2015 Brown Center Report Looks at Gender Gaps, Motivation

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The Brookings Institution has released its 2015 Brown Center Report on the efficiency of American Education, and the report by Tom Loveless probes into the gender gap in reading, the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards and the correlation between student engagement and achievement. The report is based on empirical data and draws on an amalgam of available evidence.

In the first section of the report, Tom Loveless confirms that longitudinally girls outperform boys in terms of reading performance. Based on evidence dating back to 1942, girls are consistently outscoring boys on reading tests and aptitudes such as reading comprehension and vocabulary. According to Loveless, this is a global phenomenon as evidence from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveals. Loveless writes:

“Girls have outscored boys on every reading test ever given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the first long term trend test was administered in 1971—at ages nine, 13, and 17. ”

The Brown Center Report also explores the possible ways of measuring the effectiveness of the English Language Arts Common Core standards and pinpoints the great variation in terms of eagerness to implement the CCSS policy among states.

Loveless, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow, highlights that strong implementers of the CCSS enjoyed stronger scores on the NAEP scale than those not implementing the Common Core State Standards.

More evidence, although not significant, also points to how the CCSS improves student achievement. Loveless cites a study with eighth grade math students who gained a 1.27 point advantage over peers in schools not implementing the CCSS. Loveless highlights that schools implementing the Common Core Standards had a small but noticeable improvement in student performance both in literacy and numeracy:

“The 1.11 point advantage in reading gains for strong CCSS implementers is similar to the 1.27 point advantage reported last year for eighth grade math. Both are small.”

In the third and last section of the report, Loveless focuses on student engagement through an analysis of the PISA report, “Ready to Learn: Students’ Engagement, Drive, and Self-Beliefs”. The PISA report explores students’ intrinsic motivation – the drive and rewards a student considers valuable and motivate their learning. Among the Brown Centre report’s findings the following correlation stood out:

“Surprisingly, the relationship is negative. Countries with highly motivated kids tend to score lower on the math test; conversely, higher-scoring nations tend to have less-motivated kids.”

As Loveless warns, this correlation doesn’t imply a causation. When looking at evidence at domestic level, the relationship between intrinsic motivation and math achievement doesn’t exist, as “national changes on PISA’s intrinsic motivation index are not associated with changes in math achievement.”

The PISA report offers weak evidence on how student motivation positively affects math achievement in students, Loveless explains. Loveless concludes with advice on how to interpret within-country and between-country achievement data, emphasizing the advantages of “national-level, difference in difference analyses” something that student-level analyses often neglect.