SAT stays at lowest levels in nearly a decade

For a second straight year, SAT scores for the most recent high school graduating class remained at their lowest levels in nearly a decade–a trend some attribute to a higher volume and a less elite population of students now taking the exam.

The 1.52 million students who took the test represent a slight increase from last year but a jump of nearly 30 percent over the past decade. Minority students accounted for 40 percent of test-takers, and 36 percent were the first in their families to attend college. Nearly one in seven had a low enough family income to take the test for free.

"More than ever, the SAT reflects the face of education in this country," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which owns the test and released the results Aug. 26.

The class of 2008 scored an average of 515 out of a possible 800 points on the math section of the college entrance exam–a performance identical to graduating seniors in the previous year.

Scores in the critical-reading component among last spring’s high school seniors also held steady at 502, but the decline over time has been more dramatic: the past two years represent the lowest reading average since 1994, when graduating seniors scored 499. By comparison, the highest average reading score in recent decades was 530 by the class of 1972, although that score dropped dramatically within five years to near present levels.

The latest math average is just five points below the 35-year high of 520, reached three years ago.

Those historical highs are tempered by the test’s more selective reach a generation ago, said Jim Hull, a policy analyst for the Center for Public Education, which is affiliated with the National School Boards Association.

"You only had the best of the best taking the test," he said. "The SAT has become far more inclusive."

Average scores also remained constant on the writing portion of the SAT, which was added to the entrance exam in 2006. For the second year in a row, the average score was 494–a three-point drop from its debut year.

The writing test is still a work in progress, with many colleges waiting for several years of data before factoring that portion into admissions decisions.

But along with its test scores, the College Board also released data reportedly suggesting that scores on the newest portion of the exam are the most accurate gauge of first-year success in college. Studies by the University of Georgia and the University of California support the group’s findings, the College Board reported.

Males on average scored four points higher than females on the reading section (504 vs. 500) and 33 points higher on the math test (533 vs. 500), but females on average outscored their counterparts on the writing test, 501 to 488.

Average ACT scores released earlier this month showed a slight decrease for the class of 2008–21.1 compared to 21.2 a year ago, on a scale of 1 to 36. With 1.42 million test-takers, the rival exam still lags behind the more-entrenched SAT, but is growing at a faster rate, it is reported.

That trend is  likely only to continue, said SAT critic Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), who called the new three-part SAT a "flop." Nearly 800 colleges now consider the SAT an optional test for admissions, according to the group.

"The new SAT … is neither fairer nor more accurate than the exam it replaced," Schaeffer said in a statement. "It underpredicts for females, discouraging them from careers in math and science, and for many minority groups. Because average SAT scores dramatically rise as family income increases, its use in the admissions process gives another leg up to children from wealthy households."

Links:

College Board

FairTest

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Mexicans to use cell phones to pay for services

Mexicans soon will be able to pay for small purchases such as restaurant meals and taxi rides using their mobile telephones, Reuters reports. Telephone operators Telefonica SA and Iusacell are teaming up with big banks such as Citigroup Inc. and BBVA to launch the service, marketed at first toward tech-savvy teenagers and expected to debut over the next few months. Cell phone users will be able to have their bank link their savings account to their telephone so they can make payments to participating stores, restaurants, and taxis by sending a text message, Roberto Rodriguez, in charge of the service, said at a news conference. Using phones to buy items such as train tickets or products in vending machines is commonplace in Japan, but the trend has yet to catch on in the United States…

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Microsoft taps RFID for Tech.Ed delegates

Microsoft on Aug. 25 announced plans to track Australian delegates attending its annual Tech.Ed conference in Sydney next week using RFID tags embedded in conference badges, CNET reports. The move comes months after researchers and students at the University of Washington began a social-networking experiment in which participants voluntarily tagged themselves (see "Study probes RFID use in schools" http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/?i=53854). Microsoft’s social experiment can take place only over the five days of the conference, although it could involve a much larger sample size than the UW experiment, with the conference typically attracting no fewer than 1,000 delegates. The software giant will allow delegates to opt out of the tracking experiment, but they will be enticed to participate with the offer of greater access to conference information. The benefits promoted to delegates to partake the RFID tag experiment include access to real-time information on when sessions are filling up, the ability to see what sessions others are interested in, and tracking where Microsoft regional directors are. Microsoft also will track sessions that each delegate attends and will use that information to customize sessions, the company said in a press statement…

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Small school districts get creative to find teachers

It can be hard to attract new teachers to small school districts, so superintendents have had to become more creative and aggressive, reports the Associated Press. It has always been tough to recruit teachers for specialized positions such as music and industrial arts, but superintendents say it’s never been more difficult than it is today. And the rural settings and lower salaries that small school districts offer can make it even tougher. Recent college graduates tend to dismiss small schools out of hand, because as singles in their early 20s, they see rural areas as a social dead-end. The hiring challenges don’t mean, though, that superintendents are relegated to advertising a position, then praying for applicants. Many are diligently building relationships with education departments in the state’s colleges, then relentlessly pursuing their graduates. Dan Bird, superintendent of Burwell, Neb., public schools, said it’s not unusual for him and his colleagues to call coveted students directly. That’s a significant change from years past, when the candidates had to make themselves stand out to districts. The Giltner, Neb., district owns five homes in town that it rents out to young teachers for a low cost. Other districts try to develop their own teachers…

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Learning in a digital world

Montpelier High School Peter Evans was meeting with a parent recently when the conversation turned to technology in the classroom, reports the Times Argus of Vermont. What is the school’s policy on the use of electronics–iPods, MP3 players, PDAs, digital cameras, and laptops–in class, the father asked Evans. He had been opposed to students using tech devices, the dad told Evans, until he saw his son pull out a cell phone while he was working on his homework one night. The teenager explained that he hadn’t had a chance to copy down math equations on the board at the end of class, so he used his phone to snap a picture of it. "That really changed [the dad’s] mind about how wise kids are using technology," Evans said. "His point was that schools shouldn’t ban the use of the devices, but learn from the students and also create an environment that promotes technology." School administrators and teachers across the state share that opinion. Most Vermont schools haven’t banned the Sidekicks, iPhones, and Zunes that sometimes seem glued to students’ hands. That isn’t to say, however, that they’ve been fully integrated into the classroom–at least, not yet…

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Keeping district files safe

As teachers at the Palisades School District in Pennsylvania return to school this year, they’re getting lessons in how to better protect computer files, reports The Intelligencer of Bucks County, Pa. "It’s of the utmost importance that we monitor our [computer] security," said Palisades Technology Director Gary Adams. Adams is kicking off the school year with new technology security measures aimed at keeping students, staff, and administrators safe from online intruders. Short-term goals focus on training teachers to better protect school computer files, and later this year Palisades’ technology staff will move into a custom-built facility off campus to store and protect main data servers. Palisades will begin by implementing stronger passwords for staff that must be at least eight characters in length and include alpha, numeric, and special characters. Passwords must also be changed every 60 days. Adams and the technology staff will also move user profile data to a file server rather than storing it on a desktop and install new firewall protection with intrusion detection. Keeping teachers’ computer data secure is critical, Adams said, as almost all of their files, including students’ grades, are stored on computers. "We have a lot of confidential information about students and staff," he said. "There has just been way too many security breaches in the news lately and I’d rather be proactive than reactive."

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Intel chair calls for ed reform, STEM innovation

At the annual  Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, hundreds witnessed the birth of a new generation of technologies and saw inspiring presentations. But what seemed to resonate most with the educators on hand was the keynote address delivered by Intel Board Chair Craig Barrett on Aug. 19. His central message: We must achieve global education reform and bring greater innovation to the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Barrett visits more than 30 countries a year, he said, and has worked in the technology industry for 40 years. His experience has led him to a primary realization: We need to bring technology to all countries, improve people’s lives, and connect the world.

As he took the stage–a solitary figure on a platform the size of a football field–Barrett stood looking out over his audience. Behind him a dazzling visual and auditory display depicted innovators demonstrating their inventions and schoolchildren discovering technology. 

Watch video highlights of Barrett’s speech,
including info on a $100,000 education
innovation grant.

"There’s five billion plus people out there where technology can directly impact their daily lives, and can help them out of poverty, and improve their education," said Barrett, after the presentation ended.

He went on to explain that every country he has visited understands that good education, healthcare, and economic development are the path to the future–every country, that is, except for the U.S.

"The future is dependent on the education of the workforce," said Barrett, "but we don’t spend enough time investing in education, incentivizing investment. The lack of a research and development (R&D) tax credit is very revealing. Our government refuses to acknowledge that investing in R&D for the future is important."

Barrett contends four basic ingredients will make a country competitive:
1. Smart people–nurtured by education
2. Smart ideas–enabled by R&D
3. The right environment for collaboration–developed by wise tax policy and funding
4. IT connectivity, broadband, and local content to connect to the culture–achieved via tech literacy

Many educators and education advocates agree with Barrett, saying government-funded R&D is crucial if the U.S. educational system is to compete successfully with other nations.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), says that the federal government needs to spur investment in R&D to improve learning because, though "private companies, such as Intel, do what they can, ultimately the basic research needs to be conducted and funded by the government."

Krueger says no company, no matter how big, could do all the basic research needed for new technologies. "We, meaning both public and private sectors, need to work together to do the extensive R&D necessary to learn how new technologies can benefit learning in the 21st century."

Agreeing with Krueger is Marc Liebman, superintendent of Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. Until the late 1970s, he says, California school districts typically invested approximately 2 percent in R&D, the development of new curriculum, instruction, and teacher development, "But that went away when the state took over the funding of school districts," says Liebman.

He agrees with Barrett that if the education industry doesn’t invest in innovation and doesn’t redesign its schools and classrooms, learning in the U.S. will become antiquated.

"There is little support for innovation in changing the face of education," says Liebman. "We are supposed to do better, but there is little support for the actual work. We have federal and state governments that test what we have always done instead of what we ought to be doing in the future. The result is little innovation."

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) says that the educational marketplace is very challenging as an "incubator for systemic reform and innovation, thus the ATTAIN act and EETT [federal programs funding education technology], as well as tax credits for companies to invest in R & D, serve as a catalyst for improving teaching and learning through innovation."

Other educators place the priority elsewhere. The genuine challenge, they say, is getting their colleagues to apply what’s already been researched and developed.

"It seems to me that the field of education needs more ‘conduits’ who take the research, comprehend how the research could be useful in practice, and educate teachers, policy-makers, and leaders on the practical implications of research in the activities in which they are involved," explains Jane McDonald, a noted education scholar who now heads her own education-research consultancy. "In other words, the bridge from research to practice is not well traveled."

But whether it’s funding at issue, or the lack of practice, Barrett’s speech illuminated the needs of many students in today’s schools. His remarks also highlighted the latest trends in open-source software, micro-financing, and solar energy.

Barrett called to the stage MIT freshman Brian McCarthy, from Oregon, developer of plastic solar cells (usually silicon) for solar energy and third-place winner of Intel’s Science Talent Search (STS), and asked McCarthy to explain how education inspired him.

McCarthy explained how his high school science teacher was able to find him an internship studying with college-level scientists and learning about what interested him–energy.

"I think our current system focuses too much on test scores," explained McCarthy, "because, in reality, no student is going to be excited about taking tests."

The key to inspiring students, McCarthy contends, is to invest in STEM by enabling young people to participate in more science-based opportunities such as internships and after-school programs. He then thanked Barrett and Intel for his $50,000 scholarship to the college of his choice.

Some think Intel is focused too narrowly on developing chip technology and not investing enough in general education, but many others believe Barrett’s work is on par with that of Micorsoft’s Bill Gates in giving students across the world the opportunity to become innovators. Barrett certainly is among the leading corporate advocates for education now that Gates has set aside his corporate role. 

"Barrett is an ambassador for education," says Krueger. "He articulates the need for competitiveness and investment in STEM education. I wouldn’t say he’s stepping into Gates’ shoes, because he’s been speaking out on education for as long as Gates, but just like Gates, he is a vital education spokesperson in the business community."

Wolf, too, lauds Barrett for the way he advocates the use of technology in the classroom "to improve teacher quality, teaching practice, as well as furthering the science of learning."

Says Wolf, "The Intel Teach program is an example of where Intel’s Foundation has trained millions of teachers in the US and throughout the world about the effective uses of technology in the classroom. His efforts are to be applauded and replicated in corporations across this country–not only those with technologies to offer but those companies in need of a high-quality, highly skilled workforce."

Barrett ended his keynote by offering developers a challenge for next year’s IDF. Intel will offer four awards of $100,000 each to the developer with the most innovative idea in one of four categories: education, healthcare, economic development, and the environment. Those interested can find more at www.intelchallenge.com.

"At a lot of hotels in Kuala Lumpur, the staff puts fortunes and advice underneath your chocolates on your pillow," said Barrett. "The one I remember the most said, ‘A small deed done is better than a great deed planned.’"

Links:

Intel Developer Forum 2008

Craig Barrett’s Keynote

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Apple sued over claims of poor iPhone service

As complaints about the new Apple iPhone 3G mount, an Alabama woman is suing Apple for what she describes as inconsistent service and false advertising.

The iPhone 3G was advertised as sporting "twice the speed for half the price" before its summer release – a claim Jessica Alena Smith has found to be misleading. In a U.S. District Court in Alabama Aug. 19, Smith filed a lawsuit claiming that her smartphone’s "internet connection, receipt and sending of eMail, text messages, and other data transfers were slower than expected and advertised."

Smith claimed that her iPhone would alternate between the high-speed AT&T 3G cell phone network and the much slower Edge network. This would happen even when the phone was stationary, according to the lawsuit. Smith said the inconsistent eMail service and faulty network connections happened almost immediately after she bought Apple’s newest smartphone.

Apple misled customers in the months preceding its much-anticipated 3G release, Smith charges in the lawsuit.

"Defendant intended for customers to believe its statements and representations about the defective iPhone 3Gs, and to trust that the device was ‘twice as fast at half the price,’" the lawsuit says.

This is not the first time Apple has faced legal action over the performance of its highly-touted iPhone. Shortly after the first iPhone was released in 2007, class action lawsuits were filed in Illinois and California. Earlier this month, Apple unveiled a software update for complaining customers. The update was available through the company’s music and movie web site, iTunes, and was designed to fix "bugs" that had run rampant in recent months, according to Apple.

Technology web sites are filled with accounts of consistently dropped calls on the newest iPhone, although some customers say their iPhone is reliable and fast when the 3G network is working properly.

In her lawsuit, Smith asks for repair or replacement of every defective iPhone. She also requests unspecified damages and attorney’s fees.

Link:

Apple 3G iPhone

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A teacher on the front line as faith and science clash

With a mandate to teach evolution but little guidance as to how, Florida’s science teachers are contriving their own ways to turn a culture war into a lesson plan–and how they fare might affect whether a new generation of Americans embraces scientific evidence alongside religious belief, reports the New York Times. In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state’s public schools to teach evolution, calling it "the organizing principle of life science." Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years. But in a nation where evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions stress a literal reading of the biblical description of God’s individually creating each species, students often arrive at school fearing that evolution, and perhaps science itself, is hostile to their faith. Some come armed with "Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution," a document circulated on the internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out. Passionate on the subject, Ridgeview High School biology teacher David Campbell helped to devise the state’s new evolution standards, which will be phased in starting this fall. A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, he fought hard for their passage. But with his students this spring, he found himself treading carefully, as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom…

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Olympics set the stage for emerging web-tech fight

As the world’s best athletes competed in Beijing, the summer Olympic games were setting the stage for a battle between Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. over the internet’s next big competition, Reuters reports. Microsoft’s Silverlight technology and rival Adobe’s Flash format are currently locked in a race over who delivers the world’s online video, but the ultimate prize might be who powers the next generation of web software. Using Silverlight, the NBC web site offered a glimpse of what is possible with future web applications, because viewers were able to watch up to four videos at once or follow the action with an online commentary that runs alongside the video. More than 40 million U.S. viewers have gone to NBC’s Olympics site to watch some of the 2,200 hours of live footage from the Beijing games. All those viewers need is a Silverlight player on their browser if they do not have one already. By building up Silverlight’s user base, the world’s largest software maker is looking to win over developers who see web platforms such as Silverlight and Flash as a new way to deliver powerful web-linked programs incorporating rich graphics. Currently, those platforms are mainly reserved for multimedia applications such as Google Inc’s popular YouTube site, which runs on Adobe’s Flash technology. "It’s quickly becoming a very popular way to build next generation applications. There’s a lot of interest in capturing the hearts and minds of developers," said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It’ll be a big business."

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