December 2023 Research Rundown
By Madie Spartz
For December’s Research Rundown—our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation—we’re sharing articles about:
- School funding’s relationship to student outcomes
- Parents’ opinions on how COVID truly impacted their children
- Tutoring interventions for struggling readers
The Achievement Effects of Scaling Early Literacy Reforms
Annenberg Institute at Brown University, November 2023
This study examined an early literacy grant program in California and its effects on student achievement. The Early Literacy Support Block Grant (ELSBG) provided targeted funding and support to the state’s lowest-performing schools, as measured by scores on state reading assessments. The authors found that in the first two years of the program, students made reading gains equivalent to an additional quarter of a year of instruction. There were also small spillover effects in math performance for 3rd grade students.
The authors noted that the targeted funding increase (about $1,000 per pupil) led to greater returns in student achievement than similar efforts in class size reduction. They also found this funding stream to be 13 times more effective than a general per-pupil funding increase, which provides a strong argument for funding increases tied to specific programming.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Literacy reform has been one of the biggest topics in education policy in Minnesota. The passage of the Read Act earlier this year marked a major milestone, though with many loose ends remaining, the conversation will continue in the 2024 legislative session. Literacy funding is an ongoing question, with unmet need for upfront costs around curriculum and training, and the need for longer-term continuous funding for interventions and other supports so the Read Act can be implemented effectively. Unfortunately, current budget projections make additional funding—particularly for long-term costs—unlikely. That said, there is still room to adjust our current funding streams to ensure they are equitable and well-targeted to support literacy. One possibility lies in literacy incentive aid—a program that EdAllies is analyzing to identify areas for improvement. The new Annenberg study can inspire ideas to increase the impact of this ongoing funding.
The Kids are All Right? What Parents Really Think About How COVID Affected Children
University of Southern California, December 2023
This report explores qualitative interviews with parents to understand how they perceive the effects of COVID-19 on children. The authors examine the disconnect between what experts and the media report and parents’ perceptions of their own children. The authors found that while the dominant public narrative is one of declining test scores and lagging academic outcomes, most parents are not concerned with their individual children’s academic performance. Despite that, most parents agree that concerns about kids’ well-being are not overblown; they simply perceive those negative impacts of COVID as affecting other children rather than their own.
The authors gather a few explanations for this disconnect, the most salient being that most parents do place significant weight on standardized test scores as markers of their children’s academic success. According to the report, parents tend to view grades or their own perceptions of their children as more important in evaluating where their children are at. Furthermore, the parents interviewed tended to think that children from other demographics were mainly responsible for the downward trend in academics. For example, rural parents think problems are greater in cities, or English-speaking parents believe English language learners have greater hurdles to overcome. Parents did cite an overall lowering of expectations, from assignment due dates to attendance policies, but they also generally believe kids are resilient and the bulk of COVID-related problems are behind us.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
While the article draws on a small sample of parents, it sheds light on how conversations about education on the ground can vary greatly from conversations in media, academic, and political spaces. There’s no doubt that test scores have declined, and while some groups were impacted more heavily than others, no one was spared learning disruptions during COVID. What’s interesting, then, is the majority of parents’ tendency to agree, while also believing their family was not impacted. This highlights the importance of strong communication between school and home: are there indicators showing up on one side that are not apparent to the other, either positive or negative? It’s important that we don’t use a single measure to determine how kids are doing, and it’s also critical that teachers and caregivers are on the same page. For example, many learning recovery programs, like after-school tutoring, require parent buy-in and consent; if a parent doesn’t think their child is struggling, they can miss out on necessary services.
Improving Vulnerable Populations’ Emergent Reading Outcomes by Training Preservice Teachers in an Evidence-Based Program
Journal of Research in Childhood Education, June 2023
This article examines the effects of a tutoring program for struggling readers facilitated by aspiring teachers. By enlisting education majors as tutors, the program fulfills a dual purpose of supporting young readers and giving preservice teachers the chance to practice their skills. Students who received the full scope of the programming gained one-half to one year of reading skills, as measured by a standardized assessment. Students who completed the first half of the tutoring intervention increased two critical reading skills, phoneme segmentation and non-word reading skills, by 31-47%. Another key component of the design is that aspiring teachers were paid for their tutoring work, meaning they did not necessarily have to choose between earning wages and gaining critical pre-service experience.
While this study has a relatively small sample size and doesn’t compare results to a control group, it does echo much of what we know about the effectiveness of tutoring. Mainly, tutoring across 10 or more sessions, conducted 1:1 or in small groups, can meaningfully improve academic outcomes for students. Effects can be most pronounced for students from low-income backgrounds, though all students stand to benefit if they are struggling.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
According to measures of standardized testing, Minnesota students have yet to recover to pre-pandemic achievement levels. Even without COVID learning disruptions, reading scores in Minnesota have remained mostly stagnant for the past 30 years. While countless factors contribute to this, many of them occurring outside of school, we tend to spend more time discussing the problem than offering a solution. High-dosage tutoring is one of the interventions most strongly supported by research to improve student outcomes. Many hoped for increased investments in tutoring at the legislature this year, but with a looming “structural imbalance,” new funding seems increasingly unlikely. Despite that, advocates, parents, and community members can still draw attention to the issue and push lawmakers to invest in a proven solution to an urgent problem.