July 2023 Research Rundown
By Madie Spartz
For July’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 an array of topics, such as:
- state literacy policies and their effects on student test scores
- factors that influence which schools parents decide to send their children, and
- recommendations to improve access to STEM for students of color
The Effects of Early Literacy Policy on Student Achievement
Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC), June 2023
This analysis compared state and national test results from 41 states with varying early literacy policies. Using a best practices list of 16 different literacy policies, the researchers analyzed the relationship between a state’s legislative requirements and its students’ scores. They found that states using all 16 literacy policies saw the largest gains on state summative assessment scores, with growth persisting for several years after the policy’s enactment. States that enacted just a few policies on the list saw initial gains, but those faded after a few years. One of the policies seen in states with notable gains was “third-grade retention” for students who do not meet literacy standards by the end of third grade. Only states with the most comprehensive literacy policies saw notable gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
With the passage of the READ Act—a major statewide literacy initiative that advanced during the 2023 session—Minnesota will soon have in place at least twelve of the sixteen policies included on the best practices list used in this report, including universal reading screeners for K-3 students and district literacy coaches. The READ Act did not include a third-grade retention requirement, so as the other policies are implemented, it will be important to evaluate whether they are driving progress for students as they reach the key 3rd grade literacy milestone, and to continue to monitor research on the pros, cons, and long-term impact of retention policies. The READ Act is a brand new policy that will take several years to implement, so we won’t definitively know its effects for a while, but should ensure a strong focus on effective implementation and evaluation.
The ‘Good’ Schools: Academic Performance Data, School Choice, and Segregation
Annenberg Institute at Brown University, November 2021
This research article analyzes academic performance data, its effects on parents’ decisions on where to send their children to school, and how those choices impact school segregation. Parents were given information about a school’s status (like standardized test scores at a single point in time), its growth (such as the change in test scores over time), or a combination of both. When parents were given information only about school growth, they chose schools that were more diverse, resulting in a desegregating effect. However, when parents received information about status only, or a combination of status and growth, they gravitated towards schools that were whiter and more affluent.
School segregation is often examined at the historical and/or policy level—it’s rarer to see researchers look at the behavioral choices of individual parents in school selection and how that impacts or is informed by segregation. While this report does not definitively identify why parents choose or reject certain schools, it does offer insight into how decisions about data, transparency, and different metrics of school quality might affect parents’ choices.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Minnesota publishes a variety of data and metrics, but it’s not always easy for families to find, understand, or apply that information to their own choices. This study highlights that helping families access and disentangle metrics of school quality, rather than using income or race as a proxy, can have a desegregating effect. This is important in light of ongoing debates in Minnesota about the connection between school choice and racial and socioeconomic integration. It’s important for schools, districts, and policymakers to make data about schools available to families without. Prioritizing good data stewardship to help parents make informed decisions about their children’s education should be one tool in policymakers’ toolbelt. This includes continuing to improve on data disaggregation so that families can understand outcomes for all student groups.
Fostering STEM Aspirations for Students of Color in Middle School
The Education Trust, May 2023
This policy brief discusses the importance of rigorous STEM coursework for all students, disparities among students who have access to STEM coursework and subsequent careers, and five policy recommendations for states to increase accessibility of math and science courses for Black and Latino students. The report is grounded in troubling statistics: just 16% of Black and 21% of Latino students are proficient in math by eighth grade on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and only a quarter of science and engineering degrees are awarded to Black and Latino students, despite together representing 32% of the nation’s college students. Considering the degree to which STEM careers are projected to boom in the near future, it’s critical that all students have access to high-quality STEM education.
The brief proposes five state policies for achieving greater access to STEM coursework:
- Collect and report on disaggregated data on available seats and enrollment in advanced coursework in middle school
- Change identification and enrollment policies to enroll more students of color in rigorous STEM coursework, such as automatic enrollment
- Adopt high-quality curriculum and professional development for STEM teachers
- Require schools and/or districts to identify families about rigorous coursework options and the benefits of enrolling in the family’s home language
- Invest in infrastructure, like school counselors and culturally sustaining curriculum, that supports access to and belonging in rigorous coursework for underrepresented students
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Minnesota is home to large disparities in student achievement. The most recent NAEP scores for 8th grade math in Minnesota show Black and Latino students scoring 36 and 37 points lower, respectively, than their white peers. Gaps also exist in access to rigorous coursework, with only 23% of Latino students and 18% of Black students enrolling in such classes statewide in 2020. Our state has recently made headlines with historic education policy and investment, but STEM took a back seat to literacy last session. Lawmakers can and should consider similar improvements to STEM education. For example, a bill was introduced last session regarding automatic enrollment in rigorous coursework; that bill is still active for the 2024 legislative session. EdAllies will continue to track important STEM legislation and advocate for equitable access to high-quality math and science instruction.