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Title I Students Show Gains, Early Data From Study Show

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New York

Poor children who participate in the federal Title I compensatory-education program are making some progress in school, according to early data from a massive study of the program.

The study, which is being called "Prospects," will not be released until next January, but researchers working on the five-year, $28 million effort discussed some of their findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association here April 8-12.

"Prospects" is the first large-scale longitudinal study of the Title I program, formerly known as Chapter 1, since it was created in 1965. It tracks 28,000 students nationwide in grades 1, 3, and 7 as they move through elementary school. Researchers from the private research firm of Abt Associates, Johns Hopkins University, and the Educational Testing Service are the main contractors for the study, but other groups are using the data to conduct studies of specific aspects of the program.

A 1993 preliminary report on the closely watched study offered some bad news for the program's architects. That study, based on two years of testing data, said the program had little or no success in closing the achievement gap between the poor children it is intended to serve and other disadvantaged students who were not part of the program. (See Education Week, Nov. 24, 1993.)

The findings discussed at the researchers' meeting, however, drew no comparisons with non-Title I students. They only examined changes in program participants' test scores on the California Test of Basic Skills over the course of the study.

On that measure, two separate studies concluded that Title I students had made gains from the time the first tests were administered in spring 1991 until the fourth administration of the tests three years later.

"Given all the constraints these schools face, it is to our surprise that some of the kids--particularly 50 percent or more--are progressing," said Kenneth Wong, a University of Chicago researcher who took part in a special study of the program focusing only on high-poverty schools. "It gave us hope to come to the tentative conclusion that Title I does have an impact."

Findings and Cautions

Some other data suggest, however, that the findings are far from conclusive. Teachers, for example, rated only 46 percent of the program students in grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 to be on grade level in mathematics. Only 36 percent of those students were judged to be on grade level in reading and English. Moreover, the percentages did not increase over the course of the study, the researchers said.

Elois Scott, the deputy director of the elementary and secondary division of the U.S. Department of Education, added: "You would expect scores to go up simply because of the age level going up."

"What you want to attach importance to is the closing of the gap," she said.

The researchers also found that:

  • Although students are pulled out of regular classes less frequently for Title I services as they grow older, the practice is still "alive and well" in schools nationwide.
  • Even though many high-poverty schools use Title I money to reduce class sizes, relatively few program students are in classes that might be considered small, having only 15 to 20 students.
  • Title I students whose parents expect their children to graduate from college tend to have higher test scores than their peers in the program for whom that is not the case, and their teachers rate them better behaved.
  • Students who are not native English speakers tend to come from poorer families than English-speaking students
  • Children in rural schools with high concentrations of poverty seem to lose ground faster than their counterparts in similar schools in urban areas.

The last finding is from the special study by University of Chicago researchers. It looked only at schools where 75 percent or more of the students qualified for federally supported free or reduced-price lunches. That study found some links between school characteristics, such as the principal's leadership or the degree of collaboration that goes on in the school, and student achievement on the standardized tests.

But other researchers warned against reading too much into the findings from that study.

"We're not at a size where you would want to make a lot of generalizations about a $6 billion program," Samuel C. Stringfield, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, said about the University of Chicago study.

The first three years of data from the "Prospects" study will be available from the U.S. Government Printing Office next month.

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