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Ethan Scherer

James S. Kim, Patrick Rich, Ethan Scherer.

To address the challenge of improving third grade reading comprehension, we developed and evaluated the long-term effects of a sustained content literacy intervention called the Model of Reading Engagement (MORE), which emphasizes building domain and topic knowledge schemas from Grade 1 to Grade 3. The MORE intervention emphasizes thematic lessons that provide an intellectual framework for helping students connect new learning to a general schema (e.g., how scientists study past events, how systems function properly). Over three years, the treatment group students participated in (a) spring Grade 1 thematic content literacy lessons in science and social studies, (b) fall to spring Grade 2 thematic content literacy lessons in science, (c) remote Grade 3 thematic content literacy lessons in science, and (d) wide reading of thematically related informational texts in the summer months following Grade 1 and Grade 2. During the third grade school year (SY 2020-21), the COVID-19 pandemic required remote schooling to be in place from fall to spring and the Grade 3 MORE was provided to both treatment and control students. Accordingly, we examine long-term effects on third graders’ outcomes comparing a treatment group that received the Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 MORE treatment to a control condition that received the Grade 3 MORE treatment. Intent-to-treat estimates show that the students randomly assigned to the treatment condition outperformed control students in reading comprehension (ES = 0.11) and mathematics (ES = 0.14) on third grade state standardized assessments. Subgroup analyses also revealed positive impacts for student living in low- to moderate-socioeconomic status neighborhoods on both reading comprehension (ES = .13) and mathematics (ES = .20). Findings indicate that a sustained content literacy intervention may be a scalable approach for accelerating and equalizing third-graders’ reading comprehension and math outcomes.

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Sidrah Baloch, Thomas J. Kane, Ethan Scherer, Douglas O. Staiger.

Educators must balance the needs of students who start the school year behind grade level with their obligation to teach grade-appropriate content to all students. Educational software could help educators strike this balance by targeting content to students’ differing levels of mastery. Using a regression discontinuity design and detailed software log and administrative data, we compare two versions of an online mathematics program used by students in three education agencies. We find that although students assigned the modified curriculum did progress through content objectives more quickly than students assigned the default curriculum, they did not perform better on pre- and post-objective quizzes embedded in the software, and most never progressed far enough to reach the grade-level content. Furthermore, there was no statistically significant effect of the modified curriculum on formative test scores. These findings suggest policymakers and practitioners should exercise caution when assigning exclusively remedial content to students who start the school year behind grade level, even though this is a common feature of many math educational software programs.

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Ethan Scherer, Christopher Cleveland.

A growing body of research shows that students benefit when they are demographically similar to their teachers. However, less is known about how matching affects social-emotional development. We investigate the effect of teacher-student race and gender matching for middle school students in six charter management organizations. Using a student fixed effects strategy exploiting changes over time in the proportion of demographic matching in a school-grade, we estimate matching’s effect on self-reports of interpersonal and intrapersonal social-emotional skills, test scores, and behavioral outcomes. We find improvements for Black and female students in interpersonal self-management and grit when they are matched to demographically similar teachers. We also find demographic matching leads to reductions in absences for Black students and improved math test scores for females. Our findings add to the emerging teacher diversity literature by showing its benefits for Black and female students during a critical stage of social-emotional development in their lives.

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Catherine Armstrong Asher, Ethan Scherer, James S. Kim.

Parental text messaging interventions are growing in popularity to encourage at-home reading, school-attendance, and other educational behaviors. These interventions, which often combine multiple components, frequently demonstrate varying amounts of effectiveness, and researchers often cannot determine how individual components work alone or in combination with one another. Using a 2x2x3 factorial experiment, we investigate the effects of individual and interacted components from three behavioral levers to support summer reading: providing updated, personalized information; emphasizing different reading views; and goal setting. We find that the personalized information condition scored on average 0.03 SD higher on fall reading assessments. Texting effects on test scores were enhanced by messages that emphasized reading being useful for both entertainment and building skills compared to skill building alone or entertainment alone. These results continue to build our understanding that while text message can be an effective tool for parent engagement, the specific content of the message can lead to meaningful differences in the magnitude of the effects.

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