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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum
In response to widening achievement gaps and increased demand for post-secondary education, local and federal governments across the US have enacted policies that have boosted high school graduation rates without an equivalent rise in student achievement, suggesting a decline in academic standards. To the extent that academic standards can shape effort decisions, these trends can have important implications for human capital accumulation. This paper provides both theoretical and empirical evidence of the causal effect of academic standards on student effort and achievement. We develop a theoretical model of endogenous student effort that depends on grading policies, finding that designs that do not account for either the spread of student ability or the magnitude of leniency can increase achievement gaps. Empirically, under a research design that leverages variation from a statewide grading policy and school entry rules, we find that an increase in leniency mechanically increased student GPA without increasing student achievement. At the same time, this policy induced students to increase their school absences. We uncover stark heterogeneity of effects across student ability, with the gains in GPA driven entirely by high ability students and the reductions in attendance driven entirely by low ability students. These differences in responses compound across high school and ultimately widen long-term achievement gaps as measured by ACT scores.
This study contributes to the science of teaching reading by illustrating how a ubiquitous classroom practice – read alouds – can be enhanced by fostering teacher language practices that support students’ ability to read for understanding. This experimental study examines whether and to what extent providing structured teacher read aloud supplements in a social studies read aloud can allow students to leverage a familiar science schema and thereby positively impact reading comprehension outcomes. Treatment students received a single social studies read-aloud on the story of Apollo 11 with structured teacher read aloud supplements while control students received the same read-aloud story but without structured supplements. Effect sizes from hierarchical linear models indicated that students in the treatment condition significantly outperformed students in the control condition on four measures of domain-specific reading comprehension. Further exploratory analyses using structural equation modeling examined the extent that teacher language mediated the treatment effect. Results indicated that teachers going above and beyond the intervention script explained 67 percent of the treatment effect. Structured supplements for read alouds can help students see important connections between schemas, which ultimately aids in reading comprehension.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.