Sagging SAT Scores: More Rigor? More Tools? Both?

According to a recent report, average SAT reading scores for students who graduated in 2012 are at their lowest since 1972. This means that only 43% of those test takers demonstrated the knowledge and needed to successfully tackle college-level work. (Condensed press release)

In response, College Board President Gaston Caperton called for more rigor in high school courses. Sounds good. But I can't help but wonder: if fewer than 50% of students taking the SAT aren't making the cut now, how is more rigorous courses going to help them?

The report noted that the 2012 group represented the most diverse population of test takers in history. Almost half were minority students, and approximately 25 percent could be categorized as ESL (English as a Second Language) students or ELL (English Language Learners) students, meaning they grew up in homes in which English was not the primary language. Is it possible some of these students run up against a language barrier or concept barrier on the test? Do these students have the opportunity to take the test in their primary language is they so desire? I know the SAT is well-known for its reliability and validity, but does it truly take into consideration the melting pot status that the Unites States now owns? I don't know the review process; just thinking out loud.

Most of my teaching experience is at the middle school level. I can't tell you how many 6-8 grade students struggle with reading, for whatever reason. Those struggles don't automatically go away when they hit high school. For students who are learning English as a second language, all the confusion doesn't magically disappear in 9th grade.

That is why I am such an advocate of incorporating reading instruction in every course and at every grade level. Around the 6th grade, if not sooner, reading instruction switches from learning to read to reading to learn. And that transition needs to take place. But reading instruuction still needs to play a big role in the classroom. Secondary-level teachers typically receive one college course on teaching reading in the content areas. Most of those teachers earn course credit and never give it a second thought because they teach "math" or "social studies" or "history." Reading instruction has a place in all of those content areas. (See my previous post). What would happen to those SAT scores if teachers - regardless of their content area - were required to incorporate reading instruction into their lessons. What if doing so were part of their evaluation? (GASP!!) So many resources are out there to help teachers do this (including the school reading specialists). Let's take advantage of them!

More rigorous courses is certainly a step in the right direction, but let's also give our students the tools they need to tackle those courses.

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

The Numbers Game

True confession time: I don't do math.

I'm a whiz at reading and writing. But arithmetic? I just don't "get it." When letters start flirting with numbers and variables start dancing with equations, I get panicky. I start breathing heavily, my brain jumbles for a few quick seconds, and then it screeches to a halt. It's almost as if the two sides of my brain twisted in opposite directions. Kind of like when you pry open a plastic Easter egg.

Having said that, I view mathematical literacy and financial literacy as two separate skill sets. My financial literacy skills are proficient. I balance my checkbook, create budgets of all shapes and sizes, and understand the basics of investing and borrowing. Some of these tasks involve a higher-order understanding of numbers, but the concepts are concrete. It's the abstract concepts that throw me for a loop and keep my mathematical literacy skills at the basic comprehension level.

But mastery of those abstract mathematical concepts is essential, especially in today's blazing technology world. Yet, it seems as if today's students struggle with mathematical literacy more than ever before. It's important to recognize that different literacy skills and strategies are required to successfully access a math book (or any text book for that matter). As an educator, I truly believe in teaching across the content areas. This means incorporating literacy skills in every class and tailoring that literacy instruction to the content at hand. Unfortunately, in my classroom experiences at the secondary (6 grade and up) level, cross-curricular collaboration is rare. The prevailing school of thought is that literacy encompasses only reading and writing. As such, English/Language Arts teachers bear the main responsibility for teaching it. That doesn't work. Math teachers must teach mathematical literacy, social studies teachers must teach historical literacy, and so on.

I came across two articles focusing on efforts to improve the mathematical literacy skills of young students. One effort uses the latest technology to get - and keep - kids interested in math. The other incorporates written reflection into the high school math classroom as a way to encourage students to think about what they are thinking about (metacognition) as they work math problems. Check out both!


Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!

More on Cultural Literacy: September 11

Any person able to fully remember the events of September 11, 2001, knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Every year on this date, we share those stories. We grieve, and we remember.

But remembering isn't always enough. It's important to understand, as much as we can, the why behind those horrifying, life-altering events. That's where cultural literacy comes into play, if for any reason than it helps us bring some sort of logic to that day. Understanding the why is hard, it's complicated, and it may be nearly impossible.

When we take responsibility for our own cultural literacy, we can help younger people understand why September 11 is both an honored day and a dark day in our country's history. Perhaps the best way to start the conversation is just to ask what they know. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!