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IES Grant

Title: Montana Continuous Improvement in Education Research to Improve Secondary School Literacy Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Schiller, Ellen Awardee: SRI International
Program: Continuous Improvement Research in Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (10/1/2015-9/30/2015) Award Amount: $2,500,000
Type: Other Goal Award Number: R305H150003

Name of Partners: SRI International (SRI), Montana Office of Public Instruction (MT-OPI)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to use a continuous improvement process to revise and adapt a tiered intervention strategy so that it boosts the literacy skills of middle and high school students. While literacy programs such as the Montana Striving Readers Program (MSRP) have made progress toward improving the literacy skills of elementary and middle school students, some students still enter secondary schools with weak skills, and thus are at risk for course failure and dropping out of high school. Montana's state and secondary school leadership teams have ongoing concerns regarding, in particular, the performance of economically disadvantaged students, American Indian students, English learners, and those receiving special education services. The partnership will adapt and revise the Content Literacy Curriculum (CLC), a tiered literacy intervention strategy that has been a central component of the MSRP, so that it meets the literacy needs of middle and high school students. The intent of the project is to intervene with students at the beginning of either middle or high school, so that they can succeed in their coursework and either successfully transition to high school or complete high school. By the end of the project, the partnership will produce a revised literacy intervention for secondary school students, and have built increased capacity within Montana Office of Public Instruction (MT-OPI) for implementing this intervention across the state.

Project Activities: The partnership will coordinate the activities of SRI researchers, MT-OPI instructional leaders, and teachers and leaders in two middle schools and two high schools. At the beginning of the project, the secondary schools will continue to implement the lower tiers of the Content Literacy Curriculum (CLC), which they are already implementing to a limited extent through MSRP. These levels emphasize organizing classroom instruction within routines intended to enhance conceptual understanding, and teaching and learning strategies that students can employ to comprehend challenging course content. Once school-based study groups have been established, trainers will work with teachers and school leaders to implement intensive learning strategy instruction and intensive basic skill instruction for high-need students, and will work with outside support personnel to provide clinical language interventions for students with language disorders, as needed. To improve implementation of the literacy curriculum, researchers will apply an iterative design-based research strategy. To assess the promise of the literacy curriculum, researchers will conduct a comparison study of students in schools using CLC, and students using MSRP without the partnership's improvement activities.

Products: The partners will produce an updated Montana Secondary Literacy Model guide that secondary schools can use to implement the Content Literacy Curriculum, briefs that summarize the research findings for policymakers, and a peer-reviewed publication.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place at Montana middle and high schools in three rural settings located across the state (North, Central, and Southeast).

Sample: Study participants include approximately 640 students of 32 teachers located in four middle and high schools. Each of the schools has large percentages of struggling readers, American Indians, English learners and low-income students.

Approach: The Content Literacy Curriculum is a 5-tiered approach to literacy instruction, delivered to students as a function of their scores on diagnostic reading assessments:

  • Leve1 1 provides planning and teaching tools for teachers that help them to organize critical course content; convey the vocabulary and background knowledge necessary to understand the content; and help students to conceptualize the content.
  • Level 2 provides learning strategies to students including word identification, paraphrasing, and visual imagery strategies, which they can use to understand course content.
  • Level 3 intervenes by providing basic learning strategies for students who have not developed reading proficiency past the fourth grade level, delivered by special education teachers or reading instructors, either in the general education classroom, or as a pullout program.
  • Level 4 includes intensive basic skills instruction, usually via special education or reading teachers in a pullout program.
  • Level 5 provides clinical options for students with underlying language disorders, delivered by either special education teachers or speech-language pathologists.

Research Design and Methods: The partnership will employ an iterative design-based improvement strategy operating at two levels. At the project level, team members will use annual improvement cycles to improve the literacy curriculum. At the school level, study groups will employ shorter cycles to improving CLC implementation within each school. Administrators from MT-OPI will work with district staff and school leaders to improve structures of support for the literacy curriculum. At the school level, MT-OPI and researchers will work with teachers and school leaders to improve delivery of the curriculum. The ongoing comparison study will employ a matched comparison design to compare average and sub-group performance on state assessments, across the improvement and comparison classrooms.

Control Condition: Sixteen schools will serve as comparison sites. Researchers will match the comparison to improvement schools based on enrollment size and demographic characteristics of the student body. Students in the comparison schools will receive literacy instruction through the Montana Striving Readers Program, without the additional supports and strategies provided through the partnership's CLC approach. Researchers will obtain end-of-year test scores from MT-OPI, to compare English language arts performance between students in the improvement and comparison schools. In a subset of 4 comparison schools, researchers will collect more detailed data from surveys and focus groups regarding literacy practices, data use, leadership, and sustainability of the MSRP program.

Key Measures: Researchers will employ multiple summative and formative measures of English language arts performance, including the end-of-year Smarter Balanced, online adaptive, and course performance assessments, in addition to teacher judgement, to place students in appropriate intervention tiers within the content literacy curriculum. Formative measures to guide interventions for students will be obtained from the online adaptive assessments measuring word attack, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. To inform the improvement process, literacy practices will be measured using an iWalkthrough instrument, CLC fidelity checklists, as well as teacher surveys and interviews. The ongoing comparison study will employ Smarter Balanced assessment scores, in addition to the classroom measures of literacy practices.

Data Analytic Strategy: To inform the improvement process, researchers will employ descriptive statistics, including correlation coefficients to examine associations between instructional practices and short-term measures of student performance. To match improvement and comparison schools, researchers will use Mahalanobis distance criteria based on school and average student characteristics, and propensity score matching to arrive at a comparison group of students from the comparison schools that is matched to students in the four improvement schools. In addition, researchers will use a two-level model with students at level one and classrooms at level two to compare the CLC and non-CLC group outcomes in literacy and achievement.