RD170 - Final Report on the Comparison of Academic Achievement in Virginia with Leading Industrialized Countries

Executive Summary:
In 2011, the Virginia Commission on Youth adopted a two-year study plan, "Comparison of Academic Achievement in Virginia and in Leading Industrialized Countries," to explore the following issues:

• Students in the United States lag in academic performance when compared with students in other industrialized countries, particularly in science and mathematics.

• The 2009 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment indicated that, of the 34 countries evaluated, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.

• The United States falls far behind the highest scoring countries, including South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai in China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

• Today’s United States graduates compete in a global job market where highly skilled workers are in increasing demand. While other countries have made significant improvements in education, the United States has made only incremental improvements.

• The decline in the academic achievement of American students and the failing condition of public education has been prominent among national and state concerns about the United States’ ability to compete internationally.

• In the early 1980s, the Commonwealth of Virginia hosted a national meeting on “A Nation at Risk” to reform and strengthen public education. Since that meeting, Virginia education initiatives have included the Standards of Learning, the Virginia Preschool Initiative, the Governor’s magnet, charter, virtual, laboratory, and alternative schools, dual enrollment, year-round schools, and career and technical education schools. These initiatives provide options for Virginia students to meet their educational needs and, as a result, significant progress in student achievement has been achieved.

• Despite progress made to date, public education in Virginia is not immune to the challenges confronting American education. Disregarding the distress signs would be imprudent and pose a significant threat to state economic status and success in the global marketplace.

• Virginia needs a cadre of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, educators, physicians, and entrepreneurs, and a steady supply of the brightest minds in all other professions and occupations to maintain and improve Virginia’s productivity and competitive edge.

• It is critical to evaluate the academic achievement of Virginia’s students, relative to the reported outpacing in education by students in other countries, in order to improve and strengthen Virginia’s schools and learning opportunities for its students.

Exploring other countries’ educational policies has the potential to enhance Virginia’s educational policy and practice. A comparison of the highest performing countries can provide valuable insights that the Commonwealth may adopt or adapt. While it could be argued that comparing countries has limited meaning due to cultural and societal differences, the purpose of this study is to present and acknowledge these differences, and determine which aspects could be incorporated to increase student achievement in our schools.

First Year Study

During the first year of the study, the Commission contracted with the College of William and Mary to identify countries and conduct a literature review to provide a profile of each country with elements that could then be evaluated for potential adoption/adaptation by Virginia. Several factors were considered to identify countries (and regions of countries) that would generate comparative and contrasting data most beneficial to Virginia. Of the top performing countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments, factors such as geographical region, population, population density, and gross domestic product (GDP) were used to narrow the list of countries used in the comparison.

Based on a careful review of the literature and other available sources, six countries with high quality educational systems were selected for a more in-depth analysis. The process of country selection encompassed a range of sources (governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental publications, surveys, international and national professional and academic journal articles, and websites) to identify the countries. Selection was made based on geographic diversity and availability of sufficient data.

The countries selected for comparison were:

• Canada was selected due to its proximity to the United States, its similarly diverse student population, and its decentralized educational system. Although not among the top five countries, according to the TIMSS and PISA, Canada performs at the same level as Japan and New Zealand, and outscores the United States significantly.

• Shanghai is new to international assessment but significantly outperformed even the previously top performing countries in all three categories, according to PISA 2009.

• South Korea only has secondary school level data available on international assessments of PISA and TIMSS; however, the available data ranks South Korea among the top two in PISA Reading Grade 10 assessment and TIMSS Math Grade 8 assessment, as well as the top four in PISA Math Grade 10 and TIMSS Science Grade 8, and top six in PISA Science Grade 10.

• Singapore consistently ranks among the top countries across years, grades, and subjects, based on both TIMSS and PISA results.

• Finland is consistently ranked among the top five on international assessments and provided representation of a European nation. Finland provides outstanding education, with less emphasis on standardized testing and with fewer school system resources. This ability to do more with less may provide valuable information for improving the Virginia educational system.

• The Netherlands was added upon the request of the Virginia Commission on Youth during the preliminary presentation made in December 2011. The Netherlands ranked 10th in reading, 12th in mathematics, and 11th in science in the 2009 PISA; on the Grade 4 TIMMS, The Netherlands ranked 9th among industrialized nations.

Researchers conducted a comprehensive literature review of selected countries, the performance of students in the targeted countries with that of students in the United States, with particular focus on what is known about Virginia students. The review attempted to identify attributes that explain/support the positive educational outcomes in the selected countries. Policies and practices that could be adopted in Virginia were identified for further study and a determination of feasibility for implementation in Virginia.

The initial findings and recommendations were published as an interim report in Report Document No. 218, 2012. Updated first-year report data is provided in Sections VII and VIII of this report.

Second Year Study

Further review and refinement of data gathered during the first year was completed during the second year of the study. This included addressing additional questions raised by the Commission on Youth during the initial presentation in December 2011. Themes for further discussion were selected based on the clarity of information available and the portability of interventions/actions. The Commission on Youth adopted the second year study plan on May 14, 2012. Again, the Commission contracted with the College of William and Mary.

Representatives from impacted groups were invited to participate in an Advisory Group that would explore the data collected in Year One, other states’/countries’ research, findings from Virginia’s Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics-Healthcare (STEM-H) initiatives, practices from schools that excel, and innovative methods used to measure student progress. On May 9, 2012, at its first meeting, the Advisory Group was introduced to the study and organized itself into subgroups around specific themes related to the study. Membership and Advisory Group meeting minutes are provided as Appendix D and E, respectively.

On June 26, 2012, the Commission on Youth, in conjunction with the Advisory Group, hosted a statewide Roundtable on Academic Achievement. The Roundtable agenda included an overview of the study’s initial findings, updates on Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) initiatives from Department staff, and time set aside for breakout groups to develop draft recommendations that were then reported to the whole group for the purpose of reaching consensus. The four breakout groups were:

• The International Achievement Gap;
• Structure and Support of the Educational System;
• Teacher Quality and Effectiveness; and
• Educational Innovations.

Meeting materials for the Roundtable, including the agenda, presenter bios, and minutes, are provided as Appendix F.

The draft Findings and Recommendations were disseminated to the Advisory Group for discussion at the October 2, 2012 meeting.

At the Commission on Youth meeting on November 7, 2012, the Commission on Youth received a presentation on revised Findings and Recommendations. Suggestions and comments from the Advisory Group were shared with the Commission members at that time. On December 3, 2012, the Commission met to receive public comment and took final action on the study recommendations.

Revised Findings and Recommendations were provided electronically to the Advisory Group for comment and subsequently distributed for feedback from constituents, VDOE staff, and the Virginia Board of Education. Recommendations were further refined by Commission on Youth staff and, on December 3, 2012, following public comment to the Commission on Youth, were presented for consideration. The Commission approved the following recommendations:

Teacher Recruitment

Recommendation 1:

Raise the value of the teaching profession in Virginia.

a. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education develop and implement approaches to make teaching a more attractive career choice.
b. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education develop and implement promotional programs and marketing which addresses the value of the teaching profession.

Recommendation 2:

Develop and implement a rigorous teacher recruitment mechanism.

a. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education develop and implement a rigorous teacher recruitment mechanism.
b. Recruit top academic achievers who are rising college freshman or are already enrolled in college.

Recommendation 3:

Provide incentives for early identification and attraction of high-performing, high ability candidates.

a. Request the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) review Virginia’s existing scholarship programs such as the Virginia Teacher Scholarship Loan Program and Virginia’s College Transfer Grants, and make recommendations for building awareness for recruiting highly qualified candidates into the teaching profession.
b. Develop dual enrollment and articulation agreements to establish a career pathway model in Virginia for recruiting high-performing teacher candidates and facilitating their entry into the teaching profession. Such a review will include dual enrollment, Virginia’s two-year associates degree programs, articulation agreements with Virginia’s teacher preparation programs, and master’s degree program requirements that acknowledge teacher candidates who meet other criteria of highly qualified teachers.

Quality of Teacher Preparation Programs

Recommendation 4:

Raise the rigor of teacher preparation programs.

a. Require all student teachers to be supervised and jointly evaluated by an experienced teacher, principal, and university advisor.
b. Request the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) to review teacher practicums to ensure the inclusion of a variety of experiences in addition to classroom teaching, such as observation of lessons, conferences with teacher, or participation in extracurricular and professional development activities.
c. Strengthen the exit requirements of teacher education programs to include criteria such as completion of required courses, examinations, project assignments, and teacher practicum.
d. Expand the use of performance-based assessments proposed in the Virginia State Board of Education Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers for beginning teacher licensing as a means of determining effectiveness before a teacher receives a professional license.
e. Request that the Board of Education be advised of the findings from the Commission’s study regarding the importance of quality teacher preparation programs and include Virginia’s alternative licensing provisions as part of its comprehensive review of Virginia’s Licensure Regulations for School Personnel.

Teacher Support and Development

Recommendation 5:

Improve Virginia’s teacher professional development practices/programs.

a. Request Virginia’s teacher preparation programs include best practices which translate to high quality professional development to match teacher’s training needs.
b. Recommend additional time be committed to professional development, and identify options for providing professional development within existing mechanisms.
c. Provide state funding for school divisions to provide high quality professional development opportunities corresponding with teachers’ professional needs.
d. Create policies that encourage school divisions to hold public instruction workshops to demonstrate exemplary teaching practices.

Teacher Evaluation

Recommendation 6:

Implement teacher evaluation policies which encourage educational excellence and professional accountability.

a. Implement faithfully and institutionalize, through appropriate funding, the revised teacher evaluation system policy guidelines in the Virginia Board of Education’s Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers. Also, provide financial support to implement the Board of Education’s Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Principals and for Superintendents.

Teacher Compensation

Recommendation 7:

Study/revise Virginia’s teacher compensation system to include components that foster excellence in teaching.

a. Provide funding for teacher salary increases.
b. Provide funding based on a strategic compensation model such as Salem’s City Schools Growth Project.
c. Provide funding for establishing a differentiated compensation system based on teacher performance.

Principal Quality

Recommendation 8:

Develop leadership mentoring and development programs targeting the skills, knowledge, and attributes of effective leaders.

a. Implement, fund, and ensure professional development provisions are included in the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Principals adopted by the Virginia Board of Education in 2012.
b. Develop leadership policies and practices, in partnership with Virginia’s education associations, to identify promising teachers to prepare them for official leadership positions.
c. Request the Department of Education develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) to create a Center for Research on Teacher and Leader Excellence to promote best practices in instructional leadership developed by Virginia’s institutions of higher education; and coordinating with other states’ leadership programs across Virginia’s school divisions.

Instructional Time and Time Spent Learning

Recommendation 9:

Investigate the Commonwealth’s school day structure and school year structure.

a. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education review best practices in structuring adequate planning time for teachers.
b. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education study ways to maximize the instructional learning time for students including the allocation of the time in school day and the school year.
c. Request the Governor and the Secretary of Education review the waivers of seat-time requirements and make recommendations to allow students to earn credit based on demonstrating course mastery.

Virtual Learning

Recommendation 10:

a. Explore virtual learning opportunities in Virginia.
b. Investigate multiple sources of funding, such as enrollment tuition, federal or state grants, or external funders, to ensure the sustainability of the virtual schools.
c. Develop a plan to ensure equitable access to virtual learning resources, in particular, for the at-risk student population.
d. Request more research in the field of virtual learning to have more knowledge base about what makes virtual learning effective.
e. Develop a plan to create more virtual elementary, middle, and remediation courses. Currently, more courses offered are high school courses, including AP or college level courses geared toward high-achieving students working toward college credits.
f. Consider and plan teacher professional development to require a thorough knowledge of virtual teaching strategies and the workings of specific virtual teaching platforms.
g. Investigate partnerships with other states to attain the most qualified teachers in specialized fields.
h. Explore the best use of virtual learning and what works with ensuring access, success, and accountability.
i. Recommend the expansion of virtual learning in Virginia based on the evidence of what works.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics–Healthcare (STEM-H)

Recommendation 11:

Develop a plan to implement rigorous and coherent STEM-H curriculum that deepens STEM-H learning over time.

a. Strengthen science education at elementary and middle school level. Teachers can cover less material, but cover it in depth. For example, separate science into sub-subjects like biology, physics, and chemistry starting at middle school level.
b. Enhance Virginia’s STEM-H curriculum to promote mastery.
c. Develop gender-specific student programming to encourage participation in STEM-H-related classes.
d. Build cooperation with STEM-H-related business and industry where students can obtain “real life” experiences in the technology sectors.
e. Increase the proportion of in-field STEM-H teachers, particularly in Title I schools.

The International Baccalaureate (IB)

Recommendation 12:

Support, financially and otherwise, the expansion of IB programs.

a. Support the expansion of IB programs at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
b. Request more schools with IB programs to have dual credentials (having sister schools in other countries).
c. Request more research on IB curriculum and assessment in order to develop and implement a similar but cost-effective system in every public school.

More Rigorous Middle School Curriculum

Recommendation 13:

Continue to examine and improve Virginia’s academic standards to ensure the rigor and quality of standards.
a. Develop more advanced math/science curriculum for grades 6, 7, and 8. For example, offer age-appropriate courses in biology, chemistry and physics in grades 6-8.
b. Conduct more research on the best math/science textbooks and pedagogical instruction practices in other countries. Suggest conducting an in-depth examination of the math curriculum developed by Singapore’s Ministry of Education. This curriculum emphasizes extensive coverage of a relatively small number of concepts at early stages, and integrates math concepts, such as algebra and geometry, in secondary grade levels.
c. Request a comprehensive development of middle school math and science textbooks, including electronic and interactive versions.
d. Support the Virginia Board of Education’s work in establishing rigorous, focused and coherent content at all grade levels, and reducing overlap and variation in implemented curricula across grades.
e. Offer students more opportunities to take challenging classes, beginning at the elementary school level.
f. Recommend schools review and revise curricula on a regular schedule, e.g., every five or ten years. Curricula should concentrate on the topics that must be mastered in order to understand the material presented in the following year.

Assessing Virginia’s Student Performance

Recommendation 14:

Recommend Virginia consider additional methods to measure students’ achievement.

a. Request the Virginia Department of Education design a new generation of assessment to assess a broader range of student skills and knowledge. Instead of relying on multiple-choice, computer-scored tests, which educators and researchers believe cannot accurately measure higher-order thinking skills, the assessment should be diversified to include essay-type responses or even oral examinations.
b. Request the Virginia Department of Education to develop a plan for Virginia’s participation in the 2015 TIMSS and/or PISA assessment as a “separate” country. The plan will discuss recommendations regarding the most appropriate assessment, implementation issues, and potential public and/or private funding sources. The Department will report on the status of this plan to the General Assembly and to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2014 General Assembly.