January
3rd 2014
Can Schools Boost Brain Skills for Reading, Not Just Raise Test Scores?

Posted under Grades and Standards & learning & reading & Research & School Accountability & Suburban Schools

Thanks once again to the edublog linking queen Joanne Jacobs, a December Scientific American column by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman caught my attention. And it should yours, too.

The author unpacks a study of Boston students that found while some schools improved performance on standardized academic assessments, they didn’t really improve measures of cognitive ability. In other words, better schools boost scores on math and reading tests, but those students’ brain skills still are functioning about the same.

Kaufman begins the column by citing some of his own recent research that unsurprisingly shows “good standardized test takers also tend to have high cognitive ability.” I am curious to see more about how the two results mesh. As more schools increase test scores without registering an effect on brain skills, does the identified relationship or tendency fade?

But in the end, the psychologist makes the point that he isn’t as concerned about either standardized assessment results or cognitive abilities as much as having the education system focused on instilling creativity and “deep, meaningful learning that students will remember the rest of their lives.” (Though admittedly, these things are harder to measure, and accountability matters — which is why Douglas County is looking to expand frontiers through a Balanced Assessment System.)

Kaufman well may have a good point, one with which many parents would be justified in agreeing. However, to get on board with the maximum potential for a creative learning journey, students need to be equipped with proficient reading abilities. For some students who struggle to get there, that means diagnosing weaknesses and providing strategies to improve what…? Brain skills.

All that’s old is new again. It took me back four years almost exactly to the day, when I asked: “The future is here, what about brain skills testing?” The focus was on a nonprofit group known as Cognitive First. Founder Larry Hargrave later returned in 2012 for a podcast interview with one of my Education Policy Center friends.

The group makes the case that their methods could help beef up reading proficiency rates above 94 percent. As 2014 dawns, Cognitive First still is actively working in schools across many states, including Colorado. How well documented, tested, and peer reviewed are their results? And how can any success they’re achieving be scaled up?

I don’t know. But their work and a thought-provoking Scientific American column ought to remind us that achievement test scores are just the beginning of the prescription, not the be-all and end-all of education results. So much to learn, so little time.

3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Can Schools Boost Brain Skills for Reading, Not Just Raise Test Scores?”

  1. David torres MD on 03 Jan 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    The human brain is designed to develop in an outdoor environment learning visual – spatial skills chasing rabbits while walking along the foothills of Colorado solving problems in survival. Even salamanders know the difference between a pile of 19 ants and a pile ifv11 ants and will always go after the pile that has more. In this way , essence street in the 1970s had it absolutely correct by teaching which pole had more and which pile had less . Teaching a kid at a very young age which pile has more grains of rice at the breakfast bar enhances neurodevelopment speeding up language acquisition. If you have an interest learning more about neurodevelopment in children and cognitive improvement as a primary end point measure with medication management please give me a call ,
    Best
    David Torres MD
    303.898.1099

  2. David torres MD on 03 Jan 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    The human brain develops symbolic representation for acquiring language by developing the basic math principles of greater than and lesser than. Learning to read and write first is a waste of time as basic math skills set the brain up to learn symbols best in order to learn language.

  3. Can Schools Boost Brain Skills for Reading, Not Just Raise Test Scores? | My Blog on 05 Jan 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    [...] Education Policy Center [...]

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