Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Removing incentives for dumbing down through curriculum re-structure and additional study time / Gordon Stanley [and] Robert G. MacCann.
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E DUCATION P OLICY A NALYSIS A RCHIVES A peer reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Sherman Dorn College of Education University of South Florida Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Education Policy Analysis Archives EPAA is published jointly by the Colleges of Education at Arizona State University and the University of South Florida. Articles are indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals ( ). Volume 13 Number 2 January 6 2005 ISSN 1068 2341 Removing I ncentives for Dumbing Down T hrough C urriculum R e structure and A dditional S tudy T ime Gordon Stanley Robert G. MacCann Board of Studies N ew S outh W ales, Australia Citation: St anley, G. & MacCann, R. G. (2005, January 6 ). Removing incentiv es for d umbing down through curriculum re structure and additional study time Educat ion Policy Analysis Archives, 13 (2 ). Retrieved [date] from 3n2 /. Abstract Offering differentiated courses to cater for a wide range of ability can lead to dumbing down when brighter students choose easier courses, which they can handle well without undue effort. This occurred when differentiated English courses were introduce d in the senior secondary certificate in the state of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia. To avoid this trend continuing, new differentiated courses reported on a common scale were developed. At the same time a new preparatory course was provided to suppor t weaker students to achieve the minimal standard in English. The resulting reform has led to stronger outcomes in English and increasing numbers of students taking more demanding courses. Defining clear standards on a common scale has led to better achiev ement for all students without having an adverse effect on participation in the senior secondary certificate. Introduction Recent reforms to the offerings of English courses in the senior secondary certificate in the State of New South Wales (NSW) in Au stralia were designed to avoid dumbing down and to increase student performance. English is a compulsory subject in the senior secondary school certificate, the Higher School Certificate (HSC), awarded at the end of Year 12. The HSC is examined through a series of state wide external subject examinations set by the NSW Board of Studies.


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 2 To meet the wide range of student ability in English a number of courses had been offered for some years. From 1989 English was differentiated into four courses ranging in difficulty level from the Contemporary English course which had been introduced to cater for weaker students to the most demanding extension 3 Unit course. To meet the mandatory requirements students could select one of three courses: Contemporary, Gene ral or Related English. One step up in average ability level from Contemporary English was the General English course, intended for the majority of students. Higher ability students who enrolled in the more demanding Related English course were eligible to take 3 Unit English as an optional extension course. As can be seen in Table 1 the experience of introducing the differentiated course structure led over time to a decline in the numbers of students taking the more challenging courses. This dumbing do wn was the subject of attention during a major review of the HSC (McGaw, 1997) and the State Minister for Education in outlining his proposals for reform stated This is the archetypal example of differentiated courses within a subject without a common re porting scale, leading to a lowering of expectations and outcomes of students. (Aquilina, 1997, p 12). Table 1 The D ecline of E nrolments in D emanding English C ourses Courses 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 English 3 Unit 3603 3546 3270 2876 21 73 1732 Related English 11428 10103 8856 7475 6820 6031 General English 32319 33625 32186 30910 29720 29741 Contemporary English 8127 11901 14519 16639 17796 18224 Total Enrolments 55477 59175 58831 57900 56509 55728 To counter this d umbing down the NSW Board of Studies developed two new courses, Standard and Advanced English, with some overlapping content to allow for reporting on a common scale. Standard English was designed to be more rigorous than Contemporary English and to be c omparable in demand to the General English course. Advanced English replaced the earlier Related English course. By placing Standard and Advanced English on a common reporting scale, it was hoped that there would be less incentive for capable students to take the less demanding course if they could demonstrate higher outcomes more readily by taking the more demanding course. In addition, two optional extension courses, English Extension 1 and 2 were developed as higher level courses which could only be un dertaken by students who had enrolled for the Advanced English course. Extension 1 replaced the old 3 Unit English and Extension 2 is a new high level option with an extended composition in either the print, sound, visual or multimedia medium as the outcom e. Extension 2 is only available as an add on option for students enrolled in Extension 1. The first Year 12 cohort taking these new courses was examined in 2001. McGaw (1997) outlines the concerns raised about the effect of the highly differentiated cour se structure that had existed in the one compulsory HSC subject English. He observes that teachers were more likely to encourage perceived low ability students to enrol in the lowest level course, where they might be denied the challenge to intellectual development that could


Stanley & MacCann: Removing Incentives for Dumbing Down 3 come from enrolling in a higher level course. There is a large body of research, (e.g. Douglass, 1964; Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968); Mackler; 1969; Chaiken, Sigler and Derlega, 1974; Cooper, Burger and Seymour, 1979; Cooper, Hinke l and Good, 1980; Cooper and Good, 1983) on how teachers expectations can influence student interactions and academic development in the classroom. Having high expectations for students has been shown to have an impact on student performance (Bamburg and Andrews, 1989). At one end of the spectrum are schools where teachers may take the easy way out by dumbing down the local curriculum to a bare minimum in order to make matters as comfortable as possible for themselves and their students, and the stud ents have little sense of accomplishment (Powell, Farrer and Cohen, 1985; Sedlak et al., 1986). At the other end are programs such as those run by Jaime Escalante at Garfield High school in Los Angeles (Mathews, 1988) which emphasise persever a nce and prac tice. Of interest is the international comparative research of Stevenson and Stigler (1992), which attributes much of the high performance of Japanese and Chinese students in mathematics to high expectations being set for the students by teachers, parents and the students themselves. This research compared Japanese and Chinese educational practices with those in American schools. One important difference was the emphasis placed on innate ability compared to hard work. In comparison to the US, the Asian countries tended to emphasise the latter more than the former and to not necessarily regard low scores as an indicator of low ability, but as evidence that the student had not yet applied sufficient effort and hard work. The Government reform required a way to address the needs of students who would be challenged by the increased demands of the Standard course relative to the former Contemporary course and addressed this by introducing a special voluntary course that supplied extra work and practice in E nglish Fundamentals of English (FE): The government recognises the need to support students with a history of low achievement in English to meet the requirements for the Higher School Certificate in English, not only because it is the sole compulsory subj ect, but because literacy in English underpins success for students across the curriculum. The Governments strategy is based on a desire to raise the achievement level of students to Higher School Certificate standard rather than to lower the standard tha t the Higher School Certificate should demand of them. Accordingly, the Government will authorise the development of further strategies for students of lower achievement in English, including a Fundamentals of English course in Year 11, to be studied in ad dition to and complementary with the Year 11 English course. This Board developed course will enable students to spend more time on, and receive more intensive tuition in, the Preliminary course (Year 11) in English. It will equip them to participate in mo re satisfying learning and to achieve more successful outcomes across all subject areas in both years 11 and 12. (Aquilina, 1997, p13). The Fundamentals of English course, which would not be directly examined by the central authority, was developed as ei ther a one or two Unit course with a prime purpose to assist performance in Standard English and hopefully with spill over benefits to other subjects. It was designed to help students struggling with the basics of English to improve their fundamental skil ls. For students for whom English is a second language, a new English as a Second Language (ESL) course was developed as an alternative to Standard or Advanced English in meeting the


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 4 compulsory English requirement for the HSC. Strict eligibility requireme nts were introduced for this course to discourage students from enrolling in it inappropriately. The new English courses were introduced in 2001 at the same time as a number of other reforms to curriculum and reporting. The most significant of these refo rms was to move from a norm referenced reporting of marks to a standards referencing approach for all subjects in the HSC. Results of the R eforms Participation As can be seen in Table 2 the effects of the reform on enrolments in the demanding English c ourses was to reverse the previous trends for students to dumb down. Not only did larger numbers of students take the Advanced course than was the case with the previous Related English course, the numbers in the optional extension courses have risen sub stantially in each year since the reform. Table 2 The increase in enrolments in demanding English courses Courses 2001 2002 2003 English Extn 2 1435 1727 2289 English Extn 1 3815 4227 5174 English Advanced 20126 20869 24583 English Stand ard 36300 37278 33098 Total Enrolments 61676 64101 65144 The above statistics are for the entire statewide candidatures. An examination of enrolment trends in schools containing generally low ability students was also performed for the mandatory Engli sh courses. For this purpose, schools were defined as low ability if at least 75% of the school candidature in English were enrolled in Contemporary English in 2000. The pattern of enrolments for these schools from 2000 to 2003 is shown in Table 3 belo w. Table 3 Enrolment pattern for schools with predominantly low ability students Courses 2000 2001 2002 2003 Contemporary English 1516 General English 331 Related English 8 ESL 47 61 53 Standard English 1537 1510 1420 Advanced Eng lish 226 260 369 Total enrolments 1855 1810 1831 1842


Stanley & MacCann: Removing Incentives for Dumbing Down 5 The total enrolments row indicates that the total candidature of schools in this group did not vary greatly over the time period. In 2000, only 8 students in the group took a demanding English cour se, whereas in 2001 this had risen to 226 and by 2003 had increased to 369. Apart from a small group of students that went into ESL, it appears that most of the students who formerly would have done Contemporary English now enrolled in Standard English, a much more difficult course. While the majority of students are in this course, this is dropping slightly over time as more students are entering Advanced English. Performance The results of students in Standard English and Advanced English are repor ted with reference to six bands defined as common performance standards. In this reporting framework Band 2 represents the minimum standard expected. Bands 2 6 have performance content descriptor statements. Table 3 shows the percentage of students achievi ng each band level across the two courses. Table 4 Percentage of students in each performance band in Standard and Advanced English from 2001 2003 Standard English Advanced English Band 2001 2002 2003 2001 2002 2003 6 0.00 0.00 0.00 4.37 6.97 6.85 5 0.35 1.14 1.92 33.24 48.67 34.85 4 15.02 29.72 32.27 51.48 37.26 46.58 3 56.77 43.15 47.32 10.58 6.72 11.14 2 23.57 23.09 17.58 0.31 0.37 0.55 1 4.29 2.90 0.91 0.02 0.02 0.03 These results show that students with the ability to demonstrate the more advanced skills reflected in bands 5 and 6 tend to take the Advanced English course, a result in line with the purpose of the reform to encourage students to aim for higher outcomes. Over the three years fewer stud ents in Band 1 in Standard English indicate that more of the weaker students are achieving the minimum expected standard (Band 2) or above. The E ffect of the Fundamentals of English C ourse A central question is: how do candidates who take the Fundame ntals of English course compare with candidates who do not? Consider the situation where low achieving students are measured before a treatment, the treatment is given, and the students are measured after the treatment (termed a pre experimental design in Campbell and Stanley, 1966). It is important to note that the selection of these low achieving students in this study was not determined by the pretest measure. If it were, then statistical regression would ensure an improvement in the posttest. The groups were self selected through their decision to take the Fundamentals of English course. In our case, the before measurement is a raw score on the


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 6 School Certificate (SC) English external test in Year 10, the treatment is the extra work undertaken i n the FE course in Years 11/12 and the after measurement is the scaled mark in the appropriate Higher School Certificate (HSC) English course at the end of Year 12. For the purposes of analysis, students with non missing values on all relevant measures w ere selected. To facilitate comparisons, the mean scores of the FE taking groups are expressed as Z scores relative to the majority groups, the non FE taking groups. Analyses were performed for two consecutive HSC cohorts, for the years 2001 (Table 5, Tab le 6) and 2002 (Table 7, Table 8). Table 5 below shows the summary statistics in the 2001 Standard English scaled examination marks for the groups of students who varied in the number of units of FE studied. Table 5 2001 Standard English and SC Engl ish S tatistics for FE categories Measure FE units N Mean SD Z score Before 2 1741 54.4 13.22 0.55 SC raw 1 1203 57.2 13.53 0.33 none 30942 61.3 12.49 After 2 1741 30.2 4.47 0.26 HSC Scaled 1 1203 30.7 4.46 0.12 none 30942 3 1.2 3.93 The pretest measures suggest that the students taking 2 units of FE on average were slightly weaker than the students taking 1 unit of FE who were slightly weaker than the students not taking FE. On the posttest the groups retained the same rank order of the means but the means were closer together. On the HSC measure, the 2U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.55 to 0.26. Similarly, the 1U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.33 to 0.12. Table 6 below shows the summary statistics in the 2001 ESL scaled examination marks for the groups of students who varied in the number of units of FE studied. Table 6 2001 ESL and SC English S tatistics for FE categories Measure FE units N Mean SD Z score Befo re 2 194 36.4 13.25 0.23 SC raw 1 153 38.6 14.50 0.07 none 488 39.6 14.18 After 2 194 34.9 5.41 0.03 HSC Scaled 1 153 35.8 5.69 0.12 none 488 35.1 5.93


Stanley & MacCann: Removing Incentives for Dumbing Down 7 A similar result occurred in ESL. Those students taking 2 units of FE (Z= 0.23) were weaker than those taking 1 unit of FE ( 0.07) and both groups were weaker than the majority group not taking FE. On the HSC measure, however, the 2U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.23 to 0.03 and the 1U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.07 to 0.12, the latter result being slightly above the majority group. Tables 7 and 8 reproduce the same analyses for the 2002 HSC cohort. Table 7 2002 Standard English and SC English S tatistics for FE C ategories Measure FE uni ts N Mean SD Z score Before 2 2003 54.03 11.43 0.25 SC raw 1 1160 49.54 12.23 0.65 none 31587 56.77 11.17 After 2 2003 32.32 4.26 0.02 HSC Scaled 1 1160 30.82 5.01 0.33 none 31587 32.22 4.26 Table 8 2002 ESL and SC English S tatistics for FE C ategories Measure FE units N Mean SD Z score Before 2 195 40.35 12.50 0.18 SC raw 1 165 33.79 12.48 0.36 none 507 38.19 12.31 After 2 195 37.38 4.83 0.35 HSC Scaled 1 165 34.16 6.54 0.20 none 507 35.35 5.79 The mean results show that in Standard English, the 2U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.25 to 0.02, moving from below the reference group mean to slightly above it. Similarly, the 1U FE group improved its Z score p osition from 0.65 to 0.33. A similar result occurred in ESL. This time, however, the 2 Unit FE group was above the mean on the SC pretest. It improved its Z score position from 0.18 to 0.35 and the 1U FE group improved its Z score position from 0.3 6 to 0.20.


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 8 Discussion From a policy perspective the data presented in this report show the importance of setting high standards for all students. Providing differentiated courses to cater for a wide range of ability can lead to students being content ed with lower performance than they are capable of achieving. Placing differentiated courses on a common reporting scale can be seen to remove the incentive to dumb down and leads to better outcomes for all students. In the present case the expectation o f higher standards for all does not appear to have had an adverse effect on participation and retention of weaker students. Most likely this result is due to the provision of an enabling course, Fundamentals of English, assisting in achieving better outcom es for weaker students. However the limitations of the pre experimental design for measuring the effectiveness of the Fundamentals of English course suggest caution should be employed in interpreting the effect of this course too strongly. Although sel ection of the groups was not based on the pretest (SC English), it is theoretically possible that indirect selection effects could have taken place. The choice of whether to take Fundamentals of English may be a complex matter involving many factors, wh ich are not easily measured or even identified. If a theoretical selection variable could be hypothesised, comprising a composite of these factors, then it is possible that it may correlate more strongly with the pretest measure than the posttest meas ure. If so, then upward regression would occur less on the pretest than the postest, producing a result that mimics improvement. Of the four data sets analysed here, however, this possibility seems unlikely given that the improvement noted has someti mes crossed the mean of zero, going from a negative Z score to a positive one. Another rival explanation could hypothesise possible maturational factors that would have allowed the weaker students to improve, regardless of whether they did the extra work in Fundamentals of English. While it is not possible to claim that the improvement in each of the four groups is due solely to their taking Fundamentals of English, these results are encouraging for the implementation of Fundamentals of English.


Stanley & MacCann: Removing Incentives for Dumbing Down 9 Refe rences Aquilina, J. (1997). Securing their Future: The New South Wales Governments Reforms for the Higher School Certificate NSW Minister for Education and Training, Bridge St Sydney. Bamburg, J. and Andrews, R. (1989). School goals, principals, and achievement. School Effectiveness and School Improvement 2 (3), 175 191. Campbell, T. and Stanley, J.C. (1966). Experimental and Quasi Experimental Designs for Research Rand McNally College Publishing Company, Chicago. Chaikin, A., Sigler. E. and De rlega, V. (1974). Nonverbal mediators of teacher expectancy effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 30 (1), 144 149. Cooper, H., Burger, J. and Seymour, G. (1979). Classroom context and student ability as influences on teacher perceptions of classroom control. American Educational Research Journal 16 (2), 189 196. Cooper, H. and Good, T. (1983). Pygmalion grows up: Studies in the expectation communication process White Plains, NY: Longman. Cooper, H., Hinkel, G. and Good, T. (1980). Teac hers' beliefs about interaction control and their observed behavioral correlates. Journal of Educational Psychology 72 (3), 345 354. Douglas, J. (1964). The home and the school: A study of ability and attainment in the primary school London: MacGibbon a nd Kee. Mackler, B. (1969). Grouping in the ghetto. Education and Urban Society 2 (1), 80 96. Mathews, J. (1988). Escalante: the Best Teacher in America. Henry Holt and Company. McGaw, B. (1997). Shaping Their Future: Recommendations for the Ref orm of the Higher School Certificate Sydney: Department of Education and Training Co ordination. Powell, A., Farrar, E. and Cohen, D. (1985). The shopping mall high school: Winners and losers in the educational marketplace Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teachers' expectations and pupils' intellectual development New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Sedlak, M., Wheeler, C., Pullin, D. and Cusick, P. (1986). Selling students short: Classroom bargains and academic reform in the American high school New York: Teachers College Press. Stevenson, H. and Stigler, J. (1992). The learning gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education New York, NY: Summit Books. About the Authors Dr Gordon Stanley is President of the NSW Board of Studies, Adjunct Professor, School of Policy and Practice, in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney and Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Un iversity of Melbourne. Email:


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 10 Dr Robert MacCann is Head, Measurement and Research Services, within the NSW Board of Studies, Sydney Australia. Email: Postal mail: Board of Studies NSW, GPO Box 5300, Sydney 2001 Australia


Stanley & MacCann: Removing Incentives for Dumbing Down 11 Education Policy Analysis Archives http:// Editor: Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Production Assistant: Chris Murrell, Arizona State University General questions about appropriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Sherman Dorn, epaa ed EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin David C. Berliner Arizona State University Greg Camilli Rutgers University Linda Darling Hammond Stanford University Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Gustavo E. Fischman Arizona State Univeristy Richard Garlikov Birmingham, Alabama Gene V Glass Arizona State University Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Ontario Institute of Technology Patricia Fey Jarvis Seattle, Washington Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs Pugh Green Mountain College Les McLean University of Toronto Hei nrich Mintrop University of California, Berkeley Michele Moses Arizona State University Gary Orfield Harvard University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Jay Paredes Scribner University of Missouri Mi chael Scriven Western Michigan University Lorrie A. Shepard University of Colorado, Boulder Robert E. Stake University of Illinois UC Kevin Welner University of Colorado, Boulder Terrence G. Wiley Arizona State University John Willinsky University of British Columbia


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 2 12 Archivos Analticos de Polticas Educativas Associate Editors Gustavo E. Fischman & Pablo Gentili Arizona State University & Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Founding Associate Edi tor for Spanish Language (1998 2003) Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Editorial Board Hugo Aboites Universidad Autnoma Metropolitana Xochimilco Adrin Acosta Universidad de Guadalajara Mxico Claudio Almonacid Avila Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educacin, Chile Dalila Andrade de Oliveira Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brasil Alejandra Birgin Ministerio de Educacin, Argentina Teresa Bracho Centro de Investigacin y Docencia Econmica CIDE Alejandro Canales Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Ursula Casanova Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona Sigfredo Chiroque Instituto de Pedagoga Popular, Per Erwin Epstein Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois Mariano Fernndez Enguita Universidad de Salamanca. Espaa Gaudncio Frigotto Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Rollin Kent Universidad Autnoma de Puebla. Puebla, Mxico Walter Kohan Universidade E stadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Roberto Leher Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Daniel C. Levy University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, New York Nilma Limo Gomes Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte Pia Lindquist Wong Califor nia State University, Sacramento, California Mara Loreto Egaa Programa Interdisciplinario de Investigacin en Educacin Mariano Narodowski Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Argentina Iolanda de Oliveira Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brasil Grover Pan go Foro Latinoamericano de Polticas Educativas, Per Vanilda Paiva Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Miguel Pereira Catedratico Universidad de Granada, Espaa Angel Ignacio Prez Gmez Universidad de Mlaga Mnica Pini Universidad Nacio nal de San Martin, Argentina Romualdo Portella do Oliveira Universidade de So Paulo Diana Rhoten Social Science Research Council, New York, New York Jos Gimeno Sacristn Universidad de Valencia, Espaa Daniel Schugurensky Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Canada Susan Street Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social Occidente, Guadalajara, Mxico Nelly P. Stromquist University of Southern California, L os Angeles, California Daniel Suarez Laboratorio de Politicas Publicas Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina Antonio Teodoro Universidade Lusfona Lisboa, Carlos A. Torres UCLA Jurjo Torres Santom Universidad de la Corua, Espaa


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