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IES Grant

Title: Sustaining Literacy Practices Over Time: Codifying Knowledge Through Micro-Credentialing
Center: NCER Year: 2022
Principal Investigator: Donovan, Suzanne Awardee: Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) Institute
Program: Teaching, Teachers, and the Education Workforce      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (09/01/2022 – 08/31/2026) Award Amount: $2,000,000
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A220121

Co-Principal Investigators: Colgan, Corinne; Blazar, David; Snow, Catherine

Purpose: Learning to read in the early elementary grades is the foundation on which academic success is built. As a nation, we are failing to provide that foundation to the majority of students—particularly low-income students and students of color—despite a solid research base on teaching reading. Teachers are not being prepared to teach reading effectively, leaving districts to find a solution to address this critical gap in teacher capacity.

An ongoing partnership between the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), the SERP Institute, and a research team from Harvard and the University of Maryland has analyzed district datasets and conducted intensive observations in classrooms in a set of 6 schools to identify windows of opportunity to improve K–2 literacy instruction—work that has led to the identification of high-leverage areas for intervention. The research team proposes to develop an intervention consisting of two micro-credentialing courses. One course targets effective use of student time in literacy centers, a structure for instruction used in the large majority of K–2 classrooms. While a small group of students works with a teacher, other students work independently and often unproductively. The second course targets the use of academically productive talk (APT), an instructional practice that supports deep reading comprehension and student engagement but is not widely used.

Micro-credentials are a low-cost, highly flexible mechanism for building targeted teaching practices. They provide an easily scalable opportunity for outstanding researchers and practitioners to reach a broad audience of teachers, while also allowing teachers to try out practices in their classrooms and receive feedback—known characteristics of high-quality professional learning.

Project Activities: Researchers will develop two courses  in collaboration with DCPS literacy leaders. DCPS K–2 classrooms will be filmed; footage will be incorporated into instructional videos delivered by researchers and DCPS literacy leaders. Course content will be revised in response to feedback from teachers in usability studies conducted through an iterative development process. During the grant years, DCPS will require all teachers in their first three years of teaching, as well as teachers who score as lower-performing during district-conducted evaluations, to complete both micro-credentialing courses. Teachers will be randomly assigned to take the course one year or the next, allowing for an RCT of the impact of the courses on teaching practice and on student learning.

Products: The two micro-credential courses will be hosted on Canvas, a commonly adopted LMS and professional learning platform used by DCPS and other districts. If successful, the courses will be made publicly available to all teachers, schools, and districts for a small licensing fee to cover the cost of maintaining the courses on fee-based platforms. In addition to the courses themselves, guidance on feedback to teachers will be developed for and with DCPS and included as a resource for licensees along with the courses. The courses will be an easy-to-implement strategy for improving reading instruction in states, districts, schools, and classrooms.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place  in DCPS, a majority minority, segregated district of 51,000 students. The elementary schools engaged in the development work are located in predominantly Black wards; the pilot study will include elementary schools district-wide.

Sample: Twelve K–2 teachers from six schools will participate in the development work. These schools have close to 100% Black students; students' early literacy performance is below the district average; roughly 70% of teachers in these schools are Black, and roughly 35% are in their first through third year of teaching. Pilot impact analyses will include all K–2 DCPS teachers (and their students) in their first through third year of teaching, as well as those teachers who are lower-performing on summative evaluation scores—roughly 550 total. District-wide, roughly 46% of teachers are Black, 34% White, and 28% in their first three years of teaching; roughly 51% of students are Black, 21% Hispanic, 20% White, and 57% enter kindergarten at or above benchmark on early literacy assessments.

Intervention: The intervention will consist of two micro-credentialing courses that will be required of all teachers in their first three years of teaching: one will be focused on literacy centers, and the other will be focused on academically productive talk. The courses will each consist of approximately eight 2-hour sessions and will be hosted online, interleaving scripted and classroom video, brief readings, and activities.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will develop the course consecutively in years 1 and 2. Feedback will be solicited from a small group of teachers to iteratively refine each course session. Pilot Studies will be implemented in the year after the feasibility studies. All teachers who are in their first three years of teaching will be in the randomization pool; those selected as treatment teachers will take the course in the year of the draw.

Control Condition: Control teachers will experience business as usual during the year of randomization. They will then experience the treatment in the following year.

Key Measures: In the pilot study, key outcome measures include (i) teacher observation scores on the Essential Practices rubric administered by DCPS, and (ii) student test-score performance on district-administered literacy assessments (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, Text Reading and Comprehension, and Reading Inventory). In the development work, observations will be conducted of select classrooms; immediate feedback will be solicited on the courses through embedded surveys at the end of each session in each of the online courses.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use regression techniques, with randomization block fixed effects, to generate Intent-to-Treat program impacts.

Cost Analysis: Researchers will estimate costs for each of the two micro-credentialing courses using the "ingredients" method. Researchers then will compare treatment effects to costs to generate cost-effectiveness ratios.

Related IES Projects: A SERP-DCPS Partnership to Promote Early Literacy Success (R305H190057)