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IES Grant

Title: Academic Trajectories and Policies to Narrow Achievement Gaps in San Diego
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Betts, Julian Awardee: University of California, San Diego
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/13 – 6/30/15) Award Amount: $383,187
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H130059

Co-Principal Investigators: Bell, Peter; Policar, Dina; Rode, Ronald

Partnership Institutions: The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD); Partnership Name: San Diego Education Research Alliance at UCSD (SanDERA)

Purpose: The goal of this project was to enhance the SDUSD's access to high-quality, relevant information by producing ideal trajectories—what it means to be "on track" at every stage of in ideal student's career—as well as accurate on-track indicators of individual students' on-track statuses.

Project Activities: The project activities solidified the SanDERA partnership which had been in place since 2010. To enhance research activities, the grant funded purchasing of software for the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) partner, and research partners from the University of California—San Diego (UCSD) shared indicator coding and programming expertise with staff from SDUSD. To enhance collaboration, the partnership convened meetings at several levels. The Executive Committee—comprising principal investigators from UCSD and SDUSD—met on a bi-weekly basis. An Advisory Committee with over 20 members met quarterly. The partnership convened focus groups of school-site staff and district administrators to address problem areas in students' trajectories, as well as to understand practices that appear to be working well. The partnership shared findings and sought input from the broader community at a public forum that was held during year two. The partnership also kept the broader community abreast of activities and findings through the SDUSD website and communication with local press coverage.

Key Outcomes: As described in Bachofer, K.V. et al. (2017), key outcomes of the partnership included:

  • Drawing on data that the district already collected, the partnership illustrated ideal trajectories and computed on-track indicators from small sets of performance measures that are highly predictive of later school success.
  • This partnership developed indicators to and ideal trajectories to track students' likelihood of future success.
    • The ideal trajectory guidelines were shared with district leaders, school administrators, and teachers.
    • In addition, district-level, school-level, and student-level on-track reports were developed to help teachers and principals identify struggling students and what caused them to be off track.
    • Tools for school administrators and teachers include secure online dashboard displays that gauge individual students' and entire classrooms' progress toward short-term and longer-term education milestones such as being on track at the end of grade 9 and graduating on time.
    • For district leaders and school administrators, statistical models identify which schools are over- and under- performing with respect to helping students accomplish specific academic outcomes. 
  • In August 2014, the partnership team applied for further funding from IES (CFDA No. 84.305H) in the Continuous Improvement Research in Education category. The title of the proposal is "Changing the Odds: A Short-Cycle Approach to Improving Students Long-Term Mathematics Outcomes." This four-year project was selected for funding.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project took place at SDUSD, which is the second largest district in California. It is a highly diverse district, with large proportions of African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and White students.

Sample: The sample included all students in SDUSD with available prior-year data: approximately 85,000 students attending all 170 schools in the district.

Education Issue: Research on early warning and on-track indicators finds that students get "off-track" for succeeding and graduating in high school as early as elementary school. This research indicates that students send strong distress signals for years before they leave school. Yet, most school systems do not have estimation strategies that allow them to make use of the data that they already have to determine which students are "on-track" to succeed in school. Knowing which students are off-track is a crucial first step toward providing these students with targeted support that they need to return to on-track status.

Research Design and Methods: This project team used multivariate regression to predict academic trajectories of students withprior academic outcomes, days of absences, language status, and special education status.

Key Measures: Key measures included student academic trajectory indicating if a student reached key milestones such passing ninth grade, completing high school, or applying for college). The project also used reaching proficiency, high school course completion, and on-track to graduation.

Data Analytic Strategy: The partnership built upon prior research on early warning and on-track indicators, as well as prior analytical work conducted by the research team, to arrive at indicators that promote engagement in teaching and learning. Drawing on data that the district already collects, the partnership illustrated ideal trajectories and computed on-track indicators from small sets of performance measures that are highly predictive of later school success. The on-track indicators—computed for students in all grades for which data are available—used early-grade measures to accurately predict whether a student is likely to reach key later-grade milestones such passing ninth grade, completing high school, or applying for college. Estimations from these streamlined models yielded forecasts that the partnership team conveyed to teachers and parents. The partnership team decided the probability level that is necessary for a student to be considered on-track to pass Algebra I. The estimation strategy, forecasts were conveyed to teachers, principals, and district staff via tables and graphs.

Related IES Projects: Changing the Odds: A Short-Cycle Approach to Improving Students' Long-Term Mathematics Outcomes (R305H150028)

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Selected Publications:

Bachofer, K.V., Bell, P., Betts, J.R., Policar, D., Rode, R.G., and Zau, A. C. (2017). The San Diego Education Research Alliance3. In J. Owen and A.M. Larson (Eds.), Researcher-Policymaker Partnerships: Strategies for Launching and Sustaining Successful Collaborations, (pp. 72–99). New York: Routledge.