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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum

Kathryn Gonzalez, Kathleen Lynch, Heather C. Hill.

Despite growing evidence that classroom interventions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can increase student achievement, there is little evidence regarding how these interventions affect teachers themselves and whether these changes predict student learning. We present results from a meta-analysis of 37 experimental studies of preK-12 STEM professional learning and curricular interventions, seeking to understand how STEM classroom interventions affect teacher knowledge and classroom instruction, and how these impacts relate to intervention impacts on student achievement. Compared with control group teachers, teachers who participated in STEM classroom interventions experienced improvements in content and pedagogical content knowledge and classroom instruction, with a pooled average impact estimate of +0.56 standard deviations. Programs with larger impacts on teacher practice yielded larger effects on student achievement, on average. Findings highlight the positive effects of STEM instructional interventions on teachers, and shed light on potential teacher-level mechanisms via which these programs influence student learning.

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Aaron Phipps.

Using administrative data from D.C. Public Schools, I use exogenous variation in the presence and intensity of teacher monitoring to show it significantly improves student test scores and reduces suspensions. Uniquely, my setting allows me to separately identify the effect of pre-evaluation monitoring from post-evaluation feedback. Monitoring's effect is strongest among teachers with a large incentive to increase student test scores. As tests approach, unmonitored teachers sacrifice higher-level learning, classroom management, and student engagement, even though these pedagogical tasks are among the most effective. One possible explanation is teachers ``teach to the test'' as a risk mitigation strategy, even if it is less effective on average. This is supported by showing teaching to the test has a smaller effect on student test score variance than other teaching approaches. These results illustrate the importance of monitoring in contexts where teachers have the strongest incentive to deviate from pedagogically sound practices.

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Meghan Comstock, Kenneth A. Shores, Camila Polanco, Erica Litke, Kirsten Lee Hill, Laura M. Desimone.

As states and districts expand their goals for equitable mathematics instruction to focus on cultural responsiveness and rigor, it is critical to understand how teachers integrate multiple teaching approaches. Drawing on survey data from a larger study of professional learning, we use mixture modeling to identify seven unique ways that middle school mathematics teachers integrate ambitious, traditional, and culturally responsive (CR) mathematics instruction. The resulting typology is driven almost exclusively by variation in CR teaching. About half of teachers reported rarely engaging in CR teaching. Teachers who emphasized CR teaching tended to be teachers of color and have high CR teaching self-efficacy. Findings suggest that tailoring teacher development to how teachers blend multiple approaches may best support equitable mathematics instruction.

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Zachary Bleemer, Aashish Mehta.

Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Eric Brunner, Erica Harbatkin, Matthew A. Kraft, Matthew Springer.

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.

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Umut Özek.

High school graduation rates in the United States are at an all-time high, yet many of these graduates are deemed not ready for postsecondary coursework when they enter college. This study examines the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of remedial courses in middle school using a regression discontinuity design. While the short-term test score benefits of taking a remedial course in English language arts in middle school fade quickly, I find significant positive effects on the likelihood of taking college credit-bearing courses in high school, college enrollment, enrolling in more selective colleges, persistence in college, and degree attainment.

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Ismael Sanz, J.D. Tena.

One of the most obvious and not sufficiently well understood political decisions in education regards the optimal amount of instruction time required to improve academic performance. This paper considers an unexpected, exogenous regulatory change that reduced the school calendar of non-fee-paying schools (public and charter schools) in the Madrid region (Spain) by two weeks during the 2017/2018 school year. Using difference-in-differences regression, we found that this regulatory change contributed to a significant deterioration in academic performance, particularly in Spanish and English. We further explored non-linear (quantile) effects across the distribution of scores in standardized exams, finding that the disruption due to the new regulations affected more students in the upper quartile of the distribution. Overall, we found a reduction in the gap across non-fee-paying schools and an increase in the gap between non-fee- and fee-paying schools (private schools).

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Michael Gilraine, Jeffrey Penney.

An administrative rule allowed students who failed an exam to retake it shortly after, triggering strong `teach to the test' incentives to raise these students' test scores for the retake. We develop a model that accounts for truncation and find that these students score 0.14 standard deviations higher on the retest. Using a regression discontinuity design, we estimate thirty percent of these gains persist to the following year. These results provide evidence that test-focused instruction or `cramming' raises contemporaneous performance, but a large portion of these gains fade-out. Our findings highlight that persistence should be accounted for when comparing educational interventions.

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Ishtiaque Fazlul, Todd R. Jones, Jonathan Smith.

Millions of high school students who take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in one of over 30 subjects can earn college credit by performing well on the corresponding AP exam. Using data from four metro-Atlanta public school districts, we find that 15 percent of students’ AP courses do not result in an AP exam. We predict that up to 32 percent of the AP courses that do not result in an AP exam would result in a score of 3 or higher, which generally commands college credit at colleges and universities across the United States. Next, we examine disparities in AP exam-taking rates by demographics and course taking patterns.  Most immediately policy relevant, we find evidence consistent with the positive impact of school district exam subsidies on AP exam-taking rates. In fact, students on free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) in the districts that provide a higher subsidy to FRL students than non-FRL students are more likely to take an AP exam than their non-FRL counterparts, after controlling for demographic and academic covariates.

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