a pre-K-6 school that sits a stone's throw from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

The educators are splitting their time between teaching their own classes and coaching other teachers at the school. Next year, the 500-student school plans to encourage all its teachers to seek board certification, with the hope of gaining at least one at each grade level who achieves the distinction.

Administrators are wagering that the infusion of national-board thinking will translate into improved student test scores at the school, which serves one of the poorest communities in the generally affluent county. Riverside has lagged behind the rest of Fairfax on state exams.

"The board's standards are rigorous and challenging, and they focus on quality instruction in the classroom," said Sandra Culmer, Riverside's new principal. "So we anticipate a change in student achievement."

The effort is taking part under the aegis of the school's new Professional Development Academy, a venture assembled by the district, George Washington University, and the National Education Association, along with the NEA's local and state affiliates. Located in Washington, GWU plans to carry out a long-term evaluation of the project, and Riverside has agreed to allow teachers-in-training at the university to work as interns there.

Rankings by Title

1. Financial planner

16. Bank officer

53. School principal

91. Flight attendant

104. Tax examiner/collector

109. Teacher's aide

119. Teacher

122. Rabbi

129. Protestant minister

135. Vending-machine repairer

170. Newspaper reporter

247. Cowboy

250. Fisherman

SOURCE: Jobs Rated Almanac.

Teacher-Stress Meter: Teachers may take heart that they generally enjoy more job security than parole officers, but they also may find it sobering to learn that their work is more stressful than that of decontamination technicians at nuclear plants.

Those are just two of the comparisons offered in the latest edition of the Jobs Rated Almanac, a book written by the editors of careerjournal.com, a free online service providing news and advice for job hunters. Each year, the Almanac ranks 250 occupations on the basis of income and several key aspects of working conditions. In an overall rating of all the characteristics the authors examined, teachers took 119th place, just below surgeons and above artists.

In the category of work environment, teachers ranked below maids, waiters, and automobile body-repair workers, but also well above the U.S. president, the lowest-rated job of all. Of teaching, the authors explained: "Much work in this profession, such as preparing lessons, grading papers, and attending meetings, is done after the school day has ended."

Heavy Workload: Further clues as to why teaching might have fared so poorly in the job-rating almanac come from a new grassroots organization called the Fair Teacher Pay Association. Founded by Paul Barasch, a Santa Rosa, Calif., resident, the 9-month-old volunteer-run group maintains a Web site and distributes summaries and commentaries of news items related to teacher quality via e-mail.

The association this month unveiled the results of its own study on educators' workloads. Based on survey responses from 318 public and private school teachers who have registered as members of the group—which does not charge a fee—the study suggests it takes a minimum of 1,869 hours to complete all the tasks required of a teacher during the course of a year. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Mr. Barasch said, the average American worker puts in 1,592 hours.

Moreover, the association found that the average teacher worked 2,108 hours annually, and the average first- and second-year teacher surveyed toiled for a total of 2,534 hours a year.

Mr. Barasch, who owns a legal-publishing firm and has been hired on a contract basis to do statistical analysis for his local school district, acknowledges that the study is based on self-reported data and was not sophisticated enough to ensure that the sample accurately represents teachers nationwide. But it does suggest that such statements as "teachers work less than bankers" don't hold much water, he said.

"I'd love somebody to get a couple hundred thousand dollars to get a couple professors to do this kind of study," added Mr. Barasch, who said he started the Web-based group after hearing of the great number of teachers at his sons school who were planning on retiring.

"I started to worry about would my son have a qualified teacher at the 8th grade, and the 10th grade, and the 12th grade," he said.

The results of the workload study, "A Teacher's Workload," can be found on the groups Web site: http://www.ftpa.org.

Calculating a Milestone: Texas Instruments Inc. is celebrating the sale of 20 million calculators designed to help students with higher-level math and science.

In the 10 years since the Dallas-based manufacturer introduced graphing calculators, the devices have become common in high school algebra, trigonometry, and science classes.

Almost 40 percent of high school students own a graphing calculator, according to Texas Instruments. The company sells about 80 percent of the calculators on the market.

Sales are increasing at a pace of about 10 percent annually, according to Tom Ferrio, Texas Instruments' vice president for educational services.

The devices allow students to graph functions instantly in their algebra, trigonometry, and calculus courses. Attachments enable students to collect scientific data and quickly graph them.

Despite the debate over the use of calculators in elementary grades, most mathematicians and educators agree that the graphing calculator is an important tool in middle school and high school.

"It helps students visualize mathematical functions," Mr. Ferrio said.

Schools purchase about 25 percent of the calculators that are used by K-12 students, Mr. Ferrio estimates. Students buy the rest.

Costly Teachers: What would it cost to address adequately the nation's teacher- recruitment challenge? A lot—certainly more than either of the major-party candidates for president is pledging to spend—argues a new paper from the New York City-based Century Foundation.

To do the job right, the group suggests, the federal government would have to invest enough money to make teachers' salaries competitive with comparable private-sector jobs and equalize the current discrepancies in pay across states. Eliminating just half the pay gap between teachers and private-sector workers could cost $30 billion a year, the authors write. By comparison, Democratic nominee Al Gore has pledged to spend $8 billion over ten years on new teacher recruitment efforts, and Republican George W. Bush has promised less.

"Anything on this scale is going to be pie in the sky, but I think we're trying to put something into play that is really unavoidable," said Ruy Teixeira, the paper's lead author. "It will be impossible to be able to deal with this problem without large amounts of resources."

"Expanding the Supply of Quality Teachers," Aug. 14, 2000, is available online.(Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

—Jeff Archer & David J. Hoff [email protected]

Vol. 20, Issue 4, Page 14

Published in Print: September 27, 2000, as Teaching & Learning
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