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IES Grant

Title: Boston P-3: Identifying Malleable Factors for Promoting Student Success
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Hsueh, JoAnn Awardee: MDRC
Program: Supporting Early Learning From Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades Network      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (6/1/2015-5/31/2015) Award Amount: $4,499,967
Goal: Exploration and Measurement Award Number: R305N160018

Co-Principal Investigators: Christina Weiland (University of Michigan), Catherine Snow (Harvard University), Jason Sachs (Boston Public Schools)

Related Network Members: Early Learning Network Lead (PI: Susan Sheridan, R305N160015); Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students' (OLOS) Early Learning Observation System (PI: Carol Connor, R305N160013-Assessment Team); Early Learning Contexts in Rural and Urban Nebraska (PI: Susan Sheridan, R305N160016); Building an Effective PK–3 Education System: Actionable Aspects of Policies, Programs, Schools, and Classroom Processes that Promote Children's Learning in the Nation's 11th Largest School District (PI: Robert Pianta, R305N160021); Early Education in Rural North Carolina (PI: Margaret Burchinal, R305N160022); Early Learning Network: Critical Contributions of Classroom Ecology to Children's Learning (PI: Laura Justice, R305N160024)

Description: A Research Network involves several teams of researchers who are working together to address a critical education problem or issue. The objective is to build new knowledge, encourage information sharing, and assist policymakers and practitioners to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes. Members of the Early Learning Network will identify malleable factors that support early learning from preschool through early elementary school grades. They will also develop a classroom observation tool that practitioners can use to assess aspects of classroom quality that are associated with positive academic and social-behavioral outcomes in preschool and early elementary school. The Network includes five Research Teams, an Assessment team, and a Network Lead.

Purpose: This research team will work in collaboration with Boston Public Schools to identify policies, classroom-level factors, and school experiences that are associated with children's school success during pre-k and early elementary school grades. The researchers will collect qualitative and quantitative data to address three issues: 1) how students' cumulative experiences within and across settings affect their development over time; 2) how students' characteristics and skills interact dynamically with the settings in which they find themselves; and 3) how these interactions shape children's experiences and developmental trajectories. The researchers theorize that sustaining pre-k gains, optimizing learning in K–3 (regardless of pre-k experiences), and acquiring excellent academic, cognitive, and social-emotional skills by the end of third grade will depend on which skills have been targeted and how.

Project Activities: The research team will complete three interconnected, exploratory studies. In Study 1, the researchers will assess and describe Boston Public School's P-3 policies and practices that may be associated with student experiences. The researchers will examine the intended program (e.g., goals and outcomes, instructional content and dosage, teacher practices, and instructional approach), the implementation system (e.g., staff recruitment/compensation, training and supervision, and assessment), aspects of the school district's culture and climate (e.g., staff autonomy, respect and leadership), and attributes and characteristics of staff, families, and students being served. For Study 2, the researchers will address curricular alignment across the early grades; the quality of classroom interactions between teachers, students, and peers; the quality of the language, literacy and math environment; and teacher characteristics (such as buy-in and internalization of district policies, beliefs about children, morale and stress) that may be related to student outcomes. The researchers will also examine a set of classroom population characteristics (percentage of dual language learners, low-income students, students who attended pre-k, and students with average or above early skills). For Study 3, the researchers will examine associations between classroom processes and practices, family engagement, the home environment, afterschool and summer activities, and children's developmental skill trajectory and third grade outcomes. The research team will also work with the Assessment Team to develop a new classroom observation tool to assess structural and process features of pre-k and kindergarten to third grade classrooms that are associated with child outcomes.

Products: The research team will work to produce study findings and develop databases to inform future policy and practice in early childhood programs and early elementary school classrooms. The researchers will disseminate their research findings to a range of audiences, including early childhood practitioners, elementary school personnel, policymakers, and other researchers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in Boston, Massachusetts in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) early elementary schools and community-based (CB) pre-k programs.

Sample: For Study 1, the sample will include up to 333 teachers and 30 school administrators from selected elementary schools and child care providers, as well as key informants from the school district. For Studies 2 and 3, the pre-kindergarten sample will include 20 elementary schools (40 pre-k classrooms), 10 community-based pre-k programs (10 classrooms), and 305 students. For Studies 2 and 3, the kindergarten to third grade sample will include 80 classrooms and 567 students (305 from pre-k classrooms and 262 children who did not attend a pre-k program) each year.

Intervention: The study is examining existing policies and programs. No intervention is being introduced for the project.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will conduct three complementary studies over a five-year period. For Study 1 (descriptive study of policies and practices), the research team will review documents and survey administrative staff in year 1, survey parent in years 1 and 2, review administrative records in years 3 and 5, interview district personnel in years 1–5, and survey coaches and teachers in years 1–5. In Study 2, the research team will observe classrooms each school year. For Studies 2 and 3, the researchers will directly assess children in fall and spring of the pre-k (year 1) and kindergarten years (year 2), and in spring of each school year in grades 1 (year 3), 2 (year 4), and 3 (year 5). For a subset of Spanish-speaking students, the research team will assess children's vocabulary and math skills in both English and Spanish in pre-k and kindergarten. Teachers will report on children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors, social skills, and learning-related skills each year. The researchers will obtain school records data, such as grades, grade placement, attendance, and special education services from the school district. In addition to the site-specific program of research, the research team will also work with the Assessment Team to develop, pilot test and validate a classroom observation tool in years 1 to 5 of the study.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: The researchers will use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System to assess the quality of classroom interactions and the Individualizing Student Instruction and the Teacher Behavior Rating Scale measures to assess instructional aspects of the classroom environment. Teachers will complete a demographic questionnaire and several surveys, including the Modernity Scale, the Job-Role Quality scale, the adaptability and autonomy subscales of the TCU Organization Readiness for Change assessment, and items from the NCES Schools and Staffing Survey about teachers' network of support. Teachers will also report on enthusiasm and support for BPS policies and practices. BPS coaches will use curriculum fidelity measures from the Building Blocks and Opening the World of Language curricula to collect data on curricular focus, use, and fidelity of implementation. School district collected data using the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening in pre-k, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills in grades K-2, and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (pre-k and K). The research team will use the Applied Problems and Picture Vocabulary subscales of the Woodcock-Johnson (pre-k to third grade), the Tools for Early Assessment in Math (pre-k), the Renfrew bus story (pre-k, K, and first grade), the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (grades 2 and 3), the Hearts and Flowers task, and Forward and Backward Digit Span to assess children's academic and social behavioral skills. Equivalent subscales of the Batería II Woodcock-Muñoz will be used at the pre-k and kindergarten time points to assess Spanish-speaking dual language learners. The Child Behavior Checklist, the Social Skills Rating System, and the Cooper Farran Behavioral Rating Scale will be used to collect teacher-report of students' problem behaviors, social skills, and learning-related skills (e.g., self-regulation and cooperation). The research team will also obtain school records information (e.g., grades, attendance, and special education services)

Data Analytic Strategy: For Study 1, the researchers will catalogue, compile and extract key themes from field notes collected via interviews, discussions with key informants, and document review. The research team will use this qualitative data to: 1) characterize the alignment of supports, implementation barriers, and facilitators of BPS policies; 2) describe the content and skills emphasized in the policies, goals, curriculum, and assessments; 3) outline coach and teacher recruitment; 4) describe professional development plans for teachers within and across grades and, specifically, the instructional approach for dual language learners; and 5) determine how students are assigned to classrooms within schools. For Studies 2 and 3, researchers will use multilevel modeling to estimate the relative importance of particular malleable factors on students' academic and self-regulatory outcomes at the end of each school year, developmental trajectories in these skills over time, and outcomes in third grade. This analytic technique will be used to account for the nesting of students within classrooms, and classrooms within schools, and will adjust for a pre-specified set of school, classroom and student characteristics. Researchers will address questions about the relative importance of particular malleable features on student outcomes using moderation and subgroup analysis for groups of students defined by student background and classroom characteristics of interest.