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How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies, 2014

October 1, 2014

Policymakers have urged state education agencies (SEAs) to engage with organizations outside of their agencies to extend their capacity and to help them collect and use research to support school improvement. However, little is known about how SEAs search for, select, and use research in their school improvement efforts. In the first study to examine communication structures, social capital, and information networks within SEAs, researchers Goertz, Barnes, and Massell in How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies applied social network perspectives and methods to identify knowledge sources utilized by SEAs. Their findings provide important insights into how SEA staff search for and incorporate research in their work and provide guidance to SEAs and policymakers on ways to apply these findings.

State Education Agencies' Acquisition and Use of Research Knowledge for School Improvement Strategies

September 1, 2013

Over the last 20 years, state education agencies (SEAs) have been given considerably more responsibilities for directing and guiding the improvement of low-performing schools. At the same time, federal policies strongly pressed SEAs to use research to design these supports. Very few studies have explored the SEA as an organization, or its role in accessing and using research. Likewise, few, if any, have studied the role of social networks in the organization and flow of information in SEAs. This exploratory study was designed to fill those gaps by examining where and how a purposive sample of three SEAs searched for, incorporated, and used research and other types of knowledge to design, implement, and refine state school improvement policies, programs and practices.

How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies, 2013

August 1, 2013

Over the last two decades, state and federal laws and grant programs, such as state accountability polices, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Race to the Top, Title I School Improvement Grants, and State Longitudinal Data System Grants, have given state education agencies (SEAs) considerably more responsibilities for directing and guiding the improvement of low-performing schools. At the same time, they have pressed SEAs and school districts to incorporate research-based school improvement policies and practices in their statewide systems of support for low-performing schools, technical assistance for districts, professional development for teachers, and school improvement programs. Policymakers have urged SEAs to engage with organizations external to their own agencies to extend their strained capacity, and to help them collect and use research or other evidence. A variety of organizations involved in this enterprise have emerged over the last two decades. For example, the 2002 authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's (ESEA) comprehensive assistance centers was specifically designed to provide and encourage SEA's use of research. Although studies of districts' and schools' use of research exist, we know little about how SEAs search for, select, and use research and other kinds of evidence in their school improvement strategies. While one might assume similarities in research use behaviors, both the organizational structures of SEAs and the population of external organizations with which they interact are quite different than schools and districts, and the most recent in-depth study of SEAs was conducted nearly 20 years ago. The exploratory study on which this brief is based was designed to fill that gap by examining: 1) where SEA staff search for research, evidence-based, and practitioner knowledge related to school improvement; 2) whether and how SEA staff use research and these other types of knowledge to design, implement, and refine state school improvement policies, programs and practices; and, 3) how SEAs are organized to manage and use such knowledge.

Can Interim Assessments Be Used for Instructional Change

December 1, 2009

The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the use of interim assessments and the policy supports that promote their use to change instruction, focusing on elementary school mathematics. The study looked at how 45 elementary school teachers in a purposive sample of 9 schools in 2 districts used interim assessments in mathematics in 2006-07. The study focused on teachers' use of data in a cycle of instructional improvement; that is, how teachers gather or access evidence about student learning; analyze and interpret that evidence; use evidence to plan instruction; and carry out improved instruction. Authors conclude that interim assessments that are designed for instructional purposes are helpful but not sufficient to inform instructional change.

From Testing to Teaching: The Use of Interim Assessments in Classroom Instruction

December 1, 2009

The past ten years have witnessed an explosion in the use of interim assessments by school districts across the country. A primary reason for this rapid growth is the assumption that interim assessments can inform and improve instructional practice and thereby contribute to increased student achievement. Testing companies, states, and districts have become invested in selling or creating interim assessments and data management systems designed to help teachers, principals, and district leaders make sense of student data, identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, identify instructional strategies for targeted students, and much more. Districts are keeping their interim tests even under pressure to cut budgets (Sawchuk, 2009). The U.S. Department of Education is using its Race to the Top program to encourage school districts to develop formative or interim assessments as part of comprehensive state assessment systems. Much of the rhetoric around interim assessments paints a rosy picture, often with the ultimate claim that such measures will lead to increased student achievement. Much of the belief in the potential of interim assessments to improve student learning comes from the growing body of research on formative assessment. However, the majority of this research has not focused on interim assessments themselves, but rather practices that are embedded within classroom instruction. Very few studies exist on how interim assessments are actually used, by individual teachers in classrooms, by principals, and by districts. Furthermore, we know little about how teachers and other educators use the results from such assessments, the conditions that support their ability to use these data to improve instruction, or the interaction of interim assessments with other classroom assessment practices. Our study begins to fill that vacuum.

High Hopes: How High Schools Respond to State Accountability Policies

March 1, 2005

This report by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) focuses squarely on strategies for instructional improvement in American high schools. Specifically, this study examines how high schools that perform below average incorporate their state's accountability goals into their own goals, identify their challenges, and search for strategies for instructional improvement. We focus on how high schools of differing performance levels and contexts, residing in states with different forms of high-stakes accountability and support systems, identify, understand, and respond to the gap between their current levels of performance and external expectations for their performance.

Holding High Hopes: How High Schools Respond to State Accountability Policies

January 1, 2005

American public education faces increasing pressure to carry out its mission of preparing youths with the skills to compete in today's global economy and to participate constructively in a democratic society. As part of this pressure, policymakers have developed increasingly sophisticated accountability and support systems to steer schools towards improved performance. These "new accountability" approaches emphasize student performance over system inputs, focus on schools rather than school districts as units of improvement, and use public reporting of student outcomes and rewards and sanctions as ways to motivate schools to alter their curriculum and instructional practices (Fuhrman, 1999). These strategies embody two key assumptions: (a) that accountability systems can be made powerful enough to influence the behavior of schools; and (b) that schools have or will develop the capacity to identify, select, and implement policies and practices that will improve their performance. Working under these assumptions, state and national policymakers have set academic goals, defined incentives, and provided supports, expecting that these actions would motivate schools to expend resources on improving organization, curriculum, and practice, and that schools' responses would improve educational programs and instruction and, in turn, improve student outcomes. State and national assessment results show that student performance in many elementary schools has improved over the last decade. Some researchers have argued that a portion of these gains can be attributed to the pressures generated by state accountability systems that have set standards, focused attention, and created stronger incentives for improved performance (Carnoy & Loeb, 2004; Grissmer & Flanagan, 1998; Grissmer, Flanagan, Kawata, & Williamson, 2000; Hanushek & Raymond, 2002). High schools, however, have not experienced the same positive effects, and we know little about how high school staff respond to new external accountability pressures. The study (Gross & Goertz, 2005) reviewed in this issue of CPRE Policy Briefs provides insight into how teachers and administrators in American public high schools are influenced by and attempt to address the problems posed by standards based state accountability systems. Our analysis builds upon earlier studies that used smaller and less representative samples of secondary schools (e.g., Carnoy, Elmore, & Siskin, 2003), sometimes agreeing with and sometimes challenging their conclusions about the effects of increased accountability and high schools.

The Federal Role in Defining Adequate Yearly Progress: The Flexibility/Accountability Trade-Off

September 1, 2001

Bills passed by the U. S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in spring 2001 to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) not only reinforce but strengthen the education accountability provisions contained in the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994. Title I of the IASA requires states to establish challenging content and performance standards, implement assessments that measure student performance against these standards, and hold schools and school systems accountable for the achievement of all students. Specifically, states and local school districts must determine whether schools and school districts are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing students up to state standards, identify for school improvement any school that does not made adequate yearly progress for two consecutive school years, target resources to these schools, and, if necessary, take corrective action.

Assessment and AccountabilityAcross the 50 States

May 1, 2001

In recent years, all 50 states have embarked on education initiatives related to high standards and challenging content. A central focus of these efforts has been the establishment of a common set of academic standards for all students, the assessments that measure student performance, and accountability systems that are at least partially focused on student outcomes. This CPRE Policy Brief summarizes a longer report about state assessment and accountability systems in all 50 states and examines the extent to which state policies meet the intent of federal policy, particularly Title I. We focused on the following questions:How are states measuring student performance and reporting it to the general public?How are states holding schools, school districts, and students accountable for student outcomes?How aligned are accountability policies for Title I and non-Title I schools?How are states assisting low-performing schools?What challenges do the federal government and the states face in designing effective and equitable accountability and improvement systems?The study was based on information drawn from a 50-state survey of state assessment and accountability systems conducted by CPRE between February and June 2000.

Assessment and Accountability Systems in the 50 States: 1999-2000

March 1, 2001

In the late 1990s and early 2000, all 50 states embarked on education initiatives related to high standards and challenging content. A central focus of these efforts was on the establishment of standards-based reforms and assessments that measured student performance and accountability systems that were at least partially focused on student outcomes. The policy talk asserted that these high standards apply to all students, and standards-based reform focused on high achievement for all children. Much of this activity took place within the context of the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994. This law created major changes in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the $8 billion federal program that provides additional funding to schools with large concentrations of poor children. The legislation was developed in response to concerns about the operation and impact of the Title I program over the previous 25 years: low expectations for educationally disadvantaged students, an instructional emphasis on basic skills, isolation from the regular curriculum, and a focus on procedural compliance rather than academic outcomes (U.S. Department of Education, 1993). Researchers, policymakers, and advocates concluded that a new federal approach was needed to improve education for all students -- an approach built on a framework of standards-based reform that is integrated with state and local education reform initiatives. The provisions of IASA gave states a prominent role in Title I. States were expected to establish challenging content and performance standards, implement assessments that measure student performance against these standards, hold schools and school systems accountable for the achievement of all students, and take other steps that promote programmatic flexibility and foster instructional and curricular reform. States were also expected to align their Title I programs with these policies to ensure that disadvantaged students are held to the same high standards. In addition, the 1997 revisions to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require states to include students having disabilities in state and district assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations, and to disaggregate and report their test scores. This report uses data collected from the 50 states to describe state assessment and accountability systems and to examine the extent to which state policies meet the objectives of federal policy.

The Bumpy Road to Education Reform

June 1, 1996

This issue of CPRE Policy Briefs identifies five challenges that confront educators and policymakers as they develop higher standards and other policies and structures to support improved student and teacher learning. It also describes strategies used by a few states and localities to address some of these challenges. The brief draws on findings of a three-year study of standards-based reform conducted by CPRE researchers in California, Michigan and Vermont. In each state, researchers conducted case studies of four schools in two districts reputed to be active in reform and capable of supporting education reform. Although the sample is small, the similarity of reform issues across such widely varying fiscal, demographic, and political contexts suggests that lessons learned may be applicable to sites other than those studied here. Overall, we conclude that while states and local school districts have taken major steps to reform the ways they teach and assess their students, the road to reform is arduous, full of bumps and still under construction.

Building Capacity for Education Reform

December 1, 1995

Discussions of capacity should be broadened to include factors such as the relationships between individual, or teacher, capacity and the abilities of schools, and districts to accomplish standards-based, or systemic, reform. This brief provides a framework for thinking about capacity and suggests ways that systemic reform strategies could help increase capacity. It also describes how two such strategies - professional development and state assessment - were used to enhance educational capacity in states examined by CPRE.