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Look between the averages

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 9:28 a.m. CST

Iowa educators, through the media, have a bad habit of looking only at averages that miss the important details for improved decision-making. One example of this are the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores, which appear to be holding the same average, but details show the state ranking is dropping in comparison to other states that are doing a better job of figuring out how to more effectively teach concepts to the various learning styles while raising their standards to national grade level. What Iowa educators claim as “proficient” is actually basic entry level on NAEP.

ACT is another area where only stating the average misses very important details. ACT data for Iowa shows scores falling for two areas tested (English and math) while staying about the same for another two areas (reading and science).Beyond these comparisons is the meaning of the scores themselves. Benchmarks for Math (22), reading (22), and science (23), for example, fail to mention that the total score possible is 36 – making the benchmarks in the 60 percent category, which is a D grade. These benchmarks are college readiness scores, indicating a 50 percent chance of passing a college-level class in these subjects.

The ability of students to do well at the high school level is not only based on the effective teaching of high school teachers, but also the effective teaching at the elementary level that forms the foundation in reading and math. The December 2016 report from the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) on Iowa’s elementary teacher training programs shows all but one of them to be a failure at training teachers to effectively teach reading (using the wrong materials and theories), and only two received good scores at training teachers to effectively teach math (because both were associated with universities that also had engineering schools who could help in the transition from a system of memorization to one of concepts).

Iowa has already proven to be a failure at remediating elementary students. The reason for this lies with requiring the ability to effectively teach in order to effectively remediate. Until these standards are raised, methods changed, and teacher training programs upgraded, improving what happens in high school continues the challenge carried over from elementary. Both college readiness, as well as career readiness, in today’s global environment requires not only raising standards but also taking responsibility for the truth to improve decision-making.

Sue Atkinson


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