Does monitoring progress help?

Does it actually help to monitor students’ progress and adjust instruction on the basis of how they are doing? Deborah Simmons and her colleagues provided compelling evidence that, within a tier-2 implementation of the Early Reading Intervention (ERI) program at the Kindergarten level, it surely does.

Although it was published online earlier, in the May 2015 issue of Journal of Learning Disabilities, Professor Simmons and her team described a study in which they compared the reading performace of children for whom teachers had made adjustments in the pacing of instruction, either providing additional practice on lessons or skipping lessons, to the reading performance of children who had not received the adjustments. The adjustments were based on frequent assessments of students’ progress through the ERI program.

Simmons Figure 2

Among the children who received the adjustment, they identified four different groups. The graphic at the right, taken from Simmons et al. (2015) Figure 2, depicts the four groups, as described in the following list.

  1. One group needed no modifications in the program; they followed the standard progression (“standard progression with targeted review”).
  2. A second group needed minimal repetition and the extra work they received was distributed throughout the course of the program (“minimal lesson repetition with targeted review”).
  3. A third group essentially needed extra lessons early in the program, but then progressed pretty much normally the rest of the way (“decelerated repetitions to standard progression”).
  4. A fourth group took off early and was able to skip many lessons throughout the program (“early/sustained acceleration”).

It is important to note that these groups were not just in one particular teacher’s classroom (the Robins, Cardinals, etc.). There were a total 136 children in these four groups drawn from schools in three different states. That’s the number just in the adjusted-instruction group; it doesn’t count the number in the group that didn’t receive adjustments.

To create a comparison group, Simmons and her colleagues used sophisticated matching techniques to find children who had the same demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, ethnic background, English-language learner status, etc.) and pre-test literacy skills (e.g., blending, letter-naming, sound matching, etc.). They aligned the comparison students who had gotten the ERI but who had not had adjusted instruction, with those in the four groups who had experienced changes in their instruction, and compared their outcomes after the 126-lesson, tier-2 ERI program. Children in both conditions had equivalent doses of instruction in otherwise comparable conditions (e.g., small-group lessons of 3-5 children with one interventionist).

The results are intriguing and informative. The students in the early/sustained acceleration group markedly outperformed their peers; among the many significant differences, for five measures (letter-sound knowledge, sound matching, blending, word identification, and oral reading fluency) the effect sizes were near or greater than 1.0.

For the lower-starting students (i.e., decelerated repetitions to standard progression) there were very clear benefits; there were many significant differences and some of those showed effect sizes greater than 0.45 appeared on letter-sound knowledge, segmentation fluency, blending, word identification, and oral reading fluency.

The results for the other two groups were mixed and difficult to characterize. None of the differences were significant, so it it difficult to interpret the effect sizes. Part of this is because of the small number of children (n=9) in, at least, the standard progression group.

What’s the take-away? Here’s another illustration of the benefits of monitoring children’s performance and adjusting instruction on the basis of those data. Monitor progress. Use the data to guide instruction.

Reference

Simmons, D. C., Kim, M., Kwok, O.-M., Coyne, M. D., Simmons, L. E., Oslund, E., . . . Rawlinson, D’A. (2015). Examining the effects of linking student performance and progression in a Tier 2 kindergarten reading intervention. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48, 255-270. DOI:10.1177/0022219413497097

Who’s keeping the longitudinal data on schools’ outcomes?

I’m sorry to admit that a post on TE from just about 10 years ago has almost exclusively dead links. Now, link rot (as it’s called) is common on the Internet, but one still feels some responsibility for it.

Tonight I wanted to find data about how individual schools were doing historically and compare those data to how the schools are doing today. I remembered—good that I can still remember this—that I’d posted a note about sources for examining scores some time ago (actually 2005). So, I go and check it…all those organizations that were then so hot on the trail of tracking schools’ outcomes have fallen by the wayside. Bummer.

The good news is that Pal of TE Dave Malouf added a comment pointing us to the National Longitudinal School-Level State Assessment Score Database (NLSLSASD) and that source appears to be functional (at least for some years). Time to go mining!

Do you know of other sources? Please log them in the comments.

Willingham on readings

Dan Willingham has a new book entitled Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, and he has published a précis of it in the spring 2015 issue of American Edcuator. It’s available on-line as “For the Love of Reading,” and people interested in reading should take the time to review it. Don’t expect to learn new and compelling teaching procedures, but do expect to have Professor Willingham make sense of some contemporary issues in reading.

A few questions for Joel Klein

According to widespread reports, in your just-published book about your time as chancellor of the New York City Schools, Mr. Klein, you wrote that firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000.”

I’d ask you to consider a little context, please…. The reasons we have teacher unions and tightly worded contracts in the first place is because teachers historically were mistreated and they lost confidence in their employers. And what of the “incompetent” administrators—you fail to mention them. It takes two to tango. One more thing—you hired these people. Instead of deflecting blame to Ed Schools (I’ll get to them in a second), why don’t school districts and boards take responsibility for those they hire? The union did not make you hire them. The union did not make you neglect proper induction, good supervision, mentoring, effective programs of professional development. And the union did not create the pool of low SAT/GRE applicants. You and your board did that by not paying a professional salary or offering professional working conditions for professional work. What’s that? Better compensation requires higher taxes? Well then, what exactly have you and the board done to educate the voters on this issue instead of playing the politics of union confrontation. And by the way, maybe the value-adding abilities you tell voters you want can not be had at the price voters are willing to pay. Have you told them that?

As for Ed Schools—hang on a moment—let’s talk about state licensing boards and commissions. Your state, with support of your legislature, issued licenses to these teachers. Have they met labor market demands at the expense of quality? Who told them to do that? Not the unions. With legislative consent, are they setting the licensing bar low because the salaries we pay will not draw better candidates into the field? Have you lobbied your legislature on this issue or are you just writing books about the problem and running for-profit companies to sell products to the same schools you once administered? By the way, do you really feel the problem is we have too few commercial products or that commercial products have a hope of solving the systemic problems you describe.

UOh, and Ed Schools…. Why do you persist in thinking that you are small colleges of letters and sciences? Why have experimental stations filled with scientists to solve agricultural problems produced increasing yields (anyone use a split plot ANOVA recently?). Does growing crops require science but growing children require philosophy? And about those SAT/GRE scores, Mr. Klein, have you considered that training standards are set by accreditation bodies that respond to market demand which are created by salaries that you, your board, and your voters are willing to pay.

Thank you, Mr. Klein, for listing these problems, although some serious solutions for the system in which teachers do their work would have been more edifying.

Mike Gerber
Ex-teacher

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Michael M. Gerber, Ph.D.
Professor, Gewirtz School of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara

Yet another plea to consider instruction

I am a presenter at the conference of the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) of the Council for Exceptional Children in Braga, Portugal, on 15 July 2014. There are a lot of people here who will be, in keeping with the conference theme of “Embracing Inclusive Approaches,” talking a lot about where special education happens.

In many ways, on the international scene, simply having students with disabilities included—as in not excluded from—education is important. As faithful readers will know, I think it’s great to include students with disabilities, but I think that what happens with them when they’re included is incredibly important. The instruction that occurs in schools is critical. Why send them to school to be defeated by lousy instruction? This is especially true for students with high-incidence disabilities when being “included” very often plays out as meaning being assigned to a regular or general education setting full time.

So I’m talking about including science about effective teaching…just taking the opportunity to enter another plea for teaching effectively. A PDF copy of my slide deck and a couple of pages of the references to which I refer are available.

CEC standards for evidence-based practice

The Council for Exceptional Children released a document providing guidance for identifying evidence-based practices in special education on 23 January 2014. Developed by a work group composed of leaders from the Division for Research—Bryan Cook (chair), Viriginia Buysse, Janette Klingner, Tim Landrum, Robin McWilliam, Melody Tankersley, and Dave Test—and aimed at serving groups or individuals who understand educational research design and methods, the standards provide a means for categorizing practices as (a) evidence-based, (b) potentially evidence-based, (c) mixed evidence, (d) insufficient evidence, or (e) negative evidence. To make these determinations, groups or individuals will need to apply quality indicators, which the document also identifies to studies, to ascertain the extent to which individual studies are methodologically sound.
Continue reading ‘CEC standards for evidence-based practice’

Science and preschool policy

In “How to Get More Early Bloomers” (New York Times, 30 January 2014), Dan Willingham and David Grissmer argue that policymakers should be more cautious about the benefits of universal preschool and should employ the tools of science to examine policies so that quality can be built into the preschools that states and localities offer.

When New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, went to Albany earlier this week to talk about his program for universal preschool, the discussion reportedly focused on funding, not on whether or how preschool would actually help children. President Obama seemed equally confident when he introduced his plan for universal preschool last year, flatly stating, “We know this works.” But the state of research is actually much murkier. And unless policy makers begin to design preschool programs in ways that can be evaluated later, the situation won’t get any clearer.

You can read the entire editorial on-line. Observant readers might say the authors could have cited some other historical examples of effective preschools (e.g., Bereiter & Engelmann, 1966), but that doesn’t negate their general thrust that policy on preschools should be guided by science.

Reference

Bereiter, C., & Engelmann, S. (1966). Teaching disadvantaged children in the preschool. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Teaching computer coding

A well-resourced effort to promote instruction in coding has been underway since about 2011 or so (my guess about when I first heard of it?). In December 2013 it’s slated to hit a big crescendo, the hour of coding. The effort is founded on the growing importance of computer science in contemporary science, and it features many recognizable people from many different walks of life in the pitch. Check it out.

Now, however, help me with this question, please. What do we know about effective instruction in teaching students about technology? Much? How about the relative effectiveness of different ways of teaching coding (i.e., programming)? I’ve not researched the literature on this matter. I hope the folks at code.org have.

I like the idea of helping students become proficient users and producers of technology…a lot…a heckuva lot! Let’s do it effectively.




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