The study took place in 40 schools serving grades 7 to 12 within four public school districts in urban and suburban areas of southern California during the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years. Participating districts were associated with one of four National Writing Project sites.
The study consisted of 230 secondary school English language arts or English language development teachers (113 Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers and 117 comparison group teachers). The main findings are based on 211 students in grades 7 to 12, which the authors describe as including English learners and redesignated English proficient students. Eighty-nine percent of the students were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, 1% were White, and 4% were another race or ethnicity or missing this information. Fifty-two percent of English learner students were male. Just over half of the 211 students (55%) met the definition of English learners for this review, which included current English learners and students who were recently (no earlier than 2 years before the start of the study) reclassified as English proficient.
The Pathway to Academic Success Project trains teachers to improve the reading and writing abilities of English learners who have an intermediate level of English proficiency by incorporating cognitive strategies into reading and writing instruction. The cognitive strategies include goal setting, tapping prior knowledge, asking questions, making predictions, articulating and revising understanding of text, and evaluating writing. The Pathway to Academic Success Project training lasted 2 years. During each school year, Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers participated in 46 total hours of training, including five full-day sessions (6 hours each) and five after-school sessions (2 hours each). Developers of the Pathway to Academic Success Project led the training with support from district literacy coaches who were experienced Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers. The first two professional development days focused on introducing teachers to the cognitive strategies toolkit and instructional strategies for teaching students to use the toolkit. Teachers received paper- and computer-based materials as models of curriculum and instruction for teaching students the cognitive strategies within the schools’ English language arts curricula. To reinforce the cognitive strategies toolkit, teachers received wall posters with visuals of the cognitive strategies and students received bookmarks with cognitive strategies sentence starters. In the third and fourth professional development days, teachers focused on analyzing students’ performance on the initial writing assessment to determine strengths and areas for growth and received further training on the implementation of cognitive strategies to enhance interpretive reading and analytical writing. In the fifth and sixth professional development days, teachers analyzed students’ post-test writing, reflected on their growth as writers, and made plans for Year 2. National Writing Project (NWP) site directors led the professional development with support from study co-directors, doctoral students, or NWP teachers and consultants. Each school identified a teacher to serve as a coordinator and liaison between the NWP Site Director and the school. Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers also received business-as-usual professional development provided by the school district.
Comparison group teachers participated in business-as-usual professional development and used the district English language arts textbook and novels for teaching. All comparison group teachers attended a half-day professional development training on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Collections textbook series. Several districts also conducted professional development on district benchmark assessments and the new state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.
Support for implementation
The intervention developer provided support for implementation. Professional development sessions were staggered so that site directors could watch the intervention developer deliver the session to one site before leading that session for their sites. The site directors agreed to implement certain elements of the intervention with fidelity, but had flexibility to adapt other elements to their site.
Implementation fidelity was assessed based on teacher participation in professional development, the extent to which the content of the professional development was consistent with the program model, and annual teacher surveys about professional development and instructional practices. Authors found that teacher participation in professional development fell short of implementation targets but the content of the professional development met expectations. Three of the four study sites met the implementation target of at least 90% of teachers attending four of the five full-day professional development sessions, and two sites met the target of 90% of teachers attending at least three of the five after-school sessions. Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers reported receiving more English language arts–focused professional development than comparison group teachers and that professional development had a greater emphasis on cognitive strategies. However, intervention and comparison group teachers reported spending similar amounts of instructional time on analytical essay writing and reading strategies.