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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum

Morgan Polikoff, Michael Fienberg, Daniel Silver, Marshall Garland, Anna R. Saavedra, Amie Rapaport.

Public schools are currently a source of major political conflict, specifically with regard to issues related to LGBT representation in the curriculum. We report on a large nationally representative survey of American households focusing on their views on what LGBT topics are and should be taught, and what LGBT-themed books should be assigned and available. We report results overall and broken down by demographic, partisan, and geographic variables. We find that Americans report that they largely do not know what topics are being taught in schools, but they do not think LGBT topics are being taught to elementary children. There is widespread opposition to teaching about LGBT issues in elementary school, with more mixed support in high school. Voters are much more opposed to LGBT-themed books being assigned to students than available to them. There are very large splits in attitudes toward LGBT issues in schools, especially along political and religious lines and across states and counties based on partisan lean. We discuss implications of these findings for education policy and urge greater understanding of Americans' views about controversial topics in the curriculum.

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D. Betsy McCoach, Anthony J. Gambino, Scott J. Peters, Daniel Long, Del Siegle.

Teacher rating scales (TRS) are often used to make service eligibility decisions for exceptional learners. Although TRS are regularly used to identify student exceptionalism either as part of an informal nomination process or through behavioral rating scales, there is little research documenting the between-teacher variance in teacher ratings or the consequences of such rater dependence. To evaluate the possible benefits or disadvantages of using TRS as part of a gifted identification process, we examined the student-, teacher-, and school-level variance in TRS controlling for student ability and achievement to determine the unique information, consistency, and potential bias in TRS. Between 10% and 25% of a students’ TRS score can be attributed to the teacher doing the rating, and between-teacher standard deviations represent an effect size of one-third to one-half standard deviation unit. Our results suggest that TRS are not easily comparable across teachers, making it impossible to set a cut score for admission into a program (or for further screening) that functions equitably across teachers.

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Beth E. Schueler, Katherine E. Larned.

Few interventions reduce inequality in reading achievement, let alone higher order thinking skills, among adolescents. We study “policy debate”—an extracurricular activity focused on improving middle and high schoolers’ critical thinking, argumentation, and policy analysis skills—in Boston schools serving large concentrations of economically-disadvantaged students of color. Student fixed effects estimates show debate had positive impacts on ELA test scores of 0.13 SD, equivalent to 68% of a full year of average 9th grade learning. Gains were concentrated on analytical more than rote subskills. We find no harm to math, attendance, or disciplinary records, and evidence of positive effects on high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment. Impacts were largest among students who were lowest achieving prior to joining debate.

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Erica Harbatkin, Aliyah Mcilwain, Katharine O. Strunk.

Turnaround schools and districts that were charged with making rapid and dramatic improvements before the COVID-19 pandemic struck faced considerable challenges carrying out improvement efforts during pandemic schooling. Using survey and administrative data collected during the pandemic, we document some of the ways in which students and educators in Michigan’s turnaround schools and districts experienced the pandemic. We show that the communities in which turnaround schools are located were hardest hit by the pandemic and school and district operations were substantially disrupted. By extension, turnaround districts and especially the lowest performing schools in those districts that were targeted for school-level turnaround experienced high rates of student absenteeism, low student and parent engagement, and, ultimately, significantly smaller gains on math and reading benchmark assessments than in non-turnaround districts. Our findings have implications for policy as states amplify school and district turnaround efforts that were disrupted by the pandemic.

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Erica Harbatkin, Jason Burns, Samantha Cullum.

School climate is critical to school effectiveness, but there is limited large-scale data available to examine the magnitude and nature of the relationship between school climate and school improvement. Drawing on statewide administrative data linked with unique teacher survey data in Michigan, we examine whether school climate appeared to play a role in the effects of a state-level school turnaround intervention. Using comparative interrupted time series models and descriptive mediation analysis, we find that students in schools with more positive school climate appeared to fare better than their peers in schools with less positive climate. Certain elements of climate—relational trust and school leadership—also mediated the effect of turnaround on student achievement. Our findings have implications for school improvement planning, for the design of evaluations of school turnaround initiatives, and for data collection by states aiming to improve their lowest performing schools.

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David Grissmer, Thomas White, Richard Buddin, Mark Berends, Daniel Willingham, Jamie DeCoster, Chelsea Duran, Chris Hulleman, William Murrah, Tanya Evans.

The Core Knowledge curriculum is a K-8 curriculum focused on building students General Knowledge about the world they live in that is hypothesized to increase reading comprehension and Reading/English-LA achievement. This study utilizes an experimental design to evaluate the long term effects of attending Charter schools teaching the Core Knowledge curriculum. Fourteen oversubscribed kindergarten lotteries for enrollment in nine Core Knowledge Charter schools using the curriculum had 2310 students applying from parents in predominately middle/high income school districts. State achievement data was collected at 3rd- 6th grade in Reading/English-LA and Mathematics and at 5th Grade in Science. A new methodology addresses two previously undiscovered sources of bias inherent in kindergarten lotteries that include middle/high income families. The unbiased confirmatory Reading-English-LA results show statistically significant ITT (0.241***) and TOT (0.473***) effects for 3rd-6th grade achievement with statistically significant ITT and TOT effects at each grade. Exploratory analyses also showed significant ITT (0.15*) and TOT (0.300*) unbiased effects at 5th grade in Science. A CK-Charter school in a low income school district also had statistically significant, moderate to large unbiased ITT and TOT effects in English Language Arts (ITT= 0.944**; TOT = 1.299**), Mathematics (ITT= 0.735*; TOT = 0.997*) and positive, but insignificant Science effects (ITT= 0.468; TOT = 0.622) that eliminated achievement gaps in all subjects.

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Emily Morton, Paul Thompson, Megan Kuhfeld.

Four-day school weeks are becoming increasingly common in the United States, but their effect on students’ achievement is not well-understood. The small body of existing research suggests the four-day schedule has relatively small, negative average effects (~-0.02 to -0.09 SD) on annual, standardized state test scores in math and reading, but these studies include only a single state or are limited by using district-level data. We conduct the first multi-state, student-level analysis that estimates the effect of four-day school weeks on student achievement and a more proximal measure of within-year growth using NWEA MAP Growth assessment data. We conduct difference-in-differences analyses to estimate the effect of attending a four-day week school relative to attending a five-day week school. We estimate significant negative effects of the schedule on spring reading achievement (-0.07 SD) and fall-to-spring achievement gains in math and reading (-0.06 SD in both). The negative effects of the schedule are disproportionately larger in non-rural schools than rural schools and for female students, and they may grow over time. Policymakers and practitioners will need to weigh the policy’s demonstrated negative average effects on achievement in their decisions regarding how and if to implement a four-day week.

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David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, Umut Özek.

Public policies often target individuals but within-family externalities of such interventions are understudied. Using a regression discontinuity design, we document how a third grade retention policy affects both the target children and their younger siblings. The policy improves test scores of both children while the spillover is up to 30% of the target child effect size. The effects are particularly pronounced in families where one of the children is disabled, for boys, and in immigrant families. Candidate mechanisms include improved classroom inputs and parental school choice.

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Jinyong Hahn, John D. Singleton, Nese Yildiz.

Panel or grouped data are often used to allow for unobserved individual heterogeneity in econometric models via fixed effects. In this paper, we discuss identification of a panel data model in which the unobserved heterogeneity both enters additively and interacts with treatment variables. We present identification and estimation methods for parameters of interest in this model under both strict and weak exogeneity assumptions. The key identification insight is that other periods' treatment variables are instruments for the unobserved fixed effects. We apply our proposed estimator to matched student-teacher data used to estimate value-added models of teacher quality. We show that the common assumption that the return to unobserved teacher quality is the same for all students is rejected by the data. We also present evidence that No Child Left Behind-era school accountability increased the effectiveness of teacher quality for lower performing students.

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John Westall, Amy Cummings.

Given the importance of early literacy to long-term student success, by 2021, 41 states and the District of Columbia adopted early literacy policies to improve student literacy by the end of third grade. We use an event-study approach to examine the impact of these policies on high- and low-stakes test scores. Our results suggest that adopting an early literacy policy improves elementary students’ reading achievement on high-stakes assessments, particularly in third grade and in states with comprehensive early literacy policies and third-grade retention requirements. We also find suggestive evidence that early literacy policies reduce socioeconomic and racial high-stakes achievement gaps in reading and have positive spillover effects on math achievement. However, we find little evidence of significant gains in low-stakes test scores except in states with comprehensive policies. Our findings highlight the importance of content and incentives for early literacy policies.

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