Examining the results of SIG funding

Former President Obama’s American Investment and Recovery Act of 2009 included $3 billion of funding for School Improvement Grants (SIG). SIG awards went to states’ lowest-performing schools who agreed to implement improvements using either the turnaround, transformation, restart, or closure models, and using four main improvement practices: adopting comprehensive school reform programmes; developing teacher and principal effectiveness; making more time for learning and creating community-orientated schools, and providing support and operational flexibility for schools.

Given the size and expense of the SIG programme, The Institute of Education Sciences at the Department of Education commissioned a report by Lisa Dragoset and colleagues at Mathematica Policy Research, and Cheryl Graczewski and colleagues at the American Institutes for Research, to investigate to what extent the SIG-funded schools used the recommended practices, how these schools compared to non-funded schools, the effect of SIG funding on student outcomes, and which of the intervention models was most effective.

Researchers found that the use of SIG funding had no effect on pupil outcomes in maths or reading test scores, high school graduation, or likelihood to attend college. No SIG model was associated with more gains than another at the elementary (primary school) level, although in grades 6-12 (Years 7-13), SIG-funded schools using the turnaround model were associated with higher pupil maths achievement than the transformational model. More recommended improvement practices were used in SIG-funded schools than in non-funded schools, although not significantly so, and were implemented most often in schools using the school reform model. These findings indicate that SIG funding did not significantly impact pupil achievement outcomes or increase the use of recommended practices, at least for schools near the SIG funding cut-off. They noted that results might be different for schools not near the SIG-funding cut-off.

Source: School Improvement Grants: implementation and effectiveness (January 2017), Institute of Education Sciences

Curriculum reform cheap way to boost attainment

A new report from the Center for American Progress analyses how schools could increase pupil achievement through curriculum reform, that is the teaching materials used by teachers such as textbooks, workbooks, and software.

The authors focused on the curricula used in primary maths classes in 19 US states. They were able to analyse the relationship between price and quality by comparing the price of materials with the findings of a randomised controlled trial conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences which looked at the effectiveness of teaching materials.

The report focused on six pairs of curricula, where each pair included a lower-quality and higher-quality version. The authors’ findings included that:

  • Switching curricula is a productive way for schools to experience substantial pupil achievement gains for a small cost;
  • Higher-quality curricula in primary school maths can come at a relatively low cost, so choosing the best product is more important than finding a better price;
  • When it comes to primary maths curricula, cost does not always equal quality; and
  • More rigorous primary maths curricula can deliver a higher return on investment than other reforms.

The authors note that the research was limited by its reliance on a single study for analysis and the exclusion of digital or other online curricula, and that better product research and improved dissemination of evidence of effectiveness is required.

Source: The Hidden Value of Curriculum Reform: Do states and Districts Receive the Most Bang for their Curriculum Buck? (2015), Center for American Progress.

Weak links between teacher perception surveys and student outcomes

This report from the Institute of Education Sciences provides information on how perception data from a teacher survey in Idaho correlated with student outcomes that school improvement efforts seek to affect. The survey was the Educational Effectiveness Survey (EES), an annual teacher survey developed and administered by the Center on Educational Effectiveness to gather data on school qualities believed to be the goals, processes, and supports essential for school success.

A total of 75 low-achieving schools received the survey, and 1,745 teachers (91%) responded. The teachers rated their perceptions of their school on topics such as effective school leadership; curriculum, instruction, and assessment aligned with standards; and focused professional development.

Analyses of the survey data and publicly available data from the Idaho State Department of Education revealed that teachers’ perceptions of the presence of essential goals, processes, and supports were generally not related to students’ reading proficiency, math proficiency, or attendance. According to the report, these findings suggest that educators should proceed cautiously when using perceptual survey data to make school improvement decisions.

Source: Connections Between Teacher Perceptions of School Effectiveness and Student Outcomes in Idaho’s Low-Achieving Schools (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.