Pressure to meet national education standards may be the reason states with significant populations of African-American students and those with larger class sizes often require children to learn fewer skills, according to University of Kansas researcher Argun Saatcioglu. In order to increase test scores and avoid the negative consequences of failing to meet No Child Left Behind standards, some states are reducing the skills students are expected to learn, said Saatcioglu, who presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August.

“Narrowing the skills students are expected to learn results in higher proficiency gains on state assessments because students have to be proficient in fewer skills,” said Saatcioglu. “While school accountability laws were enacted to address the inequalities in our nation’s public school system, our findings suggest these laws may be hurting the children they were intended to benefit.”

To learn more about the study and its findings, read this press release from the American Sociological Association. These findings have important ramifications at a time when statistics indicate that this fall, for the first time ever, ethnic and racial minorities are projected to make up the majority of students attending U.S. schools. For details read this article in The Washington Post.

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell have announced that applications are now available for the $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition. The goal of Preschool Development Grants is to support states in building, developing and expanding voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families. The new grant program will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

“Through the Preschool Development Grants, we continue our efforts to create educational opportunities that prepare our youngest Americans for success in kindergarten, through elementary school and beyond,” Secretary Duncan said. “This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program—a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.”

Across the country, there is tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning programs. Only 40 percent of eligible children have access to Head Start and less than one-third of all 4-year olds in the U.S. are enrolled in state preschool programs. Studies demonstrate that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Under the Preschool Development Grant program, states with either small or no state-funded preschool programs will be eligible for Development Grants, while states with more robust state-funded preschool programs, or that have received Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants, will be eligible for Expansion Grants. Applications are due by October 14, 2014. Awards will be made in December 2014.

 

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In yet another indication that print remains alive, well, and useful in the digital age, researchers from the Reading Centre at The University of Stavanger in Norway found that 10th graders who read printed texts exhibited better comprehension than those who read the same texts on computers. The study, reported in Mediabistro’s GalleyCat, divided students into two groups—those reading printed texts and those reading on computers. Both groups read one fiction and one nonfiction text and were then quizzed for comprehension. Those who read the printed texts performed better on the comprehension tests.

What caused the difference? The researchers concluded that reading printed material “gives you a mental map of the entire text. The brain has an easier task when you can touch as well as see.” The researchers added that the “mental map” is particularly important for longer texts.

To learn more, read the GalleyCat article or this more in-depth analysis from ScienceNordic.com.

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“Fourteen states in 2012 enacted policies either mandating or strongly recommending that schools hold back students who could not read properly by third grade,” according to a recent New York Times article. To support students at risk of being held back, more areas are offering support such as special summer courses, although many teachers believe the retention policies are yet another example of high standards paired with insufficient resources to achieve them.

In the Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District in North Carolina, about 1,900 children failed the standardized reading test given to all North Carolina third graders in the spring. This year, for the first time, that may require these students to repeat third grade. About 1,500 students of these students enrolled in a special summer literacy school, attending class four days a week over six weeks. All of the summer school students took a test at the end of the session to measure their progress. Principals will make the final decision on which students will spend another year in third grade.

Florida introduced a third-grade retention policy in 2002 and has seen the percentage of fourth graders reaching proficiency in reading on national tests rise to 39% in 2013 from 27% a decade earlier. Research shows that Florida students who repeated third grade scored better on standardized reading tests through middle school than peers who had scored just a few points above the cutoff for moving ahead to fourth grade, indicating that the extra year in third grade brought academic benefits.

Although most educators agree that the emphasis in fourth grade shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” most also recommend a much stronger emphasis on assisting struggling readers at a much earlier age. For further information, read the full article. To learn more about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg reading camps, read this article from the Charlotte Observer.

 

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