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IES Grant

Title: What Works for Title I Schools: Understanding the Contributors and Barriers to School Improvement
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Kurz, Alexander Awardee: Arizona State University
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/13-6/30/15) Award Amount: $385,739
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H130080

Co-Principal Investigators: Carrie Giovannone (ADE)

Name of Partners: Arizona State University (ASU); the Arizona Department of Education (ADE)

Education Issue: Policymakers at the federal and state levels have prioritized finding solutions to low performance and dropout among students at the lowest-performing schools. Drawing on test results and high school completion rates, Arizona began identifying the lowest-performing Title I schools in 2009. These "Priority" schools are elementary or middle schools in which the proportion of students scoring proficient on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) fall in the lowest 5 percent among all schools, or high schools in which the graduation rate is lower than 60 percent. While in many of these schools, less than one-third of students were proficient in mathematics and reading at the time of identification, some Priority schools have made substantial improvements over the last 4 years. State education officials have prioritized identifying successful education strategies in these schools, with the future goal of applying these strategies statewide.

Partnership Significance and Goal: The goal of this partnership is to lay the groundwork for future improvements to Arizona's Priority schools using a three-part strategy. First, the partnership will identify measures in existing ADE data sources that predict student achievement. Next, the partnership will employ these measures to assess the effectiveness of ADE school improvement strategies. The partnership will assess factors that predict student achievement within Arizona's 74 Priority schools as well as a sub-sample of 74 medium- and high-performing schools. Finally, the partnership will take stock of data sources and measurement strategies at ADE, to assess whether they are sufficient to inform and sustain future school improvement efforts. The products of the partnership will be a set of tools and processes for describing and analyzing school improvement efforts using a range of datasets from various ADE divisions. These products will inform a future research proposal which will assess the effectiveness of school improvement strategies deemed promising by this partnership.

Partners and Partnership Activities: ASU brings research expertise and a substantive focus on core components of effective schools, transformative leadership behaviors, and opportunities to learn. ADE brings a commitment to school improvement—reflected in a set of seven school improvement strategies instituted over the last 4 years—as well as the decision-making authority to launch new initiatives, and a large set of data resources. The partnership will coordinate its activities through regular meetings, including a series of semi-annual meetings where all partners will establish long-term goals and agree upon short-terms goals to accomplish them. Using a collaborative capacity-building framework, the partnership will organize school-site meetings around specific topics with teachers and school leaders. These "Solution Meetings" will assess current school practices in light of research-based practices pertaining to the topic, and arrive at revised programming/intervention efforts that include data collection and evaluation. By regularly convening researchers, state officials, school leaders, and teachers, the partnership will sustain a large set of coordinated activities aimed at establishing an evidence-based system of school improvement.

Setting: This project will take place in secondary schools across Arizona including 74 low-performing Title I Priority schools, 37 high-performing Title I "Reward" schools, and 37 Title I "Focus" schools in which large gaps exist between low- and high-performing students.

Population/Sample: All students in Arizona's 74 Title I Priority Schools, as well as sub-samples of students in 37 Reward schools and 37 Focus schools.

Initial Analysis: The partnership will use a mixed-methods approach that combines quantitative analysis of administrative data sources with qualitative data techniques (i.e., classroom observations, focus group interviews, or surveys). The partnership will review 11 statewide data sets that include student characteristics, test scores and graduation rates; teacher characteristics; and school-level improvement strategies and incident reports. Descriptive analysis will assess the validity and quality of available measures at each level for predicting student achievement. The partnership will look closely at data related to ADE's seven School Improvement Strategies, to assess the level of implementation indicated by these data, as well as their quality and suitability for multivariate analysis.

Combining measures from its review of datasets with the Progress Monitoring Instrument—used for tracking school improvement efforts—the partnership will construct multi-level models of student achievement and graduation that identify malleable factors at the student, teacher, and school levels. The analysis will also reflect input from the "Solution" meetings. The final multi-level models will estimate relations between malleable factors—at the student, teacher, and school levels—and Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards(AIMS) test scores for students in grades 3-8, and 10, in reading and mathematics, as well as graduation for high school students. Sensitivity and missing data analysis will also be conducted. The models will identify differences between schools that showed significant academic improvement and those that did not. These models will inform ADE decisions about future school improvement and data collection strategies, as well as partnership decisions about future avenues for research. Finally, the partnership will use qualitative analysis to identify needed measures of malleable factors, such as leadership and teacher practices, that are not available in the extant data sets and that should be collected in the future.