How Racial Segregation and Tracking Cumulatively Disadvantage Middle School Achievement

Commentary author
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson
Summary

A study critically examines middle school educational disparities, particularly among racial minority groups. Despite desegregation efforts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), racial segregation in schools and classrooms persisted in 1997. Investigating 8th-grade students' performance, the study found a correlation between racial segregation, classroom tracking, and standardized test scores. Even after accounting for family background and prior achievements, students placed in lower tracks showed lower test scores. Additionally, prolonged exposure to racially segregated schools and tracks resulted in declining academic performance, while attendance in desegregated schools improved outcomes for all students, regardless of their race or background. The study underscores the long-term consequences of segregation, emphasizing its role in perpetuating academic inequalities. While specific to CMS in 1997, the findings highlight the enduring impact of segregation on academic achievement, stressing the crucial need to address racial segregation and tracking in schools for comprehensive educational reform and equitable learning opportunities.

English Learners’ Time to Reclassification

An Analysis
Commentary author
Summary

A new study investigates English Language Learners' (ELLs) proficiency development using nine years of student data from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). It reveals that while speaking and listening proficiency in English is often achieved within two years, reaching literacy-based proficiency takes notably longer, varying from 4 to 7 years for different literacy measures. By middle school, three-fourths of ELLs have been reclassified and exited from English Language (EL) services, with the likelihood of reclassification peaking in upper elementary grades. However, students not reclassified by this phase become less likely to do so, with over 30% eventually qualifying for special education. The study indicates varying reclassification times influenced by factors like initial academic language proficiency in English and students' primary language. It suggests the need for additional enrichment services for secondary ELs and emphasizes the importance of early high-quality preschool programs for academic language proficiency. The findings advocate for data-informed redesigns of federal and state assessment systems to accommodate diverse language acquisition trajectories, ensuring equitable education for ELLs.

Science Test Score Gaps by Gender and Race/Ethnicity in Elementary and Middle School

Trends and Predictors
Commentary authors
North Cooc
Summary

The push for scientific literacy has grown, driven by increasing STEM career demands. However, persistent gender and racial/ethnic disparities in science proficiency remain a concern. In a new study, using national data from Grade 3 to Grade 8, researchers find substantial science score gaps among racial/ethnic groups and genders. While the Black-White gap stayed consistent, the Hispanic-White gap narrowed, and the Asian-White gap vanished by eighth grade. Gender gaps slightly decreased but remained present. Yet, controlling for socioeconomic status, prior math/reading achievement, and classroom factors significantly reduced all eighth-grade science gaps, making them statistically insignificant. Notably, the gender gap closely aligns with math differences, and by controlling for math and reading achievement, SES, and classroom aspects, eighth-grade disparities diminish. The study highlights the need for early interventions to bridge these gaps and suggests further research into factors influencing science disparities for future equitable opportunities in STEM fields.

Aiming High and Falling Short

California’s Eighth-Grade Algebra-for-All Effort
Commentary author
Thurston Domina
Summary

In the drive to intensify middle school math education by augmenting eighth-grade Algebra enrollment, California led the charge, making Algebra the 8th-grade math benchmark in 2008. Over nearly a decade, California witnessed a doubling in eighth-graders taking advanced math, reaching approximately 65%. The initiative aimed to bolster learning in challenging academic settings, grounded in research linking rigorous curricula to higher achievement. A new study delves into this policy's broad-reaching impact, analyzing California's K–12 public school data. We explore how increased 8th-grade Algebra enrollment affects 10th-grade math performance (CAHSEE). The analysis portrays a  discouraging picture, contradicting earlier beliefs. Broad efforts to increase 8th-grade Algebra enrollment negatively impact student achievement in larger districts and show no benefits in smaller or medium districts. Across math domains, these effects persist, from elementary concepts to more advanced subjects like Measurement and Geometry or Algebra I.

Does Head Start Differentially Benefit Children with Risks Targeted by the Program’s Service Model?

Commentary author
Elizabeth Miller
Summary

The Head Start program, established in 1965, aims to enhance the school readiness of low-income children by providing comprehensive services, including education, health, and family support. This approach targets children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development, health, and family well-being. Researchers using the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS) examined if the program effectively supports at-risk children. By creating risk factors based on the program model, they aimed to determine if Head Start benefits children with higher risk profiles. Results showed a mix of outcomes: while there was no significant improvement in high-risk children’s pre-academic skills, teacher-reported behavior problems were slightly reduced, contrasting with maternal-reported behavior problems, which increased. This suggests Head Start might better address behavioral aspects than pre-academic readiness. The study highlighted the need for better tailoring services to high-risk children, especially in cognitive development, indicating the importance of ongoing research to enhance Head Start's responsiveness to individual needs for better outcomes in school readiness.

Monetary vs. Non-Monetary Incentives for Program Participation

An Experiment with Free Middle School Tutoring
Commentary authors
Matthew G. Springer
Brooks Rosenquist
Walker A. Swain
Summary

Researchers conducted an experiment to determine if incentives could improve low-income students' attendance in tutoring programs provided through Supplemental Education Services (SEdS). Three groups of 5th-8th graders were formed: one offered a $100 reward for regular attendance, another receiving certificates of recognition, and a control group without incentives. Surprisingly, the monetary reward didn't increase attendance, while the certificate group attended 40% more sessions than the control. This contrasts with past studies showing monetary incentives for improved test scores as ineffective, suggesting that mere rewards may not enhance skills without additional support. The certificate approach proved cost-effective, costing $9 per student versus $100 for the monetary incentive. However, wider implementation's effectiveness might diminish due to students' varied perceptions of recognition's value, related to existing academic achievements or repeated rewards. The study's success suggests non-monetary incentives are effective and inexpensive. Policymakers and educators seeking to boost student participation in underutilized programs should consider these findings, emphasizing nuanced research into varying incentives' effectiveness and cost-efficiency to motivate student engagement. Despite these promising results, a comprehensive solution requires a deeper understanding of how different incentives affect diverse student populations and their sustained impact over time.

School Suspensions’ Positive Link to Drop-Out and Negative Link to Achievement

Commentary authors
Caven S. Mcloughlin
Rose Marie Ward
Amity L. Noltemeyer
Summary

A meta-analysis of 53 cases from 34 publications aimed to understand the impact of school suspensions on student outcomes. It found a consistent negative link between suspensions, particularly out-of-school ones, and academic achievement. Additionally, though data was limited, out-of-school suspension showed a positive association with dropout rates. Factors like gender, race, and socio-economic status influenced these relationships, indicating varied impacts on different groups. The study refrains from making causal conclusions, but it suggests that suspensions might contribute to lower achievement due to reduced learning opportunities and disengagement from school. Disproportionate suspension rates among low-income, urban, and minority students raise equity concerns. Encouragingly, California's limitations on suspension for minor disruptions might be a progressive step. The study advocates for evidence-based strategies focusing on behavior improvement, alternatives to suspension, better educator training, and consistent review of disciplinary data for informed decision-making to reduce suspension rates and their negative impacts on students.

At Risk for School Failure

Students with Special Health Care Needs
Commentary authors
Dian Baker
Samantha Blackburn
Kathleen Hebbeler
Summary

Schools face the dual responsibility of educating children and providing health services to over a million students in California with special health care needs (SHCN). These students are at higher risk of academic struggles and absenteeism. However, schools often lack awareness of these students’ conditions, neglecting their unique health needs. The absence of specific regulations leaves decisions about health services and staffing to individual districts. Alarmingly, 57% of districts in 2013 had no school nurses, while those with nurses had ratios far exceeding recommended levels. In the absence of nurses, unlicensed staff handle critical health procedures. The lack of state guidance and dedicated funding exacerbates these challenges. To address this, California should mandate systematic identification and care for students with SHCN, track health emergencies, monitor attendance and educational outcomes, and ensure standardized training for all staff delivering health services. These steps could safeguard the health and academic success of all students, aligning with the proven link between health and academic performance.

The Effects of Grade Retention on Student Misbehavior

Commentary author
Umut Özek
Summary

Test-based accountability has become standard in education, with 16 states and the District of Columbia mandating the retention of third-grade students falling below reading benchmarks. Grade retention has been debated for years; supporters argue it boosts future achievement, while critics highlight its emotional toll. In “Hold Back to Move Forward? Early Grade Retention and Student Misbehavior,” I delve into an often-overlooked aspect: the impact of retention on disruptive behavior. Determining causality in retention policies is complex, as decisions aren’t random but based on unobservable student traits. To tackle this, I leverage Florida’s policy, analyzing students just below and above the promotion cutoff in a regression framework. A new study reveals short-term effects of retention on increased misbehavior, rising by 40% in the two years post-retention, predominantly among economically disadvantaged and male students. However, these effects fade after three years. Despite short-term academic gains, retention bears the cost of escalated misbehavior. These findings prompt a reevaluation of test-based retention policies that offer instructional support, like California’s, weighing their benefits against the behavioral implications.

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance?

Evidence from the Four-Day School Week
Commentary author
Mary Beth Walker
Summary

School districts have adopted the four-day school week to curb budget deficits, particularly in rural regions like Colorado and Wyoming, with around 10 districts in California following suit by 2011. This schedule change raises questions about its impact on academic performance. Longer class periods allow varied teaching methods and teacher planning, possibly improving student morale and behavior. Yet, concerns arise about teacher stress, student retention, and increased fatigue, especially for younger students. Evaluating this shift rigorously is vital, but few studies exist. Using a difference-in-differences regression and data from Colorado’s CSAP, researchers analyzed 4th-grade reading and 5th-grade math scores in districts that switched to a four-day week against those on standard schedules. Over a third of Colorado districts adopted this schedule. The results showed a significant increase in math scores post-switch, and while reading scores also rose, the change wasn’t statistically significant. The findings suggest no harm to student performance and even hint at improved attendance rates, though they apply primarily to smaller, rural districts, warranting caution in applying these findings more broadly.

Missed Signals

The Effect of ACT College-Readiness Measures on Post-Secondary Decisions
Commentary authors
Andrew Foote
Lisa Schulkind
Teny M. Shapiro
Summary

Amid budget constraints and the need for a skilled workforce, policymakers explore ways to increase post-secondary education. Barriers for low-income students include achievement, financial, and informational hurdles. Previous research tackled financial obstacles, but recent attention focuses on information barriers. Researchers analyzed if ACT score reports, signaling college readiness in subjects, influenced college enrollment decisions among Colorado students. By comparing those near readiness cutoffs, we assessed the impact of this information. Surprisingly, they found no influence on college enrollment. This could stem from the students' status (near readiness thresholds) or the information’s lack of application guidance. Possible reasons for this could be students already knowing their readiness, the information not being highlighted, or coming too late for impactful changes. These findings suggest the need for clearer, timely, and supported information interventions to drive students’ college-going decisions.

Fostering Academic Skills Early On Shows Most Promise for Preventing Grade Retention

Commentary author
Pega Davoudzadeh
Summary

In the U.S., school performance is a pressing concern, leading to policies like grade retention for struggling students. Several factors influence retention, including poverty, behavioral issues, and academic struggles. However, methodological flaws in previous studies have hindered a clear understanding of these predictors. A new study used robust methods and data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort to analyze grade retention predictors. It found that academic readiness, particularly in reading, math, and general knowledge, strongly influenced retention, surpassing previously identified risk factors like ethnicity, English proficiency, and poverty. Interestingly, once readiness was considered, these traditional risk factors showed no significant influence. Notably, grade retention tended to occur most often by third grade. Researchers provide crucial insights for educators and policymakers to identify and support at-risk students earlier, emphasizing the importance of academic readiness in preventing grade retention.

News Media Feeds the Public a Meager Diet of Education Research

Commentary author
Holly Yettick
Summary

The investigation into how education-related research is conveyed in the media revealed a stark reality: a mere 1% of the examined news pieces referred to any research, and only a small fraction cited peer-reviewed academic studies. The majority of cited research sources came from government agencies or local districts. Challenges included time constraints for journalists, their difficulties understanding academic research methodologies, and a general lack of education in research literacy among those in the journalism field. Localism and a preference for easily understandable local content heavily influenced the selection of research cited. Additionally, education journalism lacks the structured training available in science journalism. Unlike science fields, education research is context-dependent, less definitive, and often lacks substantial funding or promotional support, leaving researchers to independently publicize their work. Despite potential flaws, peer-reviewed studies serve as a quality control measure. The study highlighted that the research-based evidence in the media might not represent the most robust or crucial work in the field, urging policymakers and the public to acknowledge the limitations of the research presented in news media.

Determinants of Graduation Rate of Public Alternative Schools

Commentary authors
Masashi Izumi
Jianping Shen
Jiangang Xia
Summary

Researchers studied public alternative high schools for at-risk students in the United States and how school staffing and processes relate to graduation rates. They analyzed national data and found significant links between certain factors and graduation rates. Hispanic teachers positively impacted graduation rates, while certain school practices like offering summer academic programs, having consistent teachers, and avoiding traditional grading systems positively affected graduation rates as well. Conversely, practices like traditional grading or having discipline-based departments negatively affected graduation rates. These findings emphasize the need for tailored approaches in alternative schools, highlighting the importance of specific staffing and flexible school structures for at-risk students. It suggests a shift from conventional methods toward more adaptable, student-centered practices to improve the effectiveness of alternative education for at-risk high school students.

School Health Centers

A Resource for Addressing School Bullying
Commentary author
Catherine Lewis
Summary

A new study investigated how bullied and victimized students utilize School Health Centers (SHCs) in California. They found that these students were more likely to access SHC services compared to non-bullied peers, indicating the significance of SHCs in identifying and supporting affected youth. Analyzing data from over 2,000 high school students across 14 urban public schools with health centers, several trends emerged. SHC usage was common across various ethnic groups, with a higher tendency among victimized students. Despite this, concerns about confidentiality hindered some bullied students from accessing SHC services. The study emphasizes the pivotal role of SHCs in tackling bullying through preventive measures, early detection, and intervention strategies. These centers are well-placed to partner with schools and communities, conduct screenings, and offer a range of support services, including mental health counseling. However, to address remaining confidentiality issues, SHCs must clearly communicate the confidentiality of health information. Resources from California SHC organizations and local adolescent groups can assist in making SHCs more accessible to vulnerable youth.

Charting the Course to Postsecondary Success

Commentary authors
Matthew Gaertner
Katie McClarty
Summary

California has achieved record-high high school graduation rates, but this success doesn't guarantee readiness for postsecondary education. Even students entering California State University often require remediation. National reports, like ACT's, reflect this trend with only a quarter meeting college-readiness benchmarks. While educators acknowledge this issue, the education system remains focused on completion rather than preparing students for what comes after high school. To bridge this gap, a new approach centered on readiness over completion is crucial. Traditional college-readiness evaluations, emphasizing grades and test scores, neglect crucial aspects. To address this, a middle school college-readiness index was developed, integrating diverse factors beyond academics—motivation, behavior, and social engagement—to predict high school outcomes. Surprisingly, eighth-grade indicators predict SAT college-readiness with 88% accuracy, highlighting the significance of non-academic factors. This research underscores the importance of early intervention and a holistic approach to student preparation. It suggests a shift in educational focus toward comprehensive indicators, away from the sole emphasis on grades and tests. By adopting this paradigm shift, the education system can better equip students for postsecondary success, essential in addressing growing economic disparities and realizing the educational system's promise as an equalizer in society.

Suicidality Amongst Military-connected Youth in California

A Call for Increased Awareness and Support
Commentary author
Tamika Gilreath
Summary

In the United States, adolescent suicide rates are concerning, with over 15% considering suicide and 7.8% attempting it. Military-connected youth, with a parent in the military, exhibit higher rates of suicidal behavior compared to their non-military peers. A new study using survey data the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) revealed that these youth have increased odds of suicidal thoughts, planning, and attempts, even needing medical treatment for such attempts. Factors like frequent relocations and parental deployments contribute to their heightened risk, compounded by typical adolescent stressors. This calls for better identification and support for military-connected adolescents by healthcare providers, educators, and mental health professionals. Awareness of their unique challenges, including deployments and relocations, is crucial for tailored prevention and intervention strategies. Given California's high number of active military installations, targeted programs for these youth, addressing all aspects of suicidality, are particularly vital.

The Unintended Consequences of a Middle School Literacy Support Intervention

Commentary author
Shaun M. Dougherty
Summary

A current study is exploring the impact of additional literacy classes on average-performing middle school students, aiming to enhance their high school performance and college readiness. In a suburban district with diverse demographics, students were offered extra literacy courses if they scored below the 60th percentile in 5th-grade literacy. While the initial analysis suggested no significant impact, further investigation revealed contrasting effects based on race. Black students experienced notably negative effects, especially in predominantly white schools, seen across both state tests and national measures. Conversely, white, Latino, and Asian students showed uncertain but potentially positive impacts. These findings stress the need for tailored approaches in educational programs, indicating potential harm for initially average-literacy students. The study highlights the complexity of policy outcomes when implemented at school levels, urging policymakers to consider diverse student populations in policy design and implementation. It also underscores the importance of clear communication about policy intent and the unintended consequences of categorizing students based on criteria like cutoff scores.

Can Center-based Childcare Reduce the Odds of Early Chronic Absenteeism?

Commentary author
Summary

New research investigates early absenteeism in elementary school, particularly in kindergarten, exploring factors contributing to chronic absence. While existing studies focus on individual and family-level drivers like disengagement and family structure, limited attention has been given to how early childhood programs might impact absenteeism. Analyzing a national dataset, a study reveals that attending center-based care before kindergarten associates with lower chronic absenteeism in kindergarten. However, this link isn't observed when attending such care during the kindergarten year, suggesting that pre-kindergarten experiences shape school attendance more than concurrent reinforcement during kindergarten. Chronic absenteeism affects California's educational and social systems, leading to significant costs and limiting children's potential. The findings emphasize the influential role of early childhood programs in reducing absenteeism, urging a shift from identifying contextual factors to implementing early interventions to counteract this detrimental behavior. This study's insights offer valuable data to inform truancy reduction initiatives and discussions on preventive measures.

Time to Pay Up

Analyzing the Motivational Potential of Financial Awards in a TIF Program
Commentary authors
Kathleen Mulvaney Hoyer
Cara Jackson
Betty Malen
Jennifer King Rice
Summary

A new study delves into teacher perceptions of financial incentives within the context of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) program, examining how rewards influence teacher behaviors and participation. It explores data from a TIF-supported program offering rewards for various achievements. Research shows diverse reactions among teachers based on payout sizes, valuing fairness, linkages to effort, and performance. Larger awards elicited more positive responses and influenced ongoing participation. However, the findings imply these incentives might draw high-performing teachers, raising questions about their impact on reshaping the teacher workforce. Teachers emphasized the importance of fair, linked-to-performance payouts to sustain their engagement in the program. The study highlights crucial design elements for incentive programs, advocating for attainable maximum awards, fairness considerations, credible performance measures, transparent eligibility criteria, and clear payout rules. It urges further research using representative data to comprehend teachers' responses to different incentive combinations over time, essential for refining educator incentive programs.

Gap Years and College Internships

Good or Bad Ideas?
Commentary author
Wesley Routon
Summary

Students often interrupt their college education for various reasons, such as engaging in professional internships or taking voluntary breaks known as gap years or semesters. While past research has extensively explored the positive labor market outcomes of internships, little attention has been paid to their academic effects, or the impact of gap years, on students. In a comprehensive study examining over 100,000 undergraduate students across 463 U.S. institutions, internships emerged as beneficial, enhancing study habits, GPAs, satisfaction with coursework, future educational aspirations, and career ambitions. Conversely, gap years were linked to negative academic consequences, decreasing study habits, GPAs, satisfaction with college experiences, aspirations for further education, and interpersonal skill development, while increasing the preference for part-time employment post-graduation. The study suggests that institutions should promote and expand internship programs to support academic and career growth, while discouraging or providing disincentives for students considering gap years, highlighting the need for students to evaluate the academic implications before taking such breaks.

How Do Principals Use Teacher Value-Added and Classroom Observation Data to Make Human Capital Decisions?

Commentary author
Ellen Goldring
Summary

Educational institutions are increasingly revamping teacher evaluations, integrating student performance measures and classroom observations. LAUSD’s shift in evaluation systems and Vergara v. California’s ruling against certain teacher employment statutes spotlight this transformation. However, research across six urban districts reveals shifts in the role of value-added measures in decision making. Principals find value-added data problematic due to its infrequency, complexity, and limited applicability to teachers in untested subjects. Instead, they value the transparency, timeliness, and specificity of teacher observation systems, which provide comprehensive insights into teaching practices for all educators. While acknowledging differences between value-added and observation systems, research also emphasizes the advantages of teacher observation systems in informing timely and specific decisions. Despite concerns about observation systems’ time-intensive nature and the recent legal implications, these frameworks offer enhanced transparency and actionable feedback, potentially compensating for the limitations of value-added measures. Overall, the rise of observation systems signifies a positive step in leveraging data for informed human capital decisions in education.

How Does the Language Mix of Students Affect Student Achievement?

Commentary authors
Christopher Jepsen
Thomas Ahn
Summary

Immigration has surged in the U.S., leading to increased numbers of Limited English Proficient (LEP) children in public schools. States like North Carolina and Virginia have seen a doubling of LEP students in the last 15 years, with over 10% of students classified as LEP. The linguistic diversity among LEP students is vast, with Spanish, Indo-European, Asian, and Pacific Island languages being the primary spoken languages at home. This diversity in classrooms can have both positive and negative effects on student achievement. A study conducted in North Carolina middle schools from 2006 to 2012 found that an increase in LEP peers, about two students per classroom, correlated with a decline in mathematics and reading scores for non-LEP students, suggesting a negative impact. However, the mix of languages spoken by LEP students did not significantly affect the achievement of non-LEP students. For LEP students, having more peers speaking the same language positively affected reading but negatively affected mathematics achievement. The study suggests separating LEP and non-LEP students for language arts may benefit both groups, but the effects on mathematics instruction are less straightforward and might adversely affect LEP students.

The Effect of School Starting Age Policy on Crime

Commentary author
John M. McAdams
Summary

The change in California's kindergarten entry age, moving the cutoff date from December 2 to September 1, brought about transitional kindergarten for affected children born in the transitional period. This impacted both those who delayed entry and those who didn't. Older entrants might show better readiness and learning skills compared to younger peers, a reason why parents often choose to delay their child's entry ("redshirting"). However, the benefits of this additional year might vary based on available activities. The shift also influences non-delayed children due to grade age averages affecting peer dynamics and learning. In a study assessing this change's impact on crime, incarceration rates dropped by 10-13% among those directly and indirectly affected by the entry age policy. While both groups benefitted, the reduction in crime was smaller for those delaying entry, hinting at potential harms from late entry, perhaps due to less learning during the "redshirt" year or lower educational attainment. This emphasizes early education's long-term benefits, supporting transitional kindergarten's role. Yet, caution is needed in generalizing these findings, considering the availability of alternative pre-kindergarten programs today, absent in earlier decades, possibly lessening the negative impacts of delayed entry.

High School Math and Science Faculty and Growing the Roots of Female STEM Majors

Commentary author
Martha Bottia
Summary

The shortage of women in STEM fields has sparked considerable attention due to its impact on the STEM workforce. Despite being the majority in colleges, women remain a minority among STEM degree holders, leading researchers to focus on their underrepresentation in these critical fields. The prevailing literature primarily examines the influence of college faculty gender on STEM outcomes, neglecting the crucial pre-college setting's role in shaping students' STEM choices. This NSF-funded study, using data from North Carolina public schools and universities, delves into the impact of the gender composition of high school math and science teachers on students' decisions to pursue STEM majors in college. Findings indicate a notable positive effect of a higher proportion of female math and science teachers on the likelihood of female students declaring and graduating with STEM degrees, particularly among those with strong math skills. This influence doesn't extend to male students, suggesting that schools with more female STEM teachers positively disrupt stereotypes, making STEM fields more appealing specifically to high-skilled young women without significantly affecting their male counterparts. The research highlights the significance of early educational opportunities challenging gender stereotypes in math and science, potentially cultivating a larger cohort of women pursuing STEM careers and challenging outdated perceptions about STEM being unsuitable for women.