2016: A Year in Review for Secondary Educators

6 Research Studies and Reports that Mattered in 2016

Here is a list of six influential reports or studies that can provide educators with critical information on the trends that are happening in education nationwide, statewide, or in the classroom.

There are reports for all education stakeholders by national agencies  (U.S. Department of Education), watchdog groups (Education Week), international collaboratives (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and academic think-tanks (Stamford History Education Group). 

Collectively, these studies and reports provide the following snapshot of a secondary education system for 2016 during which:

  • More students are graduating from high school;
  • National progress in academic areas of reading and math in grade 12 are statistically stagnant (NAEP);
  • U.S. students at age 15 perform in the middle of international rankings (PISA);
  • New options and strategies are offered to increase secondary opportunities, especially in community colleges;
  • Students in grades 7-college are limited in research skills (SHEG).

These reports are listed in their order of release, creating a chronological account of the latest information on education at the secondary level (grades 7-12) during the year.

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High School Graduation Rates Rise

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) The primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. US DOE

The education year 2016 began with the good news from the The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) about high school graduation rates. This branch of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has determined high school graduation rates have risen to an all-time high of 82%:

"Citing data from school year 2013–14, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for public high schools showed that approximately 4 out of 5 students graduated with a regular high school diploma within 4 years of the first time they started 9th grade."

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES collects, collates, analyzes, and reports complete statistics on the condition of American education as part of a Congressional mandate.

This report explained which measures of high school completion were used to determine the 82% graduation rate. The analysis of data included the averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR)  which is an estimate of the on-time 4-year graduation rate derived from aggregate student enrollment data and graduate counts.

The analysis of data also used the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) which is the detailed student-level data to determine the percentage of students who graduate within 4 years of starting 9th grade for the first time. 

This high school graduation report also highlighted that while the gaps between subgroups groups of high needs students remain large, these gaps are trending to close.

88% of white students graduated in contrast to 78% of Hispanic students, and there has been a 6.1% increase since 2010. Similar gains have been made for the 75% of black students who have graduated, up 7.6% in the past five years from 2010-11.

Other subgroups also show higher graduation rates up from 2010-11 to 2014-2015 for the following:

  • Low-income students up 6.1%;
  • English Learners up 8.1%;
  • Special Ed 5.6%. 

(Last Updated: May 2016)

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Ed Week's Quality Counts Reports Issued for all 50 States

Quality Counts is Education Week's annual report on state-level efforts to improve public education. Education Week

The 2016 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report—Called to Account: New Directions in School Accountability -released January 2016-examined the role the most recent state and federal strategies have in helping schools meet academic standards as well as role these strategies have in implementing accountability measures:

  • What should students know and be able to do?
  • How should that learning be measured?
  • What should the consequences be for failing to meet performance or improvement goals?

Included in the report was a review of the effectiveness in the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA which succeeded the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA was designed to signal a shift away from the federal government and back to the states and school districts.  

This Quality Counts report, however, that the consequences of this shift has yielded poor results. 

Quality Counts 2016 issues overall summative grades, as well as updated scores in each of the three categories that comprise the report’s grading rubric. The report offers maps to illustrate each of the following:

Quality Counts awarded the United States an overall grade of C on its 2016 report card, with a score of 74.4 out of a possible 100 points.

Massachusetts earns top marks  with a score 86.8,  the only B-plus awarded. Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont earning B grades.

Nevada ranked last, with a grade of D and a score of 65.2; the  states of Mississippi and New Mexico receiving Ds.

33 states achieved grades somewhere between a C-minus and a C-plus.

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The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2015 Results

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. NAEP

The results for the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released in April 2016. The NAEP is also known as the Nation's Report Card and each core subject is assessed at grades 4, 8, and 12, although not all grades are assessed each time.​

"The NAEP is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation’s students know and can do in select subjects."

In 2015, there were 11,000 students in grade 12 from 730 schools who participated; the results reported are for public and private school students in the nation.

Some key points from the 2015 NAEP  for Grade 12 students:

The NAEP math Grade 12 measures students’ knowledge and skills in mathematics and students’ ability to apply their knowledge in problem-solving situations. For example, students are asked to make inference based on random sample or determine if a circle graph is an appropriate representation.

  • The national average mathematics score in comparison to 2013 is slightly lower; 
  • The percentage of students at or above the Proficient level in math is not significantly different compared to 2013;
  • In comparison to the results from 2005, the first year of the current trend line, the average mathematics score did not significantly differ.

The NAEP reading Grade 12 measures students’ reading comprehension by asking them to read selected grade-appropriate materials and to answer questions based on what they have read. For example, students are asked to explain relation of phrase to main point of persuasive essay or recognize detail related to purpose of document.

  • In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.
  • Compared to 1992, the achievement gap in reading by racial groups has increased (from 24 points to 30 points).

The NAEP science Grade 12 measures students’ knowledge of three content areas: physical science, life science, and Earth and space sciences. For example, students were asked to describe the effect of a gene mutation or explain an observation of static electricity.

  • In science, the average NAEP scores for the nation increased 4 points between 2009 and 2015 in both grades 4 and 8, but did not change significantly at grade 12. 

​Sample questions for Grade 12 in reading and math can be found on this link. 

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U.S. Department of Education Releases "America College Promise Playbook"

U.S. Department of Education's America's College Promise Playbook, a comprehensive and up-to-date resource guide that provides practitioners with relevant and actionable information about how they can offer more students access to an affordable, high-quality education. US DOE

In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released the America's College Promise Playbook, described as

"...a comprehensive and up-to-date resource guide that provides practitioners with relevant and actionable information about how they can offer more students access to an affordable, high-quality education through which students can go as far as their talents and work ethic can take them."

The America’s College Promise is a response to President Obama's plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students. The playbook focuses on strategies that:

  • Expand college access for hard-working students through tuition-free community colleges.
  • Strengthen and reform the community college experience to promote gains in student enrollment, persistence, completion or transfer with subsequent completion at a four-year institution, and employment.
  • Prepare students for continued education and/or high-demand, middle-class jobs.

In making the announcement, U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. stated:

“Community colleges are not just a distinctly American institution, but as the largest, most affordable segment of America’s higher education system, they are critical to reaching the President’s goal to have the highest share of college graduates in the world and to ensuring America’s economic prosperity in the future.”

The report also offers case studies of the America College Promise programs in state, city, urban, and rural institutions in order to provide communities with various design options and strategies. 

(Full transcript of press release available on this link)

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Stamford History Education Group: Evaluating Information/Civic Reasoning

Stamford History Education Group (SHEG) sponsors an ongoing research group for students across the university interested in issues of how history is taught and learned. SHEG

 In the Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning released November 22, 2016, the Stamford History Education Group (SHEG) determined that the ability of students to reason about the information on the Internet could be summed up in one word: bleak.

SHEG is collaboration of practicing teachers, undergraduate volunteers and interns who are interested in issues of how history is taught and learned. 

They tested thousands of students, grades 7 through college to evaluate information that flows through social media channels and found that students are "easily duped."

In a series of exercises, which are contained in the report and available for teachers to use, SHEG researchers hoped to establish a reasonable bar, a level of performance in evaluating information:

"But in every case and at every level, we [SHEG] were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation."

They noted that the scores of websites pretending to be something they are not stating, "on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off."

Their results:

  • 80% of over 500 middle school students (including pilot tests) could not correctly distinguish between a traditional advertisement and a news story.;
  •  20% of over 400 high school students (including pilot tests) could construct “Mastery” responses that cited appropriate evidence;
  • 2/3 of a small group (44) undergraduate students at three universities could not determine the political agendas of various advocacy organizations.

This latest finding means that teachers should focus on evaluation and analysis during research.

In response to the increase of fake news, teachers could use the criteria available on 6 Ways to Spot Fake News.

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Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 Results

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA

Note: 2015 scores released December 2016

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a tri-annual worldwide study run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of scholastic performance by students in mathematics, science, and reading. This report describes the performance of 15-year-olds on the PISA in the United States and other nations such as:  Australia , Japan, Brazil, Singapore, Israel,  Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Korea, Canada,  Chile, Poland, Slovenia, China, Spain Colombia, Turkey,  Sweden

The 2015 PISA focused on science, with reading, mathematics and collaborative problem solving as minor areas of assessment. There was also an optional section on that assessed students' financial literacy.  

Approximately 540 000 students completed the assessment in 2015, representing about 29 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 72 participating countries and economies.

This was the first computer-based tests were used for the multiple-choice questions and constructed responses lasting a total of two hours for each student..

The mean scores in the 2015 PISA were:

  • Science: 496  
  • Math: 470 
  • Reading: 497  

These scores were a little lower than mean scores in 2012:

  • Science:  497
  • Math: 481
  • Reading: 498

In comparison to US scores, students in Singapore performed the best in science with a mean score of 556.

 Currently, the United States remains in the middle of the rankings of the 35 countries who participated. 

Disadvantaged students in the United States were 2.5 times more likely to be low performers than advantaged students. However,  32% of disadvantaged students in the United States performed above expectations scoring as well as the top quarter of students with the same socio-economic status across all countries and economies in PISA. This proportion has increased by 12 percentage points for the United States since 2006.