Evidence in the news

What works best for ELLs?

A NEW REPORT FROM JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL of Education’s Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) examines which reading interventions and strategies work best for Spanish-dominant ELLs. The report focuses on two main areas: the effect of language of instruction on achievement (i.e., bilingual vs. English-only instruction) and effective reading approaches for ELLs other than the use of native language. Several proven and promising approaches are identified.

To evaluate the effect of language of instruction, CRRE researchers reviewed studies of bilingual education that had been completed between 1970 and 2011. The studies had to meet a set of rigorous research standards to be considered for the final analysis. For example, studies had to use randomized or matched control groups, have a duration of at least one school year, and use quantitative measures of English reading performance, such as standardized tests. A total of 14 studies, involving approximately 2,000 elementary school children, met these criteria and are included in the report.

Overall, findings from the studies indicated a positive but modest effect in favor of bilingual education. However, the largest and longest-term evaluations, including the only multi-year randomized evaluation of transitional bilingual education, did not find any differences in outcomes by the end of elementary school between children who were taught in Spanish and transitioned to English and children who were taught only in English. This leads the researchers to suggest that quality of instruction is more important than language of instruction.

For their analysis of reading approaches for ELLs other than bilingual education, the researchers reviewed studies that met similar standards to those required for the language of instruction analysis. They looked at whole-school and whole-class interventions and small-group and one-to-one supplemental interventions. Findings showed that Success for All, Direct Instruction, and English Language and Literacy Acquisition all had positive effects on ELL achievement. In addition, programs that used phonetic small-group or one-to-one tutoring also showed positive effects. Across all of the most promising interventions, extensive professional development, coaching, and cooperative learning emerged as common themes.

In conclusion, the researchers state that there are many options with evidence of effectiveness from rigorous evaluations, and educators and policy makers should consider all possibilities to enhance outcomes for their Spanish-dominant ELLs.

Source: Effective Reading Programs for Spanish Dominant English Language Learners (ELLs) in the elementary Grades: a Synthesis of Research, March 2012, http://www.bestevidence.org/reading/ell/ell_read.htm

Study examines experiences of first-year principals

A STUDY FROM THE RAND CORPORATION sheds new light on first-year principals’ experiences, actions, working conditions, and outcomes. Among several findings, the study shows that the quality of principals’ actions is more relevant to outcomes than the amount of time devoted to the actions.

More than 500 first-year principals from six districts across the U.S. were involved in the study. For the purposes of the study, first-year principals are defined as principals in their first year at a given school, including those principals with previous experience as principals at another school. RAND researchers evaluated the experiences of these new principals using district- and student-level data, surveys, and case studies spanning the 2007–2008 and 2010–2011 school years. The goal of the study was to identify relationships between student achievement; principal retention; and new principals’ practices, attitudes, and perceptions of school and district conditions.

According to the findings, more than one fifth of the study’s sample left their schools after only one or two years. Specifically, 11.8% left within the first year, and 10.7% left within the second year. The data suggest two reasons for this turnover: new principals placed in schools that are below AYP targets, and new principals who experience test score declines in their first year, are more likely to leave.

In examining the relationship between principals’ perceptions of school/ district conditions (e.g., degree of parent support, access to resources) and student achievement, the researchers found few significant correlations. They did, however, identify two factors that stood out as being related to student outcomes: teacher capacity and cohesiveness. According to the researchers, principals who reported higher teacher capacity and higher levels of collaboration and cohesiveness among staff were more likely to experience achievement gains during their first year.

Finally, the study showed that principals’ skills as “human capital managers” are important. In particular, the research points to several promising ways for new principals to foster buy-in for their key strategies and develop cohesiveness, including: recruiting strong staff immediately, conducting one-on-one meetings with all staff, respecting prior practices and culture, being visible in the classrooms, and communicating clear and fair expectations.

Source: First-Year Principals in Urban School Districts: How Actions and Working Conditions Relate to Outcomes, February 2012, http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR1191.html

Report describes promising practices of charter-school management organizations

WHILE RESEARCH HAS SHOWN MIXED results about the effect of charter schools on student achievement, perhaps there is something to be learned from the schools that are seeing improvements. And a report from Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education provides just that.

The report is part of the National Study of CMO Effectiveness, a four-year longitudinal study designed to assess the impact of charter school management organizations (CMOs) on student achievement and to identify effective structures and practices. Data sources have included school records; site visits; CMO and district cost data; and surveys of CMOs, principals, and teachers.

According to the report, CMOs with positive impacts tend to emphasize two practices in particular: high expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching and monitoring. For student behavior expectations, high-performing CMOs were found to place a stronger emphasis on the following: use of a student behavior code with clear consequences for misbehavior, positive reinforcements for desired behaviors, use of a “zero tolerance” policy for potentially dangerous behaviors, and consistent schoolwide enforcement of the behavioral standards and policies in place. As for teacher coaching and monitoring, the data showed that high-performing CMOs more frequently observe, give feedback to, and review the lesson plans of new teachers in comparison to other CMOs and comparison district schools.

The researchers note that their analysis of these practices is correlational, meaning it cannot provide strong evidence that the practices directly caused the observed impacts of CMOs on student achievement. However, they do say that examining these associations provides some preliminary evidence about which practices have the most potential to be promising and should therefore be further explored.

Source: Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching, March 2012, http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/CMO_Strategies.pdf

Positive outcomes found for community schools

ACCORDING TO A REPORT FROM THE CENTER for American Progress (CAP), aligning schools and community resources is a promising strategy for improving student outcomes. To reach this conclusion, CAP researchers looked at five “community schools” in the Redwood City School District (RCSD) in Redwood City, California. These community schools provide services that meet the social, physical, cognitive, and economic needs of both students and their families. For example, the schools offer family engagement programs (e.g., parent education classes, school socials); extended learning programs (e.g., after-school and youth leadership programs); and counseling and support services (e.g., bus passes, uniform help). More than 250 programs, services, and events were offered by the schools in the 2010–2011 school year.

The main questions the researchers sought to answer were: “How many and which students and parents access programs, and in what combinations, at the community schools?” and “What is the relationship between participation in community school services and student outcomes?” They used student achievement data from RCSD, attendance records from program providers at the community schools, and student survey data for their analysis.

Various findings emerged from the research. First, the study showed that the programs provided at the RCSD community schools reached more than 70% of students enrolled at the schools (in the 2010–2011 school year, more than 3,500 were enrolled). In particular, the programs generally served the most socio-economically disadvantaged students. The population served included high percentages of students who were ELLs, were eligible for subsidized meals under the National School Lunch Program, and had parents who had not completed high school.

In addition, findings indicated that ELLs with consistent program participation over time showed gains on English language development measures. According to the report, in the elementary grades these gains were tied to participation in family engagement programs, but continued gains during middle school were associated with frequent participation in extended learning programs.

Findings also revealed that the community school programs were linked to positive attitudes about school, such as feeling supported in school, for middle school students. In turn, feeling supported was linked to students’ motivation and academic confidence, both of which were associated with math achievement gains for all students and English language development gains for ELLs.

Source: Positive Student Outcomes in Community Schools, Feb 2012, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/02/pdf/positive_student_outcomes.pdf

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April 2013