June 2023 Research Rundown
By Madie Spartz
For June’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:
- new (and surprising) findings on Covid-19 learning loss,
- literacy instruction in teacher preparation programs, and
- a comparison of student performance in charter schools and traditional public schools
I hope you find it informative. If you come across any research you think EdAllies should know about, please email me.
School District and Community Factors Associated with Learning Loss During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, May 2023
In this study, a group of researchers analyzed data from almost 8,000 school districts across the country to identify differences in COVID-19 learning loss. They found that while learning loss from the pandemic is historic in magnitude, it is also highly varied across communities. Math and reading scores declined more in high-poverty districts, districts with larger numbers of students of color, and districts that spent more instructional days online.
Notably, however, the researchers found that rather than being driven by family-level factors like race or socioeconomic status, learning loss occurred at a district or community level. This means that across demographics, students within the same district lost learning at similar levels, which suggests that community-wide factors played a key role. The research showed that learning loss was larger in communities with longer & more widespread shutdowns, those with higher COVID-19 death rates, and communities with less trust in institutions. The authors interpreted these results to mean that when students felt unsafe, unmoored, or lacked trust in school leaders or government officials, their learning suffered.
The authors also discuss lessons from past shocks to student achievement, which often persisted over time. When test scores drop dramatically, they tend to stay low, and when they increase dramatically, they tend to stay high. While that historical data doesn’t bode well for COVID-19 recovery, there are strategies for closing learning gaps with strong evidence behind them, including high-dosage tutoring, summer school, and “double dosing” math and reading, where students take multiple courses in the same subject simultaneously.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
In Minnesota, test scores fell across the board during the pandemic, especially in math. Echoing the national study, those losses were not felt equally, with students of color, English language learners, and low-income students bearing the brunt of pandemic learning loss.
If research is any indicator, these losses will persist unless targeted action is taken; but that doesn’t mean hope is lost. As the authors point out, strategies like increased school time and high dosage tutoring have a strong evidence base when it comes to improving student learning. While the Minnesota legislature didn’t take up those specific policies last session, nothing is stopping them from doing so in 2024, and many districts have begun to take action using temporary federal funds. These funds will expire in September 2024, so the time to act is now. For example, a bipartisan bill introduced in both the House and Senate that would create a grant program for high dosage tutoring failed to get a hearing in the 2023 session, but could still be considered in the second year of the biennium.
Teacher Prep Review Standard: Reading Foundations
National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2023
This report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) analyzed teacher preparation programs and gave them a grade based on how well they prepared aspiring educators to teach reading. While much attention is paid to literacy rates and classroom instruction, less has been given to how teachers themselves are prepared to be effective.
To evaluate how well programs are helping aspiring teachers build literacy instruction skills, NCTQ looked at how effectively they address each of the five components of science-based reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They found that only 25% of programs adequately address all five areas, and 30% of programs provided no opportunity to practice teaching any of the five components. They also note that, generally speaking, teacher preparation programs provide little instruction in supporting English learners and struggling readers.
While these numbers are troubling, some caveats need to be considered: in order to be reviewed, colleges & universities needed to voluntarily provide instructional materials from their teacher preparation courses. This pared down the report’s sample considerably, leaving 40% of eligible programs unreviewed. For example, Minnesota has 30 university-based teacher prep programs, but only 14 were included in the NCTQ report. Furthermore, some scores were subjective, with each institution receiving a range of scores from reviewers based on a rubric.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Of the 14 Minnesota programs included in the report, the average grade was a C, with a wide range across individual categories. While not a fully representative sample, it highlights an important issue in literacy instruction: teachers cannot be effective if they don’t have proper training and support. That includes teaching methods that are grounded in research and the opportunity to apply what they have learned via practice teaching. The legislature recognized that this year with the passage of the Read Act and new requirements for evidence-based reading instruction, as well as the prohibition of reading methodologies that have been debunked in the literature. The success of the Read Act will depend on implementation, and it’s something EdAllies will monitor closely in years to come as new data becomes available.
As a Matter of Fact: The National Charter School Study
Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2023
The third National Charter School study came out this month, which seeks to compare outcomes of students attending charter schools to those of similar students at traditional public schools. Overall, the researchers at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter students have the equivalent of 16 more days of learning gains in reading and 6 more days of math compared to their peers in district schools. However, the results change when you zoom in from the aggregate. For example, Black and Hispanic students at charters saw greater growth in reading and math, while multiracial, Native American, and white students showed no difference in reading and less growth in math. Special education students at charter schools had weaker growth in both reading and math, while students in poverty and English language learners had stronger growth in both subject areas at charter schools.
There is also considerable variation across states, which reflect different policies and approaches to charter schools nationwide. Among the 31 states included in the study, 58% saw greater reading performance in charter schools, while 38% had similar reading growth among students in both sectors. In math, the converse is true: 38% of states saw greater math performance at charters, while 58% showed similar growth. In 10% of states studied, charter schools had significantly weaker results in math. Click here to explore interactive graphs for comparisons across states, subjects, and student demographic groups.
Why This Matters in Minnesota
Charter schools were born in Minnesota and have since boomed nationwide; there is always robust debate about their place in the educational landscape. While opinions on charter schools vary, the reality is that almost 8% of Minnesota students attend charter schools, and it’s important we understand how students are doing so we can hold systems accountable. The CREDO study found that in Minnesota, students at charter schools have an additional 21 days of reading gains, but no statistically significant difference in math. What the data doesn’t tell us however, is why those results occurred. What mechanisms, specifically, are driving such differences across states, subjects, and student groups? Though the CREDO study doesn’t answer those questions, it does illustrate variations that are worth exploring and learning from to benefit students across the state.