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Report examines the use of enhanced coaching for teachers to improve early reading instruction and achievement

Report examines use of enhanced coaching for teachers

By Joni Wackwitz
September 15, 2021

Proficiency in reading by the end of grade 3 is key to students’ later academic success. Educators in Chicago Public Schools are working to improve early literacy outcomes through the P–2 Balanced Literacy Initiative, a multiyear professional development program for prekindergarten (preK) through grade 2 teachers. The initiative provides teachers with professional development on instruction that balances systematic foundational literacy skills with the use of rich, complex texts to teach reading and writing.

As part of the initiative, designated priority schools received enhanced coaching supports, such as more frequent site-based coaching, to improve young students’ independent reading. A new study from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, conducted in partnership with the Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance, compared outcomes between priority and nonpriority schools and looked at the successes and challenges of implementing the initiative.

>> Read and download the full report.

About the study

Chicago Public Schools launched the P–2 Balanced Literacy Initiative in the 2016/17 school year. By 2018/19, the initiative included 115 elementary schools (23 percent) in the district. Of these schools, the district designated 26 priority schools to receive enhanced supports focused on independent reading. District leaders identified these schools based on criteria that indicated whether a school had a higher level of need and was prepared to support the initiative.

The Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance requested this study to determine whether attending a priority school that received enhanced coaching led to higher student reading achievement than attending a similar nonpriority school that received the initiative’s standard supports. The study team also examined how participation in the initiative’s core professional development sessions differed between priority and nonpriority schools. In addition, researchers interviewed education leaders, instructional support coaches, and teachers working with or in priority schools about their experiences with and perceptions of the initiative.

The study examined implementation of the P–2 Balanced Literacy Initiative at participating priority and nonpriority schools for one school year (2018/19). Researchers analyzed 2018/19 district administrative data for all K–2 students and their teachers as well as district data on the initiative’s implementation. To understand the conditions necessary to successfully implement the initiative’s enhanced coaching and professional development supports, the research team reviewed the interview transcripts and identified common themes.

What did the study find?

Key findings include the following:

  • Attending a priority school did not lead to higher end-of-year student reading achievement than attending a similar nonpriority school, after adjusting for student and school characteristics. This finding remained consistent across student demographic groups and schools.
  • Teachers in priority schools were more likely than their counterparts in nonpriority schools to participate in the initiative’s professional development components. In priority schools, 38 percent of teachers attended all three Balanced Literacy Initiative professional development sessions, compared with 26 percent of teachers in nonpriority schools
  • Interviews with selected education leaders, instructional support coaches, and teachers working with or in priority schools suggest that enhanced school-based coaching is valuable but could be improved by allowing more time for instructional coaches to work with teachers. Other aspects of the initiative that interviewees found valuable included opportunities for teachers to deepen their understanding of the initiative’s professional development, receive feedback through observation and school-based coaching, and learn from one another.

These findings should be considered in the context of two of the study’s limitations. First, the study’s design cannot make strong causal claims about the impacts of enhanced coaching supports in the P–2 Balanced Literacy Initiative. Second, the study findings may not be generalizable to other districts that have different characteristics than Chicago Public Schools. For more information, see the full report.

What can we take away from the findings?

The study’s findings can help inform multiple courses of action for districts leaders, both in Chicago Public Schools and elsewhere in the Midwest.

  • District leaders at Chicago Public Schools can use the findings to guide decisions about the design and use of the P–2 Balanced Literacy Initiative, including the use of enhanced coaching at priority schools. Other districts can use the findings to inform policies and practices to strengthen teacher professional development focused on improving early literacy instruction and outcomes.
  • The findings also suggest the need for additional investigation and research into the implementation of the initiative. Because implementing the initiative in priority schools for one year did not lead to meaningful change in students’ end-of-year reading achievement, district leaders may want to study the initiative across multiple years.
    • Further research could include the systematic collection of data to better assess the quantity and quality of enhanced coaching in priority schools and whether supports are working as intended. Those data were unavailable at the time of this study.
    • District leaders also could explore other reasons for the lack of a difference in student outcomes between priority and nonpriority schools, such as whether increasing the number of instructional support coaches or limiting their workload may improve results.

Related resources

To learn more about the study and its findings, read the full report. For more information about REL Midwest’s work to support early childhood literacy, see the following related resources:

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Author information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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