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Curriculum Update

The latest developments in math, science, language arts and social studies

Text Demands on Students Don't Meet Life's Demands

Employers who are unhappy with the literacy preparation of the workforce today now have some evidence about where the problem lies. The recently released report Student Readiness for Postsecondary Options examines the text demands of high school in contrast to those of college, the workplace, the military and basic citizenship. The verdict: Reading materials for those almost-grads rank lower in difficulty than reading materials commonly required post-graduation.

Gary L. Williamson of MetaMetrics Inc.--developers of The Lexile Framework for Reading, which provides a scale for matching reader ability and text difficulty--analyzed a range of print materials used in K-12 education and in the "real world" and documented the gap in text demands. While the various domains overlap in their text difficulty, the 95th percentile of the high school texts is lower than the median Lexile measure of texts from other categories. So, Williamson says, "not only is the typical end-of-high school text lower in its text demand, but the vast majority of high school texts require less reading ability than most of the reading material students are likely to encounter after high school."

K-12 sources studied included 23 textbooks coded by MetaMetrics as 11th or 12th grade texts. College texts, chosen from the humanities and social sciences, represent courses that nearly all freshmen and sophomores are required to take. Workplace sources were drawn from occupational reading material classified into 16 career clusters, and military sources included a sampling of publications appearing on the U.S. Army Web site. Citizenship texts included a driver's license manual, jury instructions and other sources obtained from various Web sites.

The report calls for a more systematic effort to identify and quantify the reading ability and text demand gaps. A metric for both ability and difficulty would allow for more meaningful measurement of reading ability in light of text demands, Williamson argues. It would also give educators the ability to determine how much of what intervention is needed to bridge the reading ability gap.

Diagnostic Testing Gets to Root of the Problem

As any educator knows, identifying students who perform poorly on a standardized test is only the first step toward turning things around. That's why a team at Boston College is developing tests aimed at providing diagnostic information about student learning.

"Our hope is that diagnostic assessments will provide teachers with information that is more useful for identifying the source or sources of students' low performance," says Michael Russell, an assistant professor who is directing the Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative, known as inTASC. The National Science Foundation is providing funding.

Algebra is up first in the project, with a set of tests designed to identify whether a given student's achievement in algebra is being hindered by one or more common algebraic misconceptions. For example, students who don't understand the concept of a variable won't be able to solve algebraic equations. Or, they may apply a rule they already know to a situation where the rule doesn't apply.

The inTASC research team is seeking teachers interested in piloting this new approach to testing. Volunteers, who can register online, are asked to have their classes complete at least two of the four 30-item tests. The testing will provide immediate feedback on student performance and information about misconceptions that individual students may hold.

Math, Science And Tech Careers A Closer Reach

Two organizations active in promoting post-secondary education for minority students are receiving $1 million in scholarship money over the next five years. The cause? Encouraging more minority undergraduate and graduate students at 85 historically black colleges and universities to pursue careers in teaching math, science and technology.

Administering the new Siemens Teacher Scholarships are The Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

Thomas N. McCausland, chairman of the board at the Siemens Foundation, notes that the resources to broaden the pool of qualified math and science teachers are especially needed in communities that have been traditionally under-represented in related fields.,

Evolution Pressures Come From Students, Parents

With the teaching of evolution and its alternatives being battled out in communities across the country and under the watchful eye of the media, it's not surprising that a significant number of teachers are stressing about their role in the debate.

According to an informal survey in NSTA Express, the National Science Teachers Association's weekly e-mail newsletter, nearly one-third of teachers said they feel pressured to include creationism, intelligent design and other alternatives to evolution in their science classroom. When it comes to de-emphasizing or omitting evolution or evolution-related topics from their curriculum, approximately the same percentage of teachers are feeling a push to do so. Respondents, about half of whom are high school teachers, named students and parents as the biggest sources of pressure.

The survey, which got more than 1,050 responses from mainly K-12 teachers, also checked on how well educators are discussing the evolution issue with parents and other community members. When asked if they feel well prepared to explain the reasons why it's important for students to understand evolution, 85 percent said they did. But when asked how successful they have been at helping parents and others understand those reasons, 62 percent said they were successful.

NSTA President Anne Tweed says the organization is encouraging science teachers to consider playing a more vocal and visible role in evolution dialogue. To help, NSTA is supporting teachers through efforts such as participation in the National Congress on Science Education.