By Feifei Wang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
How can the United States bridge math proficiency gaps? Ensuring equitable opportunities for students to receive adequate preparation and access to advanced math is critical to the equation. This is due to the clear benefits of learning advanced math in high school, such as increased options for majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, higher rates of college acceptance, and greater opportunities for college scholarships and financial aid. Despite these benefits, a significant portion of high school students are either not being offered the opportunity to take or are opting out of advanced math courses. A recent report from RAND identified gaps in students’ opportunities to access advanced math and provided recommended support to address these gaps.
This report utilized data from nationally representative surveys of teachers and school leaders in kindergarten through grade 12 during the 2021-2022 school year. The findings indicated that fewer advanced math courses were offered in small high schools, rural high schools, and high schools primarily serving historically marginalized communities, and that uneven access to advanced math started before high school. In addition, math teachers who worked in high-poverty schools were likely to report skipping standards-aligned content and replacing the skipped content with material from prior grade levels. A large proportion of K-12 math teachers expressed the need for additional support in delivering high-quality math instruction. The authors recommend the following to policymakers and education leaders: First, school districts should allocate funding towards implementing high-dosage tutoring programs for economically disadvantaged high schoolers; Second, education leaders should support teachers with high-quality training and standards-aligned curriculum materials; Third, district leaders should collaborate with regional colleges to make high-quality advanced courses accessible for all high school students; Fourth, education leaders and teachers should establish transparency in communication regarding the importance of course-taking.
By Winnie Tam, Centre for University and School Partnership, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The online learning tsunami of recent years has created the “digital divide,” which refers to the differences in access to, use of, and skills in information and communication technology (ICT) among different social groups. A study by Guo and Wan examined equity issues in online learning in China during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stratified sampling was conducted to draw sample data from the Online Learning Survey of High School Students. A total of 27,710 students’ responses from 164 high schools in 10 provinces was included in the study. Three levels of digital divide were assessed regarding students’ online learning during the pandemic:
First-level digital divide refers to equipment and network conditions. Though 95% of students had at least one piece of equipment that could be used for online learning, 18.4% claimed that learning was negatively affected by inadequate equipment. Looking further into the details, equipment and network condition problems were more likely to negatively affect students with low SES than those with high SES, students from rural areas than those from urban areas, and students from non-single-child families than from single-child families.
Second-level digital divide refers to the difference in internet usage and skills. A self-evaluated scale was used to assess students’ adaptability to online learning which reflected, to a certain extent, the general digital literacy. Lower adaptability scores to online learning were found among students with low SES (ES = -0.46), from rural areas (ES = -0.31), and from non-single-child families (ES = -0.32).
Third-level digital divide refers to the difference in offline benefits drawn from internet use. Students’ reports of whether their overall test scores decreased during the pandemic were used to access the benefit gained or lost. Results of logistic regressions showed similar results to the first two levels digital divide. Students who encountered network problems or had difficultly adapting to online learning were more likely to have deteriorated learning outcomes.
It was considered that the traditionally disadvantaged group could reduce their outcome deterioration if their adaptability to online learning could be improved given that equipment and network conditions were the same. The authors stated that establishing online learning alone cannot reduce education inequality, so further efforts are required from various stakeholders.
Marta Pellegrini, University of Cagliari (Italy)
Differences in achievement levels among subgroups of students are referred to as “excellence gaps,” which primarily concern the highest-performing students. While certain students may struggle to attain the minimum expected levels of academic achievement, there are others who are already performing at levels beyond their current grade before the beginning of the school year.
Excellence gaps are connected to equitable school systems. Often students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds have less access to advanced learning opportunities than their peers. A recent systematic review included qualitative and quantitative studies to determine what kind of research has been conducted on strategies to reduce excellence gaps in K-12. The review included 80 studies categorized by strategy, such as school accountability system support, teacher professional learning, and universal screening with local norms. The review highlighted the role of each strategy in reducing excellence gaps. Overall, results suggested considering four key points: Prepare, Place, Evaluate, and Adjust – students should be assessed for advanced learning programs before enrollment and during implementation, participating in the appropriate advanced programs, regularly evaluated through formative assessments, and have placements modified as necessary to optimize learning outcomes.
By Feifei Wang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Literacy is foundational to academic success and social participation of students. However, many studies have indicated that teenage boys have poorer literacy grades than teenage girls. A recent study by Borgonovi compared two low-stakes international large-scale assessments to identify if similar gender gaps existed between them and what factors were related to these gaps.
The study compared a widely-used low-stakes school-based assessment, Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), with another low-stakes household-based assessment, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). In the two assessments, individual-level data from 15- to 17-year-old teens in the countries that administered both assessments were examined to investigate and compare the literacy gender gap. The study found that the two assessments showed different estimates of literacy gender gaps. In PISA, boys significantly underperformed compared with girls, but in PIAAC, no gender gap was identified. The differences in the gaps were associated with differences in motivation between boys and girls, shaped by participant selection methods, scoring methods, test length, delivery mode (i.e., computer-based or paper-based assessments), text type, and cognitive processes involved in completing assessment tasks. Therefore, before embarking on major policy reforms to ensure that boys develop literacy skills, it would be important to evaluate whether assessments are appropriate and comprehensive enough to capture the dimensions of literacy in which boys may be more proficient, and most importantly, whether assessments provide incentives for boys to display what they know and can do.