Making an Impact: School Turnaround in Michigan
Education leaders in Michigan want to know more about how schools with risk factors for low student achievement are performing better than expected. With the help of REL Midwest and our School Turnaround Research Alliance, Michigan is reconsidering how it identifies schools that are “beating the odds” and learning more about the characteristics that set these schools apart.
Since fall 2010, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has used two statistical approaches to identify schools statewide that, despite having risk factors for low student achievement such as high poverty rates, are performing at higher levels than expected. The first approach compares the predicted performance of each school with its actual performance. The second approach compares the performance of each school with the performance levels of the 29 demographically most similar schools in the state. Based on these approaches, schools can be designated as Beating the Odds schools and receive special recognition from MDE.
The School Turnaround Research Alliance at REL Midwest—which comprises education stakeholders across Michigan, including representatives from MDE—focused on learning more about schools that are performing better than anticipated. In the first year of the School Turnaround Research Alliance, researchers conducted empirical analyses of MDE’s current statistical approaches to identifying Beating the Odds schools.
REL Midwest researchers found that identification of Beating the Odds schools can vary because of decisions made in statistical approaches, and fewer than expected Michigan schools are being consistently identified as Beating the Odds schools in part because of those differences.
MDE’s knowledge of these findings has inspired the department to rethink its Beating the Odds identification policies. Because the different statistical approaches used may identify different schools as Beating the Odds schools, MDE is considering the practical implications for districts and schools that are misidentified. MDE also is considering how the sample used to identify Beating the Odds schools might be changed to improve the accuracy of its statistical approaches. With the help of REL Midwest, the School Turnaround Research Alliance is empowering MDE to improve its Beating the Odds initiative and continue recognizing the exceptional work of schools and districts in Michigan.
At the same time, members of the School Turnaround Research Alliance who work at MDE also are interested in learning more about possible instructional and organizational differences between Beating the Odds schools and demographically similar non–Beating the Odds schools. Knowing what sets Beating the Odds schools apart from other schools with similar demographic characteristics is important as state officials consider actions to sustain Beating the Odds school performance and improve the operations of low-performing schools statewide.
To further this work, REL Midwest is analyzing the results of a Beating the Odds survey administered to Beating the Odds schools and comparison schools. The analysis of survey results will enable the School Turnaround Research Alliance to identify differences between Beating the Odds schools and non–Beating the Odds schools. In particular, the survey will help the alliance identify the instructional and organizational practices that the research literature suggests are associated with Beating the Odds schools, including effective leadership, a challenging curriculum with a focus on literacy, significant professional development opportunities, a positive school culture, and ongoing data use to inform instructional decisions.
MDE, in collaboration with REL Midwest, is finding evidence-based ways to improve student achievement in schools across Michigan. Check our website, or follow us onTwitter , for further updates from the School Turnaround Research Alliance.
Making Connections: Building Partnerships for Improvement in Education
REL Midwest recently brought together experts in collaborative research from the William T. Grant Foundation, AIR, the Education Development Center, and Toledo Public Schools for the Making Connections public television event “Building Partnerships for Improvement in Education. ” Panelists discussed collaborative research approaches and their effect on education, highlighting the shifting dynamics between research and practice. They also covered current education initiatives that use collaborative partnerships to improve research, practice, and policy in the interest of schools, students, and communities at large.
Vivian Tseng, Ph.D., vice president of programs at the William T. Grant Foundation, kicked off the conversation with insights into the current gap between research and practice and the structures needed to build successful partnerships. It is not a simple process whereby research “facts” are passed from researchers to decision makers, according to Dr. Tseng. Researchers and practitioners need to build two-way streets that foster engagement, joint research agendas, and shared commitments. Dr. Tseng asserts that effective research-practice partnerships should ultimately build the capacity of researchers and districts to produce more useful work and translate these research findings into practical improvements in education.
The event also featured stories, recommendations, and takeaways from researchers and practitioners involved in collaborative partnerships. Panelists included Mindee O’Cummings, Ph.D., principal researcher at AIR, and Laurie Kruszynski, data coordinator at Scott High School of Toledo Public Schools, both from REL Midwest’sDropout Prevention Research Alliance. Dr. O’Cummings and Kruszynski shared their challenges and successes instituting trust, collaboration, and co-ownership to improve student outcomes in the district. Julie Riordan, Ph.D., director of research at REL Northeast and Islands, discussed how these partnerships affect the ongoing development of the researchers themselves. Carrie Scholz, Ph.D., senior researcher at AIR, examined how invested stakeholders beyond researchers and practitioners can play a role in collaborative partnerships, with specific examples at the local level.
Following the taping, the panelists answered questions from audience members in a large-group discussion and in an informal meet-and-greet session. WTTW Chicago Public Media will air the panel discussion and question-and-answer session onFebruary 20 at 7:00 p.m. Please visit the REL Midwest website to view the video archive after the broadcast.
News, Events, and Activities
- A new REL Midwest study, The Utility of Teacher and Student Surveys in Principal Evaluations: An Empirical Investigation, examined whether student and teacher surveys contribute relevant information on principal performance. Using data from one midsize urban district in the Midwest, REL Midwest investigated whether adding student and teacher survey measures to existing measures increased the power of a principal evaluation model to explain across-school variance in student achievement. The study found that two survey-based measures—classroom instructional environment and instructional leadership—contribute new information on the link between principals and student achievement. This information will help district superintendents, principals, and other district leaders understand the quality and utility of these surveys and make informed decisions on whether and how to include them in principal evaluations. The report also demonstrates a process for evaluating measures that are candidates for inclusion in evaluation models.
Resources to Explore
- Creating a Content Strategy for Mobile Devices in the Classroom, a new resource from the Center on Innovations in Learning , aims to help teachers, curriculum and technology specialists, and administrators answer the fundamental question of “Now what?” when mobile devices arrive at school.
- To understand which students with disabilities are at greatest risk of leaving school without a diploma, REL West examined the rates at which Utah students with different types of disabilities moved to other schools, dropped out, or graduated compared with all students with disabilities and with general education students. As a group, Utah students with disabilities had poorer outcomes than their general education classmates, but outcomes varied by disability category. By examining this variation within the population of students with disabilities, this study can inform decisions about which students with disabilities most need interventions, suggest refinements to state and district data systems, and suggest areas in need of further research.School Mobility, Dropout, and Graduation Rates Across Student Disability Categories in Utah was released in November 2014.
- Evaluation of Teacher Preparation Programs: Key Considerations and Methodological Issues, a recent REL Central webinar, provided an overview of efforts to evaluate teacher preparation programs. Presenters included Robert Floden, Ph.D., associate dean for research at Michigan State University, who drew from a recent National Academy of Education report, The Evaluation of Teacher Preparation Programs: Purposes, Methods, and Policy Options . The webinar is archived online.
- A new report from REL Appalachia sheds light on online and distance learning in rural areas. Online and Distance Learning in Southwest Tennessee: Implementation and Challenges was intended to help district leaders from the Southwest Tennessee Rural Education Cooperative (SWTREC), a coalition of superintendents from 12 districts (half of which are rural) surrounding Memphis, gauge the supply and demand for online and distance learning courses in their region. The report includes the survey that was administered to SWTREC members, which may be adapted and used by coalitions of schools and districts interested in sharing access to online and distance learning courses with one another.
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