“In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C”
by Motoko Rich
Excerpts from article:
Here at Troy Prep Middle School, a charter school near Albany that caters mostly to low-income students, teachers are finding it easier to help students hit academic targets in math than in reading, an experience repeated in schools across the country.
Students entering the fifth grade here are often several years behind in both subjects, but last year, 100 percent of seventh graders scored at a level of proficient or advanced on state standardized math tests. In reading, by contrast, just over half of the seventh graders met comparable standards.
The results are similar across the 31 other schools in the Uncommon Schools network, which enrolls low-income students in Boston, New York City, Rochester and Newark. After attending an Uncommon school for two years, said Brett Peiser, the network’s chief executive, 86 percent of students score at a proficient or advanced level in math, while only about two thirds reach those levels in reading over the same period.
“Math is very close-ended,” Mr. Peiser said. Reading difficulties, he said, tend to be more complicated to resolve.
The article continues:
Studies have repeatedly found that “teachers have bigger impacts on math test scores than on English test scores,” said Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia Business School. He was a co-author of a study that showed that teachers who helped students raise standardized test scores had a lasting effect on those students’ future incomes, as well as other lifelong outcomes.
Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.
By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school.
“Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”
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