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Do Schools Challenge Our Students?

Do Schools Challenge Our Students?
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Written by Ulrich Boser, Lindsay Rosenthal

You might think that the nation’s teenagers are drowning in schoolwork. Images of sullen students buried in textbooks often grace the covers of popular parenting magazines, while well-heeled suburban teenagers often complain they have to work the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments. But when we recently examined a federal survey of students in elementary and high schools around the country, we found the opposite: Many students are not being challenged in school.

Consider, for instance, that 37 percent of fourth-graders say that their math work is too easy. More than a third of high-school seniors report that they hardly ever write about what they read in class. In a competitive global economy where the mastery of science is increasingly crucial, 72 percent of eighth-grade science students say they aren’t being taught engineering and technology, according to our analysis of a federal database.

These findings come at a key time. Researchers increasingly believe that student surveys can provide important insights into a teacher’s effectiveness. When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released findings from their Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project in 2011, they found that student feedback was a far better predictor of a teacher’s performance than more traditional indicators of success such as whether a teacher had a master’s degree or not. The mounting evidence on the importance of student surveys has also been shaping policy at the state and local level, and a variety of groups dedicated to the improvement of teaching—such as the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that works to advance policies and practices to ensure effective teaching in every classroom—have been incorporating student surveys into their teacher evaluation and certification process.

Given the significance of this growing body of research on student surveys, we examined one of the richest sources of national student survey data and conducted an analysis of the background surveys of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, these assessments are administered every two years by the National Center for Education Statistics. We looked specifically at the student questionnaire, which collects student-reported information on demographics and classroom experiences.

In reviewing the data, we examined a number of issues that track current debates over education policy and research. Given the recent debates over academic standards, for instance, we looked closely at issues of rigor and student expectations. Do students think that they are being challenged enough? Do teachers engage students in deep learning opportunities? We were also interested in issues of access since students provide an important, classroom-eye view of the resources that are available to them. Are all students being given access to the types of learning opportunities that they need to be prepared for college and the modern workplace? Are those resources distributed fairly among different types of students and schools?

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2:53PM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

nope. they focus on busy work and rote memorization. Even my Ap classes and honors classes were dull. not challenging. I made straight A's but spent probably 30 to 40 % of my senior year sleeping in class. and you get PENALIZED for reading ahead, or asking for the following weeks work. sad, but true. I plan to homeschool so that my son can learn in HIS time, at his level. And not have to wait for slower kids or speed up for the brains.

10:16PM PDT on Jul 28, 2012

between standardized tests and main streaming disabled kids into the classes the smarter kids are not getting what they need to excel. a class can only go as fast as the slowest learner.
all that stupid testing doesn't teach kids anything other than how to take a test.

10:06PM PDT on Jul 28, 2012

Our school was leveled towards the slowest learners and so it was very, very boring. In most classes, so long as you turned in homework, even if it was wrong, you'd get an A. Math was the only class that was not too easy for me. My younger brother and sister got through school without having to write a single paper that was longer than one page, definitely not good prep for college! In my college, I was pretty lost freshman year, because i'd never had to learn to take tests or write long papers or anything.

9:09PM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

NO, they do not.

5:20PM PDT on Jul 15, 2012


1:09PM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

not sure about that, here in Canada, I had trouble with school my whole life

11:39AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012


8:02AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

"When I was in school and the teacher made a statement we, as students, would challenge that statement if we didn't believe or understand what was said." 

I wish this was the norm, but many teachers hate being challenged. Decades ago my older brother questioned everything and he has the brains to back it up, and no tact whatsoever. He was 'invited' to leave school early. He ended up going to university and getting a Masters in history. 

In the 70s I was bored to tears in school. I excelled in math and sciences but nobody ever noticed it or offered suggestions on what I could do to use my talents. (being female probably didn't help) I quit school and self-studied the sciences and read astronomy and biology books at a college level just because the subjects interested me. 

6:06AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

I have 2 problems with this. One the standardized testing as everyone has said, kills me because everyone knows this doesn't work but it hasn't changed? Why? Is there $$ somewhere? I mean I would like to know how much $ it costs each school district to do these tests,and break it down by grade and how much $ it costs per student. I bet you would be shocked by the numbers.I was when we roughly figured out how much it costs to send our kids to public school. It costs roughly $20,000 per student. Now If you can figure out how much it costs to take the test. How much of this money we spend to send our kids to school is spent on these tests. Money that could be used to get more teachers and/or aides. Which we really need. 20 kids or more to a class is outrageous, yet it's the yuppy upper class that keeps voting for these upgrades we don't need and voting to get rid of our aids and to give our lovely administrators a big fat raise. The second thing is the new way of teaching. I don't think having kids just regurgitate what they remember is really teaching. My children are not computers or a calculator if we don't let them stop and think to process what they are learning then how are they ever going to be able to do this on their own. If it's something they can't remember then they don't have the tools to figure it out!!! I can see this happening with my oldest son. They aren't teaching them how to think. It's all about remembering. If you can't remember then you're pretty much scr

3:16AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

I was told that if I "didn't teach to the test" I wasn't doing my job properly and was letting the kids down.Too much testing- too little education.

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