Study Suggests Link Between Achievement and Curriculum Choice in High-Poverty Elementary Schools
Does a school’s performance on California’s Academic Performance Index (API) relate to the use of a particular curriculum program? An analysis released today by EdSource from a large-scale survey of elementary schools serving similarly-challenged students suggests an answer.
School APIs are based on student test scores on the California Standards Tests, which measure how well students at the school are mastering grade level academic standards. According to many experts, California’s K-12 academic standards, adopted in the late 1990s, are among the most challenging in the nation.
The new analysis found that for English language arts, using the Open Court curriculum program school-wide did appear to make a difference in a school’s API score. Open Court appeared to be most effective when it was:
- used intensively—i.e., all teachers in the school reported using Open Court daily;
- combined with a coherent, school-wide, standards-based instructional program; and
- combined with the frequent use of student assessment data to improve instruction.
Open Court is one of two main English language arts curriculum packages currently approved by the State Board of Education in California. The new findings are the result of an extended regression analysis of survey data collected last spring from 5,500 K-5 classroom teachers in 257 schools from 145 different districts.
"Our analysis found that high-intensity use of Open Court mattered, but not all schools using Open Court intensively were higher performing," said Trish Williams, executive director of EdSource and study project director. "School API is influenced by many factors besides curriculum choice. The high-intensity Open Court schools in our sample with high APIs also responded to multiple survey questions in a way that reflected a strong and cohesive school and district culture around student achievement, including use of assessment data to improve instruction."
Open Court was used as the primary English Language Arts curriculum program by only one-fourth (72) of the schools in the study’s sample. But in 80% of those 72 schools, all teachers in the school reported using it daily.
"This finding of a relationship between intense use of Open Court and higher API scores is somewhat provocative," said Michael Kirst of Stanford University, the study’s principal investigator. "But it’s something to consider when schools are making decisions about curriculum and instructional practices and when the state is setting textbook adoption policies."
This analysis did not examine the specific ways in which the components and attributes of Open Court curriculum materials differ from those of other curriculum programs or how those differences might contribute to a more positive association with school API.
The findings released today are the result of an extended analysis of data collected as part of the Similar Students, Different Results study — a two-year research effort conducted by EdSource and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research. The study’s Initial Findings were released in October 2005. The 257 schools in the study’s sample had similarly challenged student populations, including large numbers of low-income students, but differed in their performance by as much as 250 points (out of a possible 1,000) on their 2005 Growth API scores.
The Initial Findings report identified four broad and interdependent practices associated with higher API scores among this cross-section of California elementary schools. They are: placing a high priority on student achievement; implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum and instructional program; using assessment data to improve student achievement and instruction; and ensuring the availability of basic instructional resources.
Excerpts may not be taken and cited from the report. Permission must be requested from EdSource to photocopy and distribute full copies of the report, which can be found here.
Elementary School Curriculum Program and API: a More-Detailed Examination is an addition to the study Similar Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Schools Do Better? Click here.