AERA, Equity, Testing Laws, John Hattie

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What an incredible week! Last week, 14,000 researchers from around the globe gathered in Chicago at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The major theme was education equity and excellence of which there were many thoughtful examples on display. One example, anchored by Jon Snyder of Stanford, was a presentation on research in pre-service education in other countries…Alberta, CA, Finland, Singapore…where teachers are respected, admission is competitive to learn how to teach, and support from government and country are high. Another example was Linda Darling-Hammond’s work on changes to the No Child Left Behind federal law. Her work was recently highlighted in a Huffington Post article:

Despite the intense focus on testing tied to consequences, achievement gains have slowed in the NCLB era, and achievement gaps have remained stubbornly large. By far, the largest gains for African American and Latino students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – and the greatest reduction of the gaps in reading and math – occurred before NCLB, in the 1970s and early ’80s, when ESEA, and the nation, focused on investing rather than testing. Gains were also larger in the 1990s than they have been since. To achieve this vision, several changes in federal education law are needed:

  • Assessment results should be reported and used for information and improvement, rather than for labeling schools or administering sanctions, a purpose for which they were never intended.
  • Federal law should no longer prescribe technical features of tests — how they are designed and administered — in ways that prevent innovation and change.
  • States should be invited to create integrated systems of state- and locally-administered assessments that provide information for the multiple purposes they need to serve, combining rich assessments to describe annual student learning and progress in ways that can inform teaching, complemented by less time-intensive samples for large-scale reporting, so that the end result is an instructionally-useful, cost-effective system.
  • ESEA should encourage accountability systems based on multiple measures of student success, as well as students’ opportunities to learn. That will encourage states and districts to close the gaps in students’ access to resources and high-quality curriculum offerings as the most important means to improving outcomes.
  • New accountability systems should also gauge student learning by measures that extend beyond tests, such as: successful completion of challenging courses of study, such as International Baccalaureate, Early College, Advanced Placement and Linked Learning, and portfolios that assess coursework and performance like those offered by the New York Performance Standards Consortium -all of which do a better job predicting college and career success than a one-day, make-or-break test.

Testing should never be the be-all and end-all of an accountability system, but thoughtful assessments can play an important role. Allowing states to create intelligent systems of assessment will in the long run better support student learning than the one-size-fits-all model we’ve struggled with for the last decade. (Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, SCOPE)

I got a chance to see the excitement around John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning. John’s work is one of the best selling books in education and has everyone talking about “Effect Sizes.” Just so we are clear, effect sizes are the difference between your control group and your treatment group, quantitatively speaking.

John Hattie developed a way of ranking various influences in different meta-analyses according to their effect sizes. In his ground-breaking study “Visible Learning” he ranked those influences which are related to learning outcomes from very positive effects to very negative effects on student achievement. Hattie found that the average effect size of all the interventions he studied was 0.40. Therefore he decided to judge the success of influences relative to this ‘hinge point’, in order to find an answer to the question “What works best in education?”

Hattie studied six areas that contribute to learning: the student, the home, the school, thecurricula, the teacher, and teaching and learning approaches. But Hattie did not merely provide a list of the relative effects of the different influences on student achievement. He also tells the story underlying the data. He found that the key to making a difference was making teaching and learning visible. He further explained this story in his book “Visible learning for teachers“.

Here is an overview of the Hattie effect size list that contains 138 influences and effect sizes across all areas related to student achievement. The list visualized here is related to Hattie (2009) Visible Learning. Hattie constantly updates this list with more meta studies. You can find an updated version in Hattie (2011) Visible Learning for Teachers.