April 29, 2024

April 2024 Research Rundown

By Madie Spartz

For our April Research Rundown—our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation—we’re sharing articles about:

  • A strategy to combat chronic absenteeism
  • An innovative early childhood program and its impact on 3rd-grade test scores
  • Districts who used ESSER funds for high-dosage tutoring
Early Warning for Whom? Regression Discontinuity Evidence From the Effect of Early Warning System on Student Absence

Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, February 2024

This study examines the effectiveness of the Early Warning System (EWS) strategy to reduce absenteeism in schools. Though specific practices differ from school to school, an EWS generally assigns a risk indicator to students meeting certain absence thresholds, allowing teachers, administrators, social workers, and other staff to identify at-risk students and intervene. The author of this study explored EWS’ effect on both moderate and chronic absence, as well as its effects on students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

The results showed that EWS had no effect on reducing absences for students from low-income families, for either moderately or chronically absent students. It did reduce absences among chronically absent socioeconomically advantaged students, but it did not have an effect on moderately absent students from the same background. The results suggest two main takeaways: students from low-income families face more barriers to school attendance than their peers, so an EWS on its own is not sufficient for improving attendance; and, facing limited resources, schools may need to focus on students with the most absences versus those with moderate absences. Overall, the author concludes that although the cost-effectiveness of EWS makes it a popular choice for schools, more strategies are needed to reduce absenteeism across the board.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota, like the nation as a whole, is facing a chronic absenteeism crisis in our schools. Over a third of all Minnesota students are chronically absent, meaning they miss more than 10% of the school year. Lawmakers are working to address the issue through new programs and investment (in 2024 both the House and Senate built their own proposals). Action is urgently needed, and policymakers should ensure that they are equipping schools with strategies that are proven to be effective. This study illustrates that while a program like EWS may be a piece of the puzzle, more is needed to get students back in the classroom.


The Effects of Early Childhood Programs on 3rd Grade Test Scores: Evidence from Transitional Kindergarten in Michigan

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, March 2024

This study compares the 3rd grade test scores of students who participated in transitional kindergarten to those who did not. Transitional kindergarten (TK) is an early learning model that combines elements of pre-k with traditional kindergarten. In Michigan, where this study is focused, TK is a publicly funded option for the year before kindergarten, taught by certified teachers in public school settings. Almost all are full-day programs and the curriculum is math and literacy-focused, unlike the traditional “global” curricula used in most pre-k and Head Start programs.

The authors found TK enrollment leads to “substantial” improvement in 3rd grade math scores. Reading scores were also higher for TK students, but not significantly. While the results are promising, it should be noted that districts that offer TK in Michigan are more economically advantaged and less racially diverse than those who don’t. More evidence is needed to understand how TK impacts students of color and those from low-income families, in addition to exploration of other long-term and social emotional outcomes.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Reading and math scores in Minnesota have been stagnant for decades, and the dips in scores spurred by COVID-19 have renewed conversations about student achievement. Some data even suggests that more recent, “post-COVID” improvements in early literacy are slowing down. In the broad public conversation about how to improve academic outcomes, the importance of early learning is often left out. This study highlights the importance of including our youngest learners in public policy solutions to declining achievements. Furthermore, it identifies potential benefits of specific focus areas in early learning that deserve further study, especially for students from diverse backgrounds. Click here for more research on early learning from our partners at Think Small.


Realizing the Promise of High Dosage Tutoring at Scale: Preliminary Evidence for the Field

University of Chicago Education Lab, March 2024

This report provides preliminary data on a large-scale evaluation of how school districts used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to address pandemic learning loss. High-dosage tutoring has long been a well-documented strategy for academic acceleration, but evidence of its specific uses related to COVID-19 is still emerging. Evaluating four education agencies (3 large districts and a state department of education) who invested ESSER funds in high-dosage tutoring, researchers were able to identify specific program features that enabled students to make academic gains. 

The report finds in-school tutoring during school hours to be the most effective, rather than after school or virtual options. Furthermore, while the results for reading gains are still being collected, students who received math tutoring saw gains equivalent to two-thirds of a year of instruction. For policymakers, the authors estimate that every $1 of ESSER funds spent on high-dosage tutoring in these districts generate between $2 and $4 in benefits. 

Why This Matters in Minnesota 

As we’ve written about before, pre-existing gaps in academic achievement in Minnesota were exacerbated by COVID-19 and are stagnating. In a legislative year with little money to spend, costly initiatives like tutoring took a backseat to other priorities, but a problem of this magnitude will not go away with simply “returning to normal.” While schools are facing many problems that impact academic achievement, such as absenteeism, that also must be addressed, it’s unlikely that students will be able to make up years of pandemic learning loss without targeted interventions. Though the pandemic is fading in the rearview mirror for many, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of its negative effects that still impact students today.


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