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IES Grant

Title: Leveraging Developmental Relationships with Teachers to Enhance Student Motivation
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Scales, Peter Awardee: Search Institute
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (08/01/2017 - 07/31/2019) Award Amount: $399,446
Goal: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H170078

Co-Principal Investigators: Kent Pekel, Eugene Roehlkepartain, Amy K. Syvertsen, and David Heistad (Bloomington Public Schools)

Partner Institution: Bloomington Public Schools (BPS)

Purpose: Like many school districts in the United States, Bloomington Public Schools (BPS) is trying to increase student achievement, while simultaneously attempting to reduce inequities in academic and nonacademic indicators of success. The district and its partner, the Search Institute, have identified student-teacher relationships as a potential lever for improving student motivation. The purpose of this project is to explore whether specific teacher relational practices can enhance student motivation and perseverance, and ultimately student academic outcomes. The partners plan to use the findings from this study to help develop new low-cost tools and strategies for instructional improvement based on positive student-teacher relationships and every-day student-teacher interactions.

Partnership Activities: The partnership builds on an ongoing collaboration between BPS and the Search Institute focused on understanding and improving social and emotional factors in student development. The current project utilizes a broad multi-dimensional framework that assumes that student motivation and perseverance are not just matters of individual commitment and tenacity, but are also shaped in social contexts and developmental relationships between students and teachers. Researchers will first measure how students and teachers experience their relationships within five major categories of interactions: expressing care, providing support, challenging growth, expanding possibilities, and sharing power. Then researchers will estimate the contribution of these developmental relationships to student motivation and perseverance, and ultimately to student achievement, with a focus on how findings differ for students from different socio-economic backgrounds. Finally, researchers will try to determine if changes in developmental relationships over the school year reduce disparities in academic achievement (after controlling for instructional practices, structural factors, and demographics).

Setting: The research will take place at two schools within the Bloomington Public School District: Kennedy Senior High and Valley View Middle School. The district serves a rapidly changing suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. These sites were selected because of the diversity of their student populations, the continuity created by Valley View feeding exclusively into the high school, and the schools' ongoing commitment to advancing a focus on student-teacher relationships and student motivation and perseverance. Overall, 42% of BPS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRL), and 48% are students of color.

Population/Sample: The study includes a census sample of roughly 650 middle school students in grades 6–8 and 1,500 high school students in grades 9–12 within the two participating schools. The student sample will include approximately equal percentages of males and females, 40–50% students of color, and 50–60% students eligible for free or reduced price meals. The study will also include all teachers at the participating middle and high school.

Data Analytic Strategy: This mixed methods project connects qualitative interview and focus group data from teachers and students with a quantitative longitudinal study. Researchers will use latent class analysis and latent transition analysis to classify students into groups and to measure how these groups change over time. Longitudinal growth curve analyses will be used to model within- and between-person change over time and to determine whether the rate of change in developmental relationships over the course of the academic year varies by SES and grade. Researchers will then use longitudinal structural equation modeling to estimate direct, indirect, and moderated relationships between student-teacher developmental relationships, perseverance, and academic outcomes. The qualitative methods will help contextualize the practices through which student-teacher developmental relationships are built as well as the mechanisms linking developmental relationships to motivation and perseverance and academic outcomes, particularly for low-SES youth (beyond what is suggested by the statistical models that emerge from the quantitative data).

Outcomes: The partners will actively collaborate to utilize the results for planning and improvement throughout Bloomington Public Schools. In addition, the partners will provide information, tools, and services to build national capacity among educational practitioners to understand, monitor, and improve developmental student-teacher relationships. Researchers will also submit the results of this study to academic and practitioner journals.