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Neither Art nor Accident: New research helps define and develop quality preK and elementary teaching Study after study shows that quality teaching is the most powerful factor in student learning. But how do you define quality teaching in a way that can be measured and taught? Dr. Robert Pianta, director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning and the National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education, developed the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) to measure quality instruction in the preK–5 classroom. Nearly 1,000 observers from schools and districts in 23 states are now trained in administering CLASS, and about 600 teachers in 8 states are beginning to use MyTeachingPartner, an online professional development program based on CLASS. Pianta, who also serves as dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, spoke with Harvard Education Letter contributing writer Sue Miller Wiltz about how his research can help clarify and improve the quality of teaching in preK and elementary classrooms.
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The Road to School Improvement: It's hard, it's bumpy, and it takes as long as it takes In our work on instructional improvement with low-performing schools, we are often asked, “How long does it take?” The next most frequently asked question is, “We’re stuck. What should we do next?” In our roles as facilitators of communities of practice focused on instructional improvement, in our work on internal accountability (Richard) and using data (Liz), and in our research, we have noticed some distinct patterns in the way schools develop as they become more successful at improving student learning and measured performance. Here are a few of our observations.
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“Doing the Critical Things First”: An interview with Sharon Griffin on an aligned approach to preK and early elementary math Sharon Griffin is an associate professor of education and psychology at Clark University and author of the Number Worlds curriculum for teaching number sense in the preK and elementary years. In this interview with the Harvard Education Letter, Griffin discusses what cognitive science can teach us about aligning preK and early elementary curriculum and teaching methods with the natural development of children’s mathematical thinking.
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High-Stakes Testing and the Corruption of America's Schools Since the fall of 2003, after NCLB required high-stakes testing in all 50 states, we have systematically scoured news outlets and scholarly journals for accounts of the impact of high-stakes testing. We have amassed a significant collection of evidence highlighting the distortion, corruption, and collateral damage that occur when high-stakes tests become commonplace in our public schools.
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The School Readiness Gap For decades now, educators, researchers, and policymakers have puzzled over so-called achievement gaps—the disparities in academic performance by race and ethnicity that consistently show up on standardized tests, grade-point averages, and a host of other measures. The No Child Left Behind Act seeks to narrow these gaps by mandating standards-based tests in elementary, middle, and high school, and holding schools accountable for raising scores not just overall, but among racial and ethnic subgroups. A growing body of research, however, suggests that any serious effort to eliminate disparities at the primary and secondary school levels must also address what some researchers call the school readiness gap—the variations in academic performance and certain social skills among children entering kindergarten and first grade.
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The “Data Wise” Improvement Process The package containing data from last spring’s mandatory state exam landed with a thud on principal Roger Bolton’s desk. The local newspaper had already published an article listing Franklin High as a school “in need of improvement.” Now this package from the state offered the gory details. Roger had five years of packages like this one, sharing shelf space with binders and boxes filled with results from the other assessments required by the district and state. The sheer mass of paper was overwhelming. Roger wanted to believe that there was something his faculty could learn from all these numbers that would help them increase student learning. But he didn’t know where to start.
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What Does Effective PreK Teaching Look Like? The new requirement that preK teachers in New Jersey’s Abbott districts hold a bachelor’s degree is based on the assumption that this credential makes a difference in the quality of instruction a teacher provides. Experts differ on whether a bachelor’s degree by itself can make someone a better teacher. But a number of studies have pointed to specific benefits of the degree when it is combined with specialized instruction in early childhood education.
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Bridging the PreK–Elementary Divide: Concerns about early achievement gaps prompt programs that link prekindergarten with elementary school Nap time is over, and most of the students in Miwa Takahashi’s prekindergarten class at T. T. Minor Elementary School have put away their sleeping mats and split into two groups. Eight youngsters take seats at a table with their teacher, while nine others gather around an instructional assistant a few yards away. It’s time for one of their favorite daily activities: Plan-Do-Review.
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Three Promising Initiatives: From "Bridging the PreK–Elementary Divide" States and districts throughout the country are experimenting with innovative approaches to preschool and its relationship to early elementary education.
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High School Reform the San Jose Way: It wasn't about testing, says the district's former superintendent Although high school improvement in response to California’s test-based accountability system has generally been slow, the San Jose Unified School District has stood out by showing impressive gains. Yet according to former superintendent Linda T. Murray, the improvement has had little to do with the state’s accountability system.
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