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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum
More than half of U.S. children fail to meet proficiency standards in mathematics and science in fourth grade. Teacher professional development and curriculum improvement are two of the primary levers that school leaders and policymakers use to improve children’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning, yet until recently, the evidence base for understanding their effectiveness was relatively thin. In recent years, a wealth of rigorous new studies using experimental designs have investigated whether and how STEM instructional improvement programs work. This article highlights contemporary research on how to improve classroom instruction and subsequent student learning in STEM. Instructional improvement programs that feature curriculum integration, teacher collaboration, content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and how students learn all link to stronger student achievement outcomes. We discuss implications for policy and practice.
Students’ level of academic skills at school entry are a strong predictor of later academic success, and focusing on improving these skills during the preschool years has been a priority during the past ten years. Evidence from two prior nationally representative studies indicated that incoming kindergarteners’ math and literacy skills were higher in 2010 than 1998, but no national studies have examined trends since 2010. This study examines academic skills at kindergarten entry from 2010 and 2017 using data from over 2 million kindergarten students. Results indicated kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but that inequalities at school entry by race/ethnicity and school poverty level have decreased during this period.
How should teachers spend their STEM-focused professional learning time? To answer this question, we analyzed a recent wave of rigorous new studies of STEM instructional improvement programs. We found that programs work best when focused on building knowledge teachers can use during instruction: knowledge of the curriculum materials they will use, knowledge of content and how content can be represented for learners, and knowledge of how students learn that content. We argue that such learning opportunities improve teachers’ professional knowledge and skill, potentially by supporting teachers in making more informed in-the-moment instructional decisions.
Recent attempts to measure schools’ influence on students' SEL show differences across schools, but whether these differences measure the true effect of schools is unclear. We examine the stability of school-by-grade effects on students' SEL across two years using a large-scale survey. Correlations among effects in the same grades across different years are positive but lower than those for math and English. Schools in the top or bottom of the effect distribution have more persistent impacts across years than those in the middle. Overall, the results suggest that these school effects measure real contributions to students' SEL. However, their low stability draws into question whether including school value-added measures of self-reported SEL in school performance systems would be beneficial.
We examine whether virtual advising – college counseling using technology to communicate remotely – increases postsecondary enrollment in selective colleges. We test this approach using a sample of approximately 16,000 high-achieving, low- and middle-income students identified by the College Board and randomly assigned to receive virtual advising from the College Advising Corps. The offer of virtual advising had no impact on overall college enrollment, but increased enrollment in high graduation rate colleges by 2.7 percentage points (5%), with instrumental variable impacts on treated students of 6.1 percentage points. We also find that non-white students who were randomly assigned to a nonwhite adviser exhibited stronger treatment effects.
In a flipped classroom, an increasingly popular pedagogical model, students view a video lecture at home and work on exercises with the instructor during class time. Advocates of the flipped classroom claim the practice not only improves student achievement, but also ameliorates the achievement gap. We conduct a randomized controlled trial at West Point and find that the flipped classroom produced short term gains in Math and no effect in Economics, but that the flipped model broadened the achievement gap: effects are driven by white, male, and higher achieving students. We find no long term average effects on student learning, but the widened achievement gap persists. Our findings demonstrate feasibility for the flipped classroom to induce short term gains in student learning; however, the exacerbation of the achievement gap, the effect fade-out, and the null effects in Economics suggest that educators should exercise caution when considering the model.
In contrast to prior federally mandated school reforms, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states more discretion in reforming their lowest performing schools, removes requirements to disrupt the status quo, and does not allocate substantial additional funds. Using a regression discontinuity design, we evaluate a state turnaround initiative aligned with ESSA requirements. We find the effect on student test score growth was not significant in year one and -0.13 in year two. Also in year two, we find that teachers in turnaround schools were 22.5 percentage points more likely to turn over. Teacher turnover appears to have been voluntary rather than the result of strategic staffing decisions.
Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population. Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup. However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps. In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students. Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time. Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.
Although program evaluations using rigorous quasi-experimental or experimental designs can inform decisions about whether to continue or terminate a given program, they often have limited ability to reveal the mechanisms by which complex interventions achieve their effects. To illuminate these mechanisms, this paper analyzes novel text data from thousands of school improvement planning and implementation reports from Washington State, deploying computer-assisted techniques to extract measures of school improvement processes. Our analysis identified 15 coherent reform strategies that varied greatly across schools and over time. The prevalence of identified reform strategies was largely consistent with school leaders’ own perceptions of reform priorities via interviews. Several reform strategies measures were significantly associated with reductions in student chronic absenteeism and improvements in student achievement. We lastly discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of using novel text data to study reform processes.
Textbooks are a widely used educational intervention that can affect student achievement, and the marginal cost of choosing a more effective textbook is typically small. However, we know little about how textbooks get from the publisher to the classroom. We use a lens of institutional theory and interviews with district leaders in a stratified random sample of 34 California school districts to investigate the ways mathematics textbook adoption practices vary and predict adoption decisions. We find isomorphic, highly formalized adoption processes in most districts. However, we observe some differences along dimensions of district size, technological interest/infrastructure, and English learner concentration. We recommend states produce and update lists of high quality materials early and often, and that they use a highly rigorous evaluation process. We also recommend states experiment with encouraging similar districts to partner on textbook evaluation and adoption to respond to district demands for information and capacity building around curricula.