EdSource Releases Initial Findings from Study of Similar, High-Poverty Schools With Different Achievement Results
Why do some California elementary schools serving low-income students do better on the state's academic performance index (API) than other schools with very similar students? A large-scale survey released today by EdSource suggests an answer—findings that may help district superintendents, principals, and teachers respond to the K-12 API scores scheduled for release later this week.
School APIs are based upon 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 EdSource study identified four interdependent practices associated with higher API scores among these elementary schools. Schools whose staff reported engaging most strongly in all four practices had, on average, the highest API scores.
- Prioritizing Student Achievement – The highest performing schools have teachers who more often report taking responsibility for student achievement and believe the school has well defined plans for instructional improvement. Principals at high-performing schools also say they understand their district’s expectations for meeting the school’s API and AYP targets and make those student performance expectations clear to their teachers.
- Implementing a Coherent, Standards-based Curriculum – Schools with the highest APIs are more likely to have teachers that report school wide alignment and consistency in curriculum, and instruction that is closely based upon state academic standards. Principals at these schools report that their districts have a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum and that the district evaluates principals based on the extent to which instruction in the school aligns with the curriculum.
- Analyzing Student Assessment Data from Multiple Sources – Schools where principals report using data extensively—from a variety of student tests, including the California Standards Tests, and for a variety of school improvement purposes—are on average higher performing. These principals report personally using assessment data to identify struggling students and address their academic needs as well as to evaluate teacher practices and identify teachers who need instructional improvement. They also report that the district uses assessment data to evaluate the principal based upon student achievement.
- Ensuring Instructional Resources – Schools in the survey where the principal reports that the district ensures an adequate supply of text books and support for facilities management are more likely to have higher APIs. Teachers reporting that their classrooms have adequate instructional materials and teacher and principal years of experience were also positively correlated with API.
“Under California’s standards based school reforms, principals are showing high levels of hands-on leadership,” said principal investigator Michael Kirst of Stanford University. “They are re-defining the job to include a strong and active focus on effective management of the school improvement process. With district leadership and support, principals are helping to establish a coherent school curriculum aligned around the state’s academic standards. Their extensive use of assessment data was also somewhat surprising. Districts and principals dissect the assessment data to find solutions for their students and to identify teachers who need help.”
The survey also included questions related to parental involvement, teacher collaboration and development, and the enforcement of high expectations for student behavior. Although each of these types of practices made some contribution to a school’s API score, they were not nearly as strongly correlated with higher school performance as were the four key interactive, interdependent school improvement practices described above.
The study was conducted by EdSource and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research. The survey polled approximately 5,500 teachers and 257 principals in 145 California school districts, an extraordinarily large sample that bolsters the study’s key findings. All schools surveyed had similarly challenged student populations, including large numbers of low-income students. Despite their similar student profiles, schools surveyed differed by as much as 250 points (out of a possible 1,000) on their 2005 Growth Academic Performance Index scores.