Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age,

Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

But new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that children as young as 3 already are beginning to recognize and follow important rules and patterns governing how letters in the English language fit together to make words.

The study, published this month in the journal Child Development, provides new evidence that children start to learn about some aspects of reading and writing at a very early age.

"Our results show that children begin to learn about the statistics of written language, for example about which letters often appear together and which letters appear together less often, before they learn how letters represent the sounds of a language," said study co-author Rebecca Treiman, a professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences.

An important part of learning to read and spell is learning about how the letters in written words reflect the sounds in spoken words. Children often begin to show this knowledge around 5 or 6 years of age when they produce spellings such as BO or BLO for "blow."

We tend to think that learning to spell doesn't really begin until children start inventing spellings that reflect the sounds in spoken words -- spellings like C or KI for "climb". These early invented spellings may not represent all of the sounds in a word, but children are clearly listening to the word and trying to use letters to symbolize some of the words within it, Treiman said.

As children get older, these sound-based spellings improve. For example, children may move from something like KI for "climb" to something like KLIM.

"Many studies have examined how children's invented spellings improve as they get older, but no previous studies have asked whether children's spellings improve even before they are able to produce spellings that represent the sounds in words," Treiman said. "Our study found improvements over this period, with spellings becoming more wordlike in appearance over the preschool years in a group of children who did not yet use letters to stand for sounds."

Treiman's study analyzed the spellings of 179 children from the United States (age 3 years, 2 months to 5 years, 6 months) who were prephonological spellers. That is, when asked to try to write words, the children used letters that did not reflect the sounds in the words they were asked to spell, which is common and normal at this age.

On a variety of measures, the older prephonological spellers showed more knowledge about English letter patterns than did the younger prephonological spellers. When the researchers asked adults to rate the children's productions for how much they looked like English words, they found that the adults gave higher ratings, on average, to the productions of older prephonological spellers than to the productions of younger prephonological spellers.

The productions of older prephonological spellers also were more word-like on several objective measures, including length, use of different letters within words, and combinations of letters. For example:

A 5-year-old who writes "fepiri" when asked to write the word "touch" might seem to know nothing about spelling, but this attempt looks more like a word than "fpbczs" as produced by a 4-year-old.

"While neither spelling makes sense as an attempt to represent sounds, the older child's effort shows that he or she knows more about the appearance of English words," Treiman said.

The findings are important, Treiman said, because they show that exposure to written words during the 3-to-5-year age range may be important in getting children off to a strong start with their reading, writing and spelling skills.

"Our results show that there is change and improvement with age during this period before children produce spellings that make sense on the basis of sound." Treiman said. "In many ways, the spellings produced during this period of time are more wordlike when children are older than when they are younger. That is, even though the spellings don't represent the sounds of words, they start looking more like actual words."

"This is pretty interesting, because it suggests that children are starting to learn about one aspect of spelling - what words look like - from an earlier point than we'd given them credit for," she said. "It opens up the possibility that educators could get useful information from children's early attempts to write- information that could help to show whether a child is on track for future success or whether there might be a problem."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility

This study characterize intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. The authors document four results.

First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile.

Second, children from low- and high-income families have similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that low-income students are not mismatched at selective colleges.

Third, rates of upward mobility – the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – differ substantially across colleges because low-income access varies significantly across colleges with similar earnings outcomes. Rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility are highest at certain mid-tier public universities, such as the City University of New York and California State colleges. Rates of upper-tail (bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility are highest at elite colleges, such as Ivy League universities.

Fourth, the fraction of students from low-income families did not change substantially between 2000-2011 at elite private colleges, but fell sharply at colleges with the highest rates of bottom-to-top-quintile mobility.

Democratic school board members decrease racial segregation across schools.

This paper provides the first causal evidence about how elected local school boards affect student segregation across schools. The key identification challenge is that the composition of a school board is potentially correlated with unobserved determinants of school segregation, such as the pattern of household sorting and the degree to which boards are geographically constrained in defining zones of attendance.

The study exploits a unique dataset, which combines matched information about North Carolina school board candidates (including vote shares and political affiliation) with time-varying district-level racial and economic segregation outcomes.

Focusing on the political composition of school board members, two-stage least squares estimates reveal that (relative to their non-Democratic counterparts) Democratic board members decrease racial segregation across schools. These estimates significantly differ from their ordinary least squares counterparts, indicating that the latter are biased upward (understating the effects).

These findings suggest that school boards realize such reductions in segregation by shifting attendance zones, a novel measure of which we construct without the need for exact geocoded boundaries.

While the effect of adjusting boundaries does not appear to be offset by within-district neighborhood re-sorting in the short run, the study does uncover causal evidence of “white flight” out of public schools in districts in which boards have acted to reduce segregation.

Many teachers considered to be below proficient than rated as such

This study compiles teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states, with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below proficient and 6% to 62% rated above proficient.

Yje study also presents original survey data from an urban district illustrating that evaluators perceive more than 3 times as many teachers in their schools to be below proficient than they rate as such. Interviews with principals reveal several potential explanations for these patterns.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Just 36 percent of new secondary science teachers are teaching only in their trained subject

Ryan Nixon spent four years studying matter, energy and the universe -- and learning how to teach those and other physics-related concepts to teens. In his first year as an eighth-grade teacher, he hit a roadblock. He was supposed to teach his students geology: something he hadn't learned a thing about since, well, eighth grade.

"As a new teacher, you don't know what you're doing, but if you let teenagers know, that's not a good thing," he said.

Nixon, now a Brigham Young University assistant professor of science education, teamed with colleagues from the University of Georgia to explore both the rates and predictors of secondary science teachers who were assigned classes out of field, focusing on teachers in their first five years on the job. Among their findings published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching: 40 percent of these new teachers taught mostly or entirely out of field, and 64 percent had at least one out of field course in their first five years.

The team focused on early career teachers, he said, because it's a group already facing myriad challenges adapting to the classroom setting: 50 percent don't make it past their fifth year. "When you're a new teacher and you want a job, you take the job the principal gives you," he said. "And if you're assigned out of field, maybe you figure it out and do a good job with it, but it makes your life hard."

Though past research has looked at various aspects of out of field teaching, this is the first study that has explored secondary science out of field teaching in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. In 2004 NCLB mandated that teachers be "highly qualified" in their subjects, which at first, Nixon said, essentially prohibited out of field teaching. But with a loosened definition of "highly qualified," just 36 percent of new science teachers are teaching only in their trained subject.

Those numbers, Nixon said, aren't great news for students either. "Their teachers are working really hard, but they're teaching subjects they're not really prepared to teach. And the teacher can try again next year, but if you're the kid in 11th-grade chem, you don't get to try again."

But science is science is science, right? Nope.

Each of the disciplines has its own areas of focus, structures, rules, methodologies, languages. When teachers don't know the content of a particular discipline, Nixon said, their classes become more constrained, more about rote memorization and repetition than working through ideas in depth.

"If science teaching and learning is about making sense of the world and understanding how experts in these disciplines work, then that's an issue," he said.

One particularly troubling finding in the study was that urban and rural schools and schools with high English-language-learner populations are more likely to have teachers doing out of field instruction. These schools, Nixon noted, are often already underfunded and often already have more new teachers than other schools. "It's just adding to the challenges these students are already facing to be given these teachers who aren't prepared to teach the things they're teaching."

Though the problem has its root in a number of areas, including vague policy, Nixon believes important change can come when administrators are aware of the issue.

"I wonder if administrators really realize it's a problem. 'You're a science teacher: why does it matter? Teach whatever,'" he said. "But when it comes down to it, administrators need to say, my teachers need to be where they can teach best."

Causes of severe antisocial behavior may differ for boys and girls

The causes of severe antisocial behaviour may differ between boys and girls, which could pave the way for new sex-specific treatments, according to a major new study published today (Friday 21 July).

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-techniques to map the brains of over 200 teenagers aged 14 - 18 years, researchers from the University of Bath (UK) and several other European universities conducted the most comprehensive study ever to analyse differences in brain development between children with conduct disorder (CD) and a group of typically-developing children (the control group).

Findings from the study, which involved 96 young people with CD and 104 typically-developing young people, are published today in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

They show that the brain's prefrontal cortex - the region responsible for long-term planning, decision-making, and impulse control - is thinner in boys and girls with CD compared to typically-developing boys and girls, and that young people with more severe forms of the condition have more abnormal brain structure.

It also shows that specific areas of the brain differ in structure between boys and girls with antisocial behaviour - for example, some brain areas showed lower cortical thickness in boys with CD, but higher thickness in girls with CD. This highlights, for the first time, that there may be sex differences in the brain-based causes of CD.

CD as a condition is poorly understood and thought to be under-diagnosed and often untreated. Symptoms range from lying and truancy, through to physical violence and weapon use at its more extreme end. It is thought that at least 5% of school age children are affected by the disorder, and it is three times more common in boys than girls. Previous studies have shown that around half of those who develop CD in childhood go on to show serious antisocial behaviour or criminality in adulthood.

Current treatments largely depend on parenting programmes, as the condition is often attributed to poor parenting or growing up in a dysfunctional family. The researchers behind the new study were keen to point out that although sometimes useful, these programmes are not widely available and may not get to the root of the problem. No specific drug treatment exists yet for CD, although ADHD medication, such as Ritalin, is sometimes given.

Senior author from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, Dr Graeme Fairchild, explains: "Our results indicate that the development of the brain is disrupted in boys and girls with severe antisocial behaviour. These findings suggest that the causes of severe antisocial behaviour, and particularly the biological basis of these behaviours, may differ between boys and girls. This could lead to the development of sex-specific treatments or prevention programmes for at-risk young people."

Lead author, Dr Areti Smaragdi from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, added: "We hope that our findings will prompt other researchers to consider possible sex differences in future studies of antisocial behaviour and other disorders that are more common in boys, such as ADHD. Our findings may also have practical implications for treatment or prevention programmes."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

20 Hours of SAT Practice on Khan Academy == 115-Point Average Score Gains on Redesigned SAT

Score improvements consistent across gender, family income, race, and ethnicity

New data show studying for the SAT® for 20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy. Out of nearly 250,000 test takers studied, more than 16,000 gained 200 points or more between the PSAT/NMSQT® and SAT.

Khan Academy and the College Board announced the new findings today based on data from the first full year of the new SAT.

“On the new SAT, it’s easier than ever for students to show their best work. Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is free and personalized, and we see students achieving substantial score gains,” said College Board President David Coleman. “The SAT has now become an invitation for students to practice and grow.”

In addition to the 115-point average score increase associated with 20 hours of practice, shorter practice periods also correlate with meaningful score gains. For example, 6–8 hours of practice on Official SAT Practice is associated with an average 90-point increase.

“The SAT is a strong measure of college readiness.  It is heartening to see this positive association between personalized practice on Khan Academy and growth in college readiness,” said Khan Academy founder and CEO Sal Khan. “This was only possible because of the hard work of many people, especially incredible teachers, counselors and school districts who have leveraged these practice tools for their students.”

The College Board waited for a large enough sample size and a full year of data to analyze and release these results.  Researchers confirmed that practice advanced students regardless of gender, race, income, and high school GPA. The College Board will further explore the role of motivation in producing these results as well as how best to encourage more students to practice productively.

Since its launch in June 2015, more than 3.7 million students have used Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy. Nearly 40 percent of all test takers reported using Official SAT Practice, making it the number one tool for SAT preparation.

Khan Academy and the College Board developed Official SAT Practice to create free, personalized tools so students, regardless of their income level or background, can prepare for the SAT and college-level courses.

Each student accesses a plan built just for them. By linking their College Board and Khan Academy accounts, students can use their scores from the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT™ 10, and PSAT™ 8/9 to determine what areas to focus on.

Through Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy, students access video lessons, test-taking tips and strategies, and over 10,000 interactive practice questions. And they get eight full-length, free practice tests written by the College Board test design team.

Official SAT Practice reinforces what students learn in school by letting them focus on the knowledge and skills most essential for college. Behind every story of a student succeeding is a teacher, counselor, adviser, coach, parent, or other caring adult. Approximately 28 percent of usage on Official SAT Practice happens during school hours. In the next year, Khan Academy and the College Board will continue to work with educators to support students’ SAT practice.

The redesigned SAT, first administered in March 2016, makes it easy for students to show their best work. There’s no penalty for guessing, gone are “SAT words” that no one has seen before or will likely see again, and only relevant math concepts are tested.

The class of 2017 is the largest in history to take the SAT, with nearly 1.7 million students taking the redesigned test as of April 2017.