Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

When Nothing Is New

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

When Nothing Is New

Article excerpt

In pondering the reasons that scores on standardized tests have declined at the higher grade levels, it occurs to Ms. Jago that instruction hasn't been keeping pace with the tests.

I THINK I have finally figured out why California test scores declined from fourth grade to eighth grade and from eighth grade to 11th grade. It isn't that the longer students stay in school the dumber they get but that, while test items increase in difficulty, classroom instruction often does not.

I have been puzzling over the 1998 Stanford 9 results for a long time, but it wasn't until I saw a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research that a light began to dawn. Those researchers invite us to imagine entering a classroom and hearing the teacher begin a math lesson with the words "Today we are going to study parallelograms. A parallelogram is one example of a polygon with parallel sides." Without looking at the students, what grade do you guess this is? Second? Fifth? Eighth? Tenth?

If you chose any or all of the above, you would be correct. In a comprehensive study of classroom instruction in the Chicago public schools, Julia Smith, BetsAnn Smith, and Anthony Bryk observed students in all those grades being presented with introductory lessons on the parallelogram. The same pattern of repeated instruction showed up in language arts classrooms.

One day two researchers visiting the same school emerged from classrooms - one at the third-grade level and one at the eighth-grade level - only to discover that they had both observed similar lessons on how to write a paragraph.

Many skills need to be revisited and reinforced over time. But the researchers' discovery of repeated instruction at a low level, with little or no development in terms of content or complexity, is troubling. …

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