The study took place in 15 secondary schools (9 middle schools and 6 high schools) in the Santa Ana Unified School District, an urban school district in California, during the 2007–08 and 2008–09 school years.
The study consisted of 52 Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers and 51 comparison group teachers. The sample included 2,726 English learner students in grades 6 to 12. All students were English learners, 95% of students were Hispanic, and Spanish was the first language for 88% of students. Forty-nine percent of students were male, and 79% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
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 six 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. Throughout the year, teachers received curriculum materials that modeled approaches to using the cognitive strategies and described strategies for implementing those curriculum materials with students within the schools’ English language arts curricula, including direct instruction, teacher modeling, and guided student practice. In the third and fourth professional development days, teachers focused on analyzing students’ performance on a 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. Throughout implementation, Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers had access to the district literacy coaches who supported them in integrating into the ELA curriculum a cognitive strategies approach to writing. Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers also received 26 hours of business-as-usual professional development.
Comparison group teachers received 26 hours of business-as-usual professional development that focused on the teacher’s guide for using the district’s ELA textbook (Holt Elements of Literature series). The textbook contained instruction in cognitive reading strategies and included questions throughout reading selections to aid students’ comprehension, but focused more on cognitive strategies in reading than writing. The professional development included sessions on interpreting test data, using test data to improve students’ California Standards Test scores, improving students’ summarizing strategies while reading, creating professional learning communities, and understanding how to teach the ELA textbook. Comparison group teachers did not receive coaching support, but did receive resources, such as classroom library books.
Support for implementation
The study authors conducted observations of Pathway to Academic Success Project implementation and comparison classrooms at the end of the first year of implementation. Authors found no differences in the use of specific Pathway to Academic Success Project reading or writing activities during classroom observations between intervention and comparison classrooms. Study authors also surveyed Pathway to Academic Success Project and comparison group teachers about their classroom instruction. Nearly twice as many Pathway to Academic Success Project teachers reported devoting time to writing skills compared with comparison group teachers.