Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sure reading scores are going up...

Thanks to Clay Burrell and his post in (if you have not stopped there, you need to). This video from Daniel Willingham discusses reading and comprehension.

As our district contemplates the dismal failure of students on the PSSA science tests (we are actually average, so the whole state stinks), one has to wonder why. Without looking at the actual questions, here are some thoughts:
  • Elementary science scores are higher. The test is either very easy or it is about things kids already do have knowledge about.
  • As you go higher through school, science is specialized. Not every student takes a chemistry course. They may have had the concepts in a physical science class, but those students traditionally do poorly and have not had that material in years.
  • Remedial time has been spent on Math and Reading strategies and practice in order to pass those tests. This may be to help them but has a negative connotation. Would it not be better to help all students with interesting reading selections that challenge students (like literature circles?)
  • The questions asked are not in line with the standards. There may have been a disproportionate number of chemistry questions compared to the number of chemistry state standards.
  • Students know it does not count for graduation. do you think that had an effect?
  • Who cares? Does knowing a few facts mean anything in todays world if you do not know what to do with it? This of course means that how we teach science and structure curriculum still has to change completely.
Tags: Clay Burrell, Daniel Willingham


  1. Hi Louise
    Followed you here from another blog that we both had commented on. I love the video here. You have opened my eyes to the importance of teaching to establish better prior knowledge. Our school is just one of many who push, push, push the literacy. Our science scores are good but fall off in later years after they move on to high school. Is that because we failed to teach enough of it starting in the early years? It makes my reflect a bit more. Thanks.

  2. Gail,

    thanks for following me back here. It is the same scenario here. I think they lack a foundation for sure and wonder with such a large knowledge base that exists in Science, how one can even know what to prepare for. It would be more wise to assess ability to critically think or problem solve and only focus on a few standards. But of course, there must be enough of a wide base in order to understand any scenario that could be portrayed. It is definite that relying on the learning facts is not working.

  3. Thanks for the pointer to Hadn't seen that before!

  4. Good evening, Louise!

    How long will a bright skeptical child last in a particular classroom?

    I see our state standards at the 6th grade level and want to cry. While seeing young children recite scientific vocabulary is impressive (and unbearably cute), kids do not need to master the language of science in elementary school. Time would be much better spent teaching kids how to observe, how to use basic logic, and how to effectively question what they observe.

    I was told by an elementary school teacher that the sun is directly overhead at noon. Over and over again, I placed my stick in the ground, waiting for the shadow to disappear when the sun got directly overhead.

    It never did, and in this part of the world, it never will.

    Had I had even a tiny bit of skepticism, I would have saved myself a lot of time, and no doubt would have cornered the teacher.

    Science, as you know, is not about facts. The "facts" taught in school are often confused anyway--go ask a teacher about gravity or seasons or light or any of a number of basic things kids ask about.

    (On a different note, ain't Clay just grand?)

  5. @Doyle Love Clay's writing. Has a sarcastic wit that I appreciate (so do you). wish I had better literary skill as the two of you...

    It is all about process and flies in the face of our content society (that cannot think for themselves and then feel betrayed when facts are not what they seem later.) Now the fight to convince process is ultimately more important and content regurgitated is just a pile of regurgitation...