Why are the majority of fourth graders scoring below grade level in English Language Arts?
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in California has created a need to increase the rigor in elementary schools to ensure students are ready for middle and high school. Frequently, students are being asked to read and analyze text at or above their grade level in order to be considered standards met. According to the California Department of Education (CDE), “To satisfy federal requirements, state summative assessments must test students on grade-level content. To reflect the range of student knowledge and skills, test content for each grade level reflects a significant range of difficulty.” Consequently, for students who continue to struggle with reading and the ability to read and answer questions that require grade level skills, success on this summative assessment will remain a challenge.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders perform at the proficient level (2015). There was a 1% gain for 4th and 2% decline in scores for 8th graders since 2013. In 2015, the average score of fourth-grade students in California was 213. This was lower than the average score of 221 for public school students in the nation. In 2015, 60% of 4th graders in California did not meet the standards on the CAASPP Language Arts test and 80% of EL 4th graders did not meet the standards. These scores demonstrate that there is a significant gap in the way in which instruction is delivered to the students in the classroom and their ability to understand and retain it.
Strengthening student engagement has become a challenge for educators at all levels. Research findings have pointed out over and over that students abilities to learn and academic progress increase when engagement is high. Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison (2011) are educators that have focused their research on promoting engagement for all learners. They found that by “asking authentic questions-that is, questions to which the teacher does not already know the answer or which there are not predetermined answers-is extremely powerful in creating a classroom that feels intellectually engaging” (2011). In essence, if students are not being allowed the opportunity to have a tactile and hands-on approach to enhance their own learning, then they are being denied the chance of discovery and inquiry, which are both skills that foster learning engagement and retainment. Needless to say, self-discovery and whole class inquiry are essential tools “That generate or help promote class inquiry, discovery, framing learning as a complex, multifaceted, communal activity as opposed to a process of simply accumulating information” (Church, Morrison, Ritchhart, 2011, p.). It is important for students to understand the meaning of what they are learning in order to enhance retention. Though a rote style of learning may help a student study for a test, research concludes that it does not help a student retain information (Wolfe, 2001). Similarly, retention of information through rote practice isn’t learning; it is training.” (Church, Morrison, Ritchhart, 2011, p.).
Presently, students are increasingly required to use technology in a learning environment. Similar to asking authentic questions, technology can be used as a tool for student engagement; with its effectiveness still being met with mixed reviews. There is evidence that technology in certain areas is not beneficial to students (Cramer & Smith, 2001). On the other hand, there is evidence that points to the use of technology increasing achievement and self-efficacy (Liu, Hsieh, Cho, & Schallert, 2006). Research clearly suggests that technology as a tool assists teachers in creating and presenting subject matter that is interesting, intriguing, relevant, and something that students can relate to. For example, in a 2001 study from the National Training Laboratories, results found that only 5% of information delivered in a lecture is retained. However, there is a 50% retention rate for discussion groups and 70% for practice by doing (Miller, 2008). This information brings clarity to the need for students to be actively involved with their own research and understanding of concepts presented and taught to them in class. Through the use of technology, students can find resources and information that lead them to the answers to their questions.
In order for technology to serve its purpose as a learning tool, effective teaching practices with technology needs to take place. Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) studies found “that technology, when used appropriately, can facilitate an increase in collaboration, dynamic exploration of information, problem solving and experimentation, social awareness, independence, and positive orientation toward the future” (Rein, 2000). Educators need to be aware of the fact that the effectiveness of technology takes time. Integration of technology throughout the curriculum needs planning and professional development. Through appropriate teacher led lessons, students have the opportunity to become experts in any given field with the use of technology.
Can the implementation of Google Classroom increase the literacy skills of students? The question is being asked due to the lack of increasing state scores in English Language Arts. The answer ensures that technology in the classroom, if used appropriately, can be a valuable learning tool. In order for students to utilize technology in the classroom as a learning tool, the teacher has to create opportunities for engagement, to challenge misconceptions, to delve deeply, to explore, to create meaning, to think-in short, opportunities to learn (Ritchhart, 2015).
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