Summer slump

While driving into work this morning, I was listening to NPR and a story came on about something that has plagued many elementary, middle, and high school teachers for year…the summer slide.

The summer slide is a phenomena where students (especially those who are coming from lower income backgrounds) experience a severe decline in their achievement during the summer break months. One school in DC actually tested this with their students and gave them a test at the end of the school year right before break, and then again right at the beginning of the following school year. The findings show that “when students left for summer break, their reading levels were at about 68-69 percent, and when they came back, their levels fell to about 30 percent.” This is a HUGE change!

Summer slide is an issue that researchers have been well aware of for many years. It has just taken some time for the school boards to enact a change, reasonably so, because the added cost of simply keeping schools in session for an extra 20 days of the school year costs a whopping $5.5 million! While an extra 20 days may not seem like a huge impact, it’s still a step in the right direction with making sure children are learning and spending the majority of their year being enriched and growing their academic skills.

While still a work in progress, it’s so nice to see a change happen at the ground and policy levels that has profound positive implications for children in school.





Hitting the Target, but Missing the Point

Does anyone else feel like their lives are dictated and run by numbers? I certainly do. We get grades in school that determine where we get in to college. Our colleges are ranked based on numerous qualities and characteristics. Then we get a job and start thinking salaries, days of vacation, hours worked each day…the list goes on. Sometimes it feels like we are living our days by the numbers and missing the point.

Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature.

School is supposed to be about learning. Test scores are no replacement for quality learning so why are we so focused on them? Well, this article does a really good job of explaining how we need to achieve a balance between strictly thinking in numbers and really interpreting and valuing what those numbers mean. There is, undoubtedly, a need for reform in the kinds of assessments that we give children, doctors, students, and other professionals. Numbers are important, but we are missing the point.



John Oliver & Standardized Tests

John Oliver’s new(ish) show, Last Week Tonight, airs weekly on Sundays on HBO. A number of weeks ago, he did a special episode on standardized testing in the United States and the issues that they raise. The show paid special attention to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which is the standardized test that my research focuses on.

This particular episode discusses the difficulties many children face when taking standardized tests, the time it takes away from actual learning in the classroom, and the multi-billion dollar testing industries that profit off children’s time and stress.

Not only are these tests stressful for students to take, but teacher salaries are linked with student performance. This is why they call these kinds of tests “high-stakes.” There are serious consequences associated with how children perform on these tests including how much funding the school receives, student grade promotion decisions, and teacher evaluations.

What’s worse is that these tests are negatively impacting schools, students, and teachers in some of the lowest income districts in the country. My research shows the disparities that these tests can create along socioeconomic and ethnic lines.

America’s K-12 Education Problem

In late 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Child Succeeds Act, which replaces the existing No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. This article from The Atlantic surveys the opinions of many scholars and experts on the state of schools in America. It’s a really interesting take on the pros and cons of our educational policies and how they influence children, teachers, and families. After reading this article, I was further convinced that it’s important to achieve a balanced approach to educating kids. When we strictly take an economic point of view, we run the risk of over-emphasizing testing, and deemphasizing quality instruction. Increased testing does not necessarily mean improved learning.

“The federal government and many districts now propose to limit the testing that provides essential feedback and accountability.” – Joshua Angrist, professor of economics at MIT

When we solely focus on the economic gains of implementing policies in the classroom, we can easily miss the target audience of all our efforts: the children. Often, I feel like policies are put in place without regard for how they directly impact children and their families.

“As poverty levels for children have grown to one in four nationwide, and the number of homeless children has doubled, states have been cutting funds for both education and social services.” – Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education emeritus at Stanford University and president of the Learning Policy Institute

But, as this article emphasizes, there is hope. More and more politicians are becoming aware of the problems in our education systems and are redirecting their focus to quality learning environments and more holistic educational practices, as opposed to strictly high-stakes testing factories.

“I find hope in the growing attention of politicians and policymakers to forces outside K-12 classrooms that impinge on learning, particularly for the poorest children.” – Dale Russakoff, reporter for The Washington Post and author of The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?

It’s a great article, you should definitely check it out. Worth the long read.




Power Couples…the new economic divide

Hillary and Bill Clinton, Brad and Angelina, Barack and Michelle, Jay-Z and Beyonce… we know them, love them, and many of us want to be them. As a society we admire and fawn over these power couples and often aspire to be as successful as they are. A recent New York Times article brings to light some issues with the increasing number of so-called “power couples” in our society.

As it becomes harder for many people to “marry up” as a path for income mobility for themselves or their children, families that are not well connected may feel disengaged, and the significant, family-based advantages for some children may discourage others from even trying.

Get the article <here>

Side note: New York Times Now is a great smart phone app for quick news and alerts, check it out!



Fine motor skills matter, too!

love-heart-hand-romanticWhile soft skills are important for children’s social development, fine motor skills are equally, if not more important, for academic achievement. Interesting read on how something seemingly so small, like fine motor skills, can help children in school.


“The more motor skills children develop, the more motor experiences they are able to have, and the better-prepared they will be cognitively for their later academic careers.”

This has huge implications for the way we teach children in preschool and kindergarten. If fine motor skills have this much of an impact, could we then target this skill to help boost children who are falling behind in school?

“If fine motor skills have the greatest impact on math achievement, then children struggling with early math skills may benefit from a fine motor intervention.”

Psychology Today’s Blog Page is a great resource for finding psychology-related articles, typically written by graduate students or professors, without having to sift through peer-reviewed articles.


Soft skills matter


Such an interesting article about how soft skills matter for keeping kids out of trouble, in the long-term.

Soft skills might include teaching kids to work cooperatively in a group or teaching them how to think about the long-term consequences when they make a decision, whereas teaching physics is an example of a hard skill.

These skills are often not emphasizes in early schooling and they should be! Many researchers are aiming their efforts at promoting the teaching of these skills in preschools and elementary schools around the country.

Parents should do all they can to promote these skills with their children … as should education policymakers.

You can find the whole article <here>.




An Executive Order


Barack Obama’s recent executive order includes using the behavioral sciences to inform policies that impact people directly.

To more fully realize the benefits of behavioral insights and deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people, the Federal Government should design its policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate in, use, and respond to those policies and programs.

You can get the article [here].