August 28, 2023

August 2023 Research Rundown

By Madie Spartz

For August’s Research Rundown —our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation—  we’re sharing research on a wide variety of topics, including:

  • analyzing the literacy landscape in Minnesota,
  • educator-led innovation programs in two North Minneapolis schools, and
  • the role of frequent teacher referrals in expanding racial disciplinary disproportionalities

I hope you find it informative. If you come across any research you think EdAllies should know about, please email me.

Toward Addressing and Resolving Disparities in Reading Outcomes: A Statewide Database of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments in Minnesota

University of Minnesota Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, June 2023

This report analyzes the literacy instruction landscape in public district and charter schools across Minnesota. Specifically, it offers an overview of curricula, interventions, and assessments used by districts, and also analyzes their relationship with student proficiency in reading as measured by the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA). Perhaps most surprising, the authors found that 20% of districts in Minnesota don’t publicly share their literacy curricula at all. Of those that do, the report found that of the five most commonly used curricula in Minnesota, none are well-aligned with the science of reading, which is now mandated statewide via the READ Act (in the legislation, it’s referred to as “evidence-based” literacy instruction.) Furthermore, they found that the most widely used intervention program in the state is one that has come under criticism for being ineffective. 

Looking to student outcomes: The study found examples of higher reading performance in   high-poverty districts that have decoding-based curriculum rather than three-cueing based curriculum. They also found an inverse relationship between MCA scores and the most prevalent intervention program: in other words, districts with the lowest proficiency rates were much more likely to use that intervention.  While the analysis is not causal, it does provide some insight into what methods may be less effective for literacy instruction. 

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Minnesota has dismal literacy scores, and much of the focus on improving literacy in recent years is on the quality of curricula and effectiveness of teaching methods. The READ Act, passed during the 2023 legislation session, aims to solve this problem by mandating the use of teaching practices that are evidence-based and widely accepted in the scientific community as effective. This report by the University of Minnesota’s CAREI research arm highlights the current gap between evidence and practice in literacy instruction: many districts in Minnesota are still using methods now widely considered to be ineffective. That’s alarming, but should begin to change in light of legislative changes—with districts now required to use curricula aligned to research-backed practices. We won’t know the results of this change for a few years and it will require careful implementation to be successful, but evidence from other states gives us reason to be hopeful.


Transformative Collaboration: A Case Study of a Community, Educator, and Foundation Partnership for Student-Centered Learning Innovation in North Minneapolis

ACT Research and Phillips Family Foundation, August 2023

This report is a case study of educator-led innovation programs in two North Minneapolis schools: Patrick Henry High School and Olson Middle School. Funded by the Phillips Family Foundation, each school was able to create its own student-centered learning model to be piloted over the course of 5 years. The foundation also partnered with a local evaluation firm to understand each program’s impact. At Patrick Henry, educators implemented a cohort-based program, Community Connected Academy (CCA), where a group of 11th and 12th graders worked with a core set of teachers and an embedded counselor. The curriculum focused on social justice, students’ own futures, and the Northside community. At the program’s conclusion, researchers found CCA students graduated at higher rates than their Henry peers and reported higher levels of connection to their school and community. 

At Olson, students participated in My Story My Brilliance (MSMB), designed by Olson staff to “reconnect students with their agency and unique talents.” MSMB featured many components including a new counseling model with dedicated counselors at each grade level, student journaling, and a schoolwide emphasis on social-emotional learning. Due to COVID and district restructuring, MSMB wasn’t able to continue in its full design, but Olson still saw increased teacher retention and fewer students receiving failing grades.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

It’s rare to get such a hyperlocal focus in education research. It’s also rare for teachers and school staff to get the chance to design and implement unique curricula tailored to the needs of students at their specific school. Despite almost half of the pilot taking place during the serious learning disruptions of the pandemic, both schools saw positive gains resulting from their program. It begs the question: what would happen if every school was given the opportunity to create a program catering to the unique strengths and challenges of its own student body.


Troublemakers? The Role of Frequent Teacher Referrals in Expanding Racial Disciplinary Disproportionalities 

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, February 2023

This study builds off the ample research we already have about racial disparities in discipline practices. Specifically, these researchers looked at teachers who most frequently employ discipline referrals (“top referrers”) and how those educators contribute to racial gaps in discipline. There are many interesting and troubling findings here, mainly: while “top referrers” are a small group of teachers, they have a huge influence on overall racial gaps in discipline referrals. In this specific district, the top 5% of referring teachers effectively double the Black-white, Hispanic-white, and multiracial-white gaps in discipline. 

When digging into the why behind these stark discrepancies, the researchers found that the primary drivers are referrals given for interpersonal or defiance reasons, which are far more subjective than something like bringing drugs to school, and therefore more subject to personal bias. The study also examined what characteristics of teachers might explain discrepancies in discipline referrals. Teachers of color were less likely to be “top referrers” than their white colleagues, as were teachers with more years of experience compared to those who recently entered the classroom. The authors suggest that policies aimed at “top referrers” could help reduce racial disparities in discipline. 

Why This Matters in Minnesota

While the present study is based on a large, urban school district in California, it’s fair to assume their findings are applicable to similar schools nationwide. Minnesota has well-documented racial gaps in discipline, and the legislature recently passed new laws aimed at ameliorating those gaps. Suspensions are now banned for all K-3 students, unless in extreme circumstances. This is a great start at fixing our state’s discipline gaps, and hopefully in time we will see it impact discipline data, but it’s just that: a start. Legislators, superintendents, and school staff alike will need to be diligent and innovative in ensuring we continue to dismantle racial discipline disparities in Minnesota. The results of this study suggest another practice that could help—and the importance of tracking detailed data to be able to identify and address trends at the macro level down to the classroom level. 


September 2023 Research Rundown

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What Can Families Expect to See from the READ Act?

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