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IAP NEWS UPDATE June 16th – June 22st 2012 Publication: Science News Title: Measuring how well kids do science Author: Janet Raloff Website:

Since 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has issued report cards on how well America’s youth perform on classroom tasks. Previously, they have assessed what kids know or can calculate. Two new components have now been developed to gauge a child’s performance in hands-on and research-oriented interactive computer tasks. On June 19, NAEP released the first scores for these tests. And the overall grades: Well, they show plenty of room for improvement.

The new data from pilot-scale assessments of hands-on and computers-on research come from tests in 2009. Some 2,000 children took each test at each of three grade levels: 4th, 8th and 12th. “Across the 9 interactive computer tasks, we found that 42 percent of 4th graders, 41 percent of 8th graders and 27 percent of 12th graders gave correct answers on the steps they attempted,” reports Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP tests.

Overall, students were likely to be successful on parts of the testing “that involved limited sets of data and making straightforward observations from those data,” he observes. Where kids tended to stumble — sometimes badly — was in using those data to extrapolate a general trend or justify a conclusion. For instance, Buckley notes, on one computer simulation for 4th graders of plants growing in a greenhouse, kids could move the plants around and identify, based on growth patterns, which were sun- versus shade-loving plants, and which fertilizer application rate proved most effective.

But when asked to explain in writing how they reached those conclusions, “this is where things started to go awry, Buckley said. Many simply couldn’t “back up their conclusions effectively with the evidence they had just collected from the simulation.”

Last month, NAEP issued 2011 science achievement stats for kids in middle schools across the nation. The science score was middling. Literally. On a 300-point scale, 8th graders collectively scored 152

points — up a mere 2 points from 2009. Two percent of the 122,000 surveyed children scored at an advanced level, no differently than two years earlier.

Nothing to brag about, such scores should come as no surprise. On one international survey after another, U.S. students fail to lead the pack. For instance, scores for 8th graders in the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (issued in 2009 and the most recent data available) averaged 508 points for math and 520 for science — hovering around the average (500 points) for this yardstick.

How did that compare with scores elsewhere around the world? “At eighth grade, the average U.S. science score was higher than the average scores of students in 35 of the 47 other countries, lower than those in nine countries (all located in Asia or Europe), and not measurably different from those in the other three countries,” TIMSS reported. Ten percent of U.S. kids met or exceeded the advanced international benchmark in science — a smaller share than in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, England, Korea or Hungary.

But the rote memorization of facts, formulas or rules that can lead to high scores on such tests do not a good 21st century scientist or engineer make, notes Alan Friedman, a member of an independent, bipartisan board established by Congress to set policy for NAEP. Important as those skills are, he says, in today’s climate they simply aren’t sufficient. So NAEP developed research-performance based tasks, he says, to measure “what students know and can do in more complex, real-world situations. (And this physicist is familiar with science achievement and outreach to the nation’s youth: For 22 years he directed the New York Hall of Science.)

Regarding the newly reported scores, Buckley says that “As a citizen and a parent, I was not particularly happy — although pleased to see that the vast majority of students was capable of making straightforward scientific observations from data.” He expressed far less satisfaction that a much smaller share could “either use strategy to actually decide what data to collect, or to arrive at the correct conclusions and be able to back them up with the evidence that they had just collected. I think that points to something that we need to work on.”

Friedman was a bit more charitable. “The fact that we didn’t bomb on it” — at least the initial, simpler elements of these tests, “that’s very satisfying." As a science educator, he said: “I was relieved, frankly, that students didn’t do really badly.” Keep in mind, he pointed out, “No amount of rote drill and practice" — of memorizing formulas, words and scientific laws — "would help you to any significant extent on these tests. You really had to think on your feet.”

The new research report card raises a big question for the nation's education elite: how to raise those scores, because they point to shortfalls in developing, synthesizing and using data — the essence of science. The issue isn't how poorly kids elsewhere around the world might do this (and we don't know that they do it poorly), it's only important that U.S. schools ensure their students do it well. At issue? Only the future economy and health of the nation.

Publication: The Vancouver Observer Title: Finland’s education system well worth studying Author: Geoff Johnson Website:


Use the “F” word in any conversation about public education it is bound to result in a lively discussion.

The “F” word is “Finland”.

Here is a country of five and a half million people and a public education system with no high profile comparison based standardised testing, fewer school hours than any other developed country and kids who enjoy more playtime within those school hours than might seem reasonable to us.

Teachers – who are compensated somewhere around the mid point in international comparisons of teacher salaries – are unionized, but not subject to external inspection or assessment.

National curricular guides are sometimes no longer than two or three pages. Teachers decide the what and the how of what they do in their classrooms: to teach.

A chaotic system headed for failure – right?

Well, apparently not. Beginning in 2001 and continuing to the present day, Finnish kids have been the stars of the 65-country Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Finnish kids routinely position their country’s school system in the top two in literacy, math and science.

In 2001, they placed first in all three categories.

In 2009, Finland placed 2nd, three points behind Korea and two points ahead of Canada. The U.S., meanwhile, placed 14th.

Finnish results for math in 2009 again placed them second to Korea with Canada 5th and the U.S.22nd.

The real surprise came in 2009 in science results with Finland 1st, ahead of Japan and Korea, with Canada 5th and the U.S. 17th.

This is why the Finnish education system has been the subject of more research over recent years than global warming.

The Finnish education system fascinates U.S. educators, frustrated by a testing heavy structure driven by the failed “No Child Left Behind” conservative political initiative which emphasizes comparison of test results state by state rather than excellence in teaching.

On the other hand, Canada’s PISA results could be attributed to more of a statistical difference than anything else.

Canada’s results are world class, and our kids do very well on the PISA tests.

But there are significant features of the Finnish education system which are well worth considering:

Finnish children do not begin school until age seven. For the next nine years, they all attend public school. There are no private of charter schools in Finland. All Finnish children learn three languages: Finnish, Swedish and English. After age 16, students attend either a high school which leads some to university or a technical school which leads others to the trades. Finnish schools recognize the fact (obvious to every parent everywhere) that children learn in different ways and at different rates. Individual differences are accommodated.

In fact, almost half of Finnish children receive individual “special” support with every teacher having received specific training during their teacher development programs.

There is no stigma attached to students receiving individual support. Class sizes average 20.

Every teacher in Finland has a Master’s degree with the top 10 per cent of university graduates going into teaching -- a profession which enjoys the same prestige as the legal and medical professions.

Only one in 10 applicants for teacher training is accepted. It is easier to get into a medical school.

Teachers are not externally assessed and enjoy what they describe as a trust relationship with their school-based administrators – all of whom do some teaching.

There are national assessments involving about 10 per cent of the student population with the results being focused on where additional support might be needed.

Finnish teachers are fully involved with students during the relatively short four-and-a-half hour instructional day. As one principal explained during a recent Dan Rather report, “It is important for the adults to be with the children and to intervene quickly, say in the case of teasing or bullying”.

Children arrive in their first schools at various stages of readiness emerging from a national culture which is described by Finnish Ministry of Education curriculum specialist Irmeli Halinen as “a reading culture”.

Seventy-five percent of Finns read a newspaper every day and the country has the highest rate of library usage in the developed world, with Finns checking out an average of 17 books a year.

Tempting as it is then, to idealise a school system which is based in a culture so different from our own, with less diversity and less poverty, the Finnish school system has emerged from the Finnish way of life based first in a philosophy about children that understands that children need to be allowed to be children and second that it is excellence in teaching, when all is said and done, which makes the difference.

Country-Specific Education Articles Publication: Eurasianet Title: Kyrgyzstan: What are Kyrgyz kids learning? Website:

Many parents in Kyrgyzstan are starting to wonder: is schooling still synonymous with education?

According to official statistics, literacy among 15-to-24-year-olds in Kyrgyzstan remains high, standing at 99.75 percent. Yet public schools face serious difficulties delivering a quality education, say experts, parents and test scores. Increasingly, parents with the financial means are sending their children to private schools, while the vast majority of students are graduating from high school with only rudimentary reading, math, and foreign language skills.

An international, standardized test -- known as the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, and administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- underscores the challenges facing Kyrgyzstan. Over 80 percent of Kyrgyz 15-year-olds did not meet minimum expectations in literacy, mathematics and science when the PISA was last administered in 2009 in 65 countries. That result placed Kyrgyzstan last among the participants.

It was a similar story in 2006, when Kyrgyzstan also placed last. But instead of striving to make improvements, officials in Bishkek have opted out of the upcoming 2012 exam. Though Kyrgyzstan’s absolute PISA scores improved slightly between the 2006 and 2009 exams, Duishon Shamatov, a senior research fellow at the University of Central Asia in Bishkek, says the overall trend is disheartening and the lack of an effective government response is helping to widen the gap between rich and poor.

“Education quality is degrading along with [test] results, particularly in rural areas and small towns,” said Shamatov. “At private education facilities, which only a minority of well-to-do families can access, the level of education services is improving. But only a small number of Kyrgyz citizens can enjoy them.”

Gulya, a psychologist from Bishkek with a 13-year-old son, is one of the lucky ones with a choice. She has little good to say about her public school option.

“I am absolutely dissatisfied with what my son is learning,” she said. “Teachers do not teach new materials properly. Children are not called upon in class regularly. […] As a result, children are only obtaining superficial knowledge.”

Next fall, Gulya’s son will enter a private school run by Turks. Most Kyrgyz can’t afford the tuition at such private schools, especially those living in impoverished rural areas where the public schools are among the worst. Indeed, the Turkish schools – the largest network of private schools – accommodate only about 6,200 of Kyrgyzstan’s 1 million schoolchildren.

In southern Kyrgyzstan, teacher shortages appear to have been exacerbated by ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010. Many teachers, especially qualified ethnic Russians and Uzbeks, have emigrated.

Venera Baigalieva’s 10-year-old son goes to one of the most prestigious public schools in Osh, where students must pass an entrance exam. But she is also worried that the exodus of ethnic minorities means he is not getting good instruction.

“I am not happy with my son’s progress in mathematics. The teacher is not good at all,” said Baigalieva. “The principal of my child’s school has told us parents that he is going to put an advertisement in the local newspaper to find good teachers of mathematics and the Russian language. But I doubt he can find any good teachers here anymore.”

According to an April 2011 World Bank report, considerable expenditures have done little to reform Kyrgyzstan’s education system. The report indicated that a lack of oversight is an issue: “Despite the increased budget allocation and spending on education, the absence of a clear accountability framework and weaknesses in budget management and governance arrangements are causing resources to be spent inefficiently."

“Unfortunately, innovations introduced by international organizations have been in vain due to a lack of the national educational policy,” said Tatiana Motokhina, an education expert from the Bishkek-based NGO, Foundation for Education Initiatives Support. “Investments into education, unfortunately, have not brought desired results due to a lack of shared vision at the level of the Education Ministry [and] incompetence of local education authorities.”

Most troubling from Motokhina’s viewpoint, low salaries mean that young people are not interested in the teaching profession. In addition, teaching materials are outdated. “For 15 years, schoolteachers and university professors have been teaching students using Soviet-era textbooks and programs, which were of good quality, but designed for planned economies and did not expect or require independent thinking,” Motokhina said.

IAP News_June22_2012  
IAP News_June22_2012