Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Improving Early Grade Academic Outcomes in Louisiana
Center: NCER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Weixler, Lindsay Awardee: Tulane University
Program: Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2023 – 06/30/2026) Award Amount: $999,948
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305S230021

Co-Principal Investigators: Valant, Jon; Lambert, Thomas

Partner Institutions: Brookings Institution, Louisiana Department of Education, New Orleans Public Schools

Purpose: The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) has prioritized raising early-grade literacy, particularly for economically disadvantaged students. This project will support the state's goals by exploring socioeconomic gaps in literacy levels at kindergarten entry and third-grade completion and examining two of the state's key programs designed to improve academic outcomes for young children. The first is the state's longstanding pre-kindergarten (preK) program, which provides limited funding statewide for economically disadvantaged children to attend full-day, center-based programs primarily located in public schools. The second is the state's changing accountability system for young learners, which features an observation system for early childhood education (ECE) and a new plan for assessment-based accountability for kindergarten through grade 2 (K–2). In partnership with LDOE, the research team will investigate the following, using Louisiana's Statewide Longitudinal Data System:

  1. which students and districts need the most support prior to school entry and in the early grades
  2. the extent to which state preK programs improve early-grade literacy, particularly for economically disadvantaged students
  3. what the new K–2 system reveals about children's literacy development and access to high-quality instruction

The findings from this project will support LDOE's policy development and budget requests related to ECE and early elementary literacy.

Project Activities: The team will conduct descriptive analyses using multilevel models to examine socioeconomic gaps in kindergarten literacy levels and K–3 trajectories in literacy development. The team will use value-added scores derived from the state's new K–2 accountability system to explore disparities in teacher assignments by economic disadvantage and examine changes in teacher assignments after the system's adoption (e.g., using diff-in-diff designs). The team will also leverage an existing lottery system to conduct a quasi-experiment to determine the causal impact of preK effects. In this study, they will calculate a deferred-acceptance propensity score to identify the effects of lottery placement in either a highly rated prekindergarten program or in any program on literacy outcomes.

Products: Products include academic papers, research briefs, reports, blog posts, and presentations for diverse audiences in Louisiana and nationally. The research team will disseminate findings related to opportunity gaps and the impacts of current or future initiatives through presentations to LDOE staff, stakeholder convenings, and a local event.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in Louisiana.

Sample: This project focuses on economically disadvantaged learners in Louisiana. For most analyses, the study sample will come from the statewide population of public-school students entering kindergarten between 2017–18 and 2023–24 (roughly 360,000 students). Some analyses will include students entering grades K–2 in 2023–24 or 2024–25 (roughly 200,000 students). The public-school population is 72 percent economically disadvantaged, 42 percent Black, 43 percent White, 10 percent Hispanic (any race), and 4 percent English language learners. For the analysis of preK effects, the sample will include children subject to a placement lottery for public preK in New Orleans from 2017–18 to 2022–23. This sample resembles the statewide population in economic disadvantage and fraction of English language learners. As part of this project, the team will also identify two or three additional districts with data suitable for studying preK effects.

Key Issues, Programs, and Policies:  Louisiana noted that their students are struggling with literacy, so the state will focus on strategies to help address improving early literacy outcomes, particularly for economically disadvantaged students. The team will explore socioeconomic gaps in literacy levels at kindergarten entry and third-grade completion and examining two of the state's key programs designed to improve academic outcomes for young children. The first is a longstanding state preK program that provides limited funds for economically disadvantaged children. The second is the state's changing accountability system, which features an observation system for early childhood education (ECE) and new plan for assessment-based accountability for K–2.

Comparison Condition: In descriptive analyses of kindergarten and third-grade outcomes and K–2 teacher assignments, the team will compare economically disadvantaged children to more advantaged children. In analyses of student trajectories, the researchers will compare students to themselves over time. The researchers will also make comparisons across districts in order to identify districts with more and less success with improving literacy outcomes between K and 3rd grade. In analyses of preK effects in New Orleans, the team will compare the outcomes of students whose preK placements differ because of random lotteries within the New Orleans preK placement process.

Key Measures: The key academic outcomes include literacy scores in grades K–2, measured by DIBELS, Acadience Reading, and a new assessment that the state will begin to use in the fall of 2023. The outcomes also include and English language arts scores on the third-grade state assessment. Other outcomes of interest include student assignment to a high-rated K–2 teacher, as measured by the new accountability system.

Data Analytic Strategy: To examine student- and district-level factors associated with kindergarten and 3rd-grade literacy, the research team will use multilevel models, with students nested in districts, with a random effect of district on the intercept. In some models (e.g., assessing variation in trajectories), they will also include a random slope. To identify the causal effects of preK, the team will first identify students who were subject to a lottery within the New Orleans preK assignment process. The team will estimate the effect of preK and preK quality on kindergarten and third-grade outcomes by conditioning on the deferred-acceptance propensity score. Finally, to examine access to high-performing K–2 teachers, the team will first estimate value-added scores, predicting growth from fall to spring on the state literacy assessment, using a sample of students in grades K–2 in 2023–24. Then, the team will examine the proportion of economically disadvantaged students assigned to high-rated teachers, as compared to assignment rates for more-advantaged students. Finally, they will decompose the gap to identify the within-school, within-district, and across-district sources of any disparities the team find.

State Decision Making: Project results will inform LDOE's decision-making as they consider plans for the new K–2 accountability system and monitor the effects of that system on students and teachers. Additionally, findings will help LDOE determine how best to direct resources in future applications for federal funding to expand preK programs. Finally, these findings will help LDOE craft strategies in their efforts to improve literacy outcomes for economically disadvantaged students across the state, while informing areas for additional intervention and support.

Related IES Projects: The New Orleans Early Education Research Alliance (R305H190041), SLDS grant to LouisianaLouisiana Education Data Repository System (R372A090049)