Teaching & Learning

December 11, 2002 5 min read
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U.S. Keeps Pace With Other Nations’ Reading Achievement

Around the world, teenagers who read a variety of printed materials, find reading enjoyable, and spend a significant amount of time doing so for pleasure are much better readers than those less engaged in such activities, regardless of their families’ socioeconomic status.

Read the report, “Reading for Change: Performance and Engagement Across Countries, Results From Pisa 2000,” from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

That conclusion comes from an analysis of an international study of student achievement. Titled “Reading for Change: Performance and Engagement Across Countries,” the new analysis uses results from the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Because reading achievement is a significant factor in students’ success throughout their educational careers, as well as their future earnings potential, “finding ways to engage students in reading may be one of the most effective ways to leverage social change,” the new report says.

The PISA test focused on the mathematical, reading, and scientific literacy of more than 250,000 15-year-olds, made up of representative national samples from each of the 32 participating countries.(“‘Achievement Gap’ Is International Problem, UNICEF Analysis Says,” this issue.)

The reading portion of the test gauged students’ proficiency in retrieving information, interpreting, and evaluating what they read in fiction and nonfiction, as well as in graphs, charts, cartoons, and other visual representations of text.

U.S. students scored an average of 504 points, a few points above the mean scale score of 500 and about the same as children in Denmark, France, Norway, and Switzerland.

A dozen other countries had significantly higher scores, but just three—Canada, Finland and New Zealand— were considered to have outperformed the United States when scores were adjusted for differences in sample sizes and student characteristics.

In fact, 20 other nations turned in results statistically similar to the United States’. It was the differences in students’ performance within countries— rather than the variations between them—that were the most striking, according to the report. In many countries, a large gap was evident between the best and worst readers. The United States has the widest gap between its best and worst readers, the study found. (“U.S. Students Rank Among World’s Best and Worst Readers,” Dec. 12, 2001.)

Language Included

For the first time, beginning this year, college programs that train teachers of foreign languages will be able to measure themselves against national standards. And starting in 2004, any education department or school that offers that teaching specialty and wants recognition from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education will be evaluated in light of the new standards.

“Foreign language coming in fills a big hole,” said Wendy C. Wiggins, the director of program reviews for the Washington-based accrediting body. Reviews of individual programs within a department or college of education, she said, form a big part of the total evaluation. And for more than a decade, NCATE has been using standards for, among others, English and mathematics teachers.

About two years in the making, the foreign-language standards are the work of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the professional association of foreign-language teachers.

They specify what knowledge and skills a foreign-language teacher should have before entering the classroom, including the ability to speak fluently the language being taught, methods of teaching second languages, and grasp of relevant cultures.

An expert in foreign-language teaching who worked on the standards said many teacher-preparation programs fall short when it comes to students’ command of the spoken languages they aim to teach. The programs rely on seat time in language courses, but study abroad, language-immersion experiences, or advanced courses taught in the foreign language are needed for proficiency, said Eileen W. Glisan, a professor of Spanish and foreign-language education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

To satisfy the new standards, she said, “most programs are really going to have to look at” the oral proficiency of their graduates.

National-Board Honors

The South Rises

States with the most board-certified teachers overall.
North Carolina 5,101
Florida 3,489
South Carolina 2,358
California 1,960
Mississippi 1,459
SOURCE: National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

The number of teachers gaining national certification each year continues to rise.

The credential was earned this year by 7,886 teachers, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the nonprofit organization that devises and administers the assessments leading to what the independent group calls the profession’s “top honor.”

The board first certified teachers in 1994, when 177 teachers were tapped. Since then, the number of teachers successfully completing the program, which involves assessments of classroom ability, has risen into the thousands.

All told, just over 23,900 teachers are now board- certified.

States with the highest number of teachers attaining the recognition this year are North Carolina (1,475), which also has the highest total number of certified teachers; Florida (1,243); California (651); and Ohio (463).

More than 30 states, including those four, offer financial incentives for teachers to seek certification, including help with paying fees and salary bonuses for successful candidates.

Of the most recent crop of applicants, about 42 percent were successful, up from the first years of the program, but down from the roughly 50 percent rate of recent years. Ann E. Harman, the research director for the Arlington, Va.-based board, attributed the drop in the success rate to some new features of the program.

She said she expected the rate to rise when the changes became more familiar to candidates.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo & Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the December 11, 2002 edition of Education Week as Teaching & Learning


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