"Study: Despite Hard Courses, High Schoolers Learn Less." That paradoxical headline ran over a story in the Los Angeles Times February 23. Similar headlines appeared in the New York Times and papers all over the country. The stories under the headlines reported two related studies. One study found that high school students were taking more and tougher courses in math and science and getting better grades. Another found that NAEP reading scores of high school seniors had declined a bit since 1992.
So why did the reading scores dip? Well, when was the last time you heard a Right Honorable and Self-Important School Reform Commission say that the problem with schools is that kids don't read enough Shakespeare? Or Faulkner? An occasional lament is heard that the western canon now includes Steinbeck, Morrison and Angelou, but no reform commission that I know of has ever laid the blame--the blame for whatever the commission is blaming the schools for--at the feet of English teachers. "A Nation At Risk" mentioned what English courses should teach, but its major concerns were science and technology.
The perpetual cry for the last 50 years has been more math, more science, more math, more science. "A Nation at Risk" called for adding computer science because "computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives" (no doubt the only image in a reform report to evoke simultaneously both a sex act and Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
It is quite possible that reading scores are down because the kids are taking more math and science courses. Sure there are other more familiar villains to charge: television, video games, the strange spelling and syntax of text messaging, even multitasking. But the number of courses the average high school student takes in mathematics, science, and computer science enroute to a diploma have all increased since 1990 (English classes have not). The time for these courses has to come from somewhere. Reading about quarks or taking derivatives jeopardize Jane Austen.
Mostly, though, I think the kids just don't give a damn about NAEP and I bet they give less of a damn now than they did 15 years ago. Nor should they care. I once said to then-NAEP Executive Director, Archie Lapointe, that NAEP systematically underestimates achievement because kids don't take it seriously. Yes, he laughed, the major challenge for NAEP was keeping the kids awake during the test.
Read the rest here.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Bracey on NAEP
The 2005 NAEP scores were released last week. I was going to post something when they first appeared, but I never got around to it, so here's Gerald Bracey's interesting take on them from The Huffington Post.