Changes in student demographics can play havoc with a school’s instructional model, but a school can weather transitions better if it builds in structures that promote trust, experimentation and feedback among adults and children, according to a study by the American Institutes of Research and the Bloomington, Ind.-based HOPE Foundation.
Researchers tracked the three-year implementation of the Mansfield Independent School District’s “Courageous Leadership Academy,” which developed leadership teams at each school focused on improving student engagement and instructional leadership as well as developing decisionmaking protocols.
The teams focused on identifying what HOPE Foundation President Alan M. Blankstein calls “positive deviants"—sites or even individual classes or teachers that seem to be outliers at the top end of test performance, student engagement or other measures, based on their student demographics and school characteristics. Over time, the teams districtwide cull best practices based on these outliers and expand them to other schools.
Researchers studied three-year implementation of 14 intermediate, middle and high schools that began the program in 2007-08, plus 20 elementary schools that started implementation in 2008-09. They tracked the state reading and math assessment scores of the students from 2004-05 to 2009-10.
Over the three years, AIR found implementation of the system was associated with higher test scores across the schools studied during the first but not the second cohort of students, with closer implementation associated with better achievement. Neither cohort beat the state average scores in math or reading, but in 2011, while the 40,000-student district continues to see rising low-income and English-language learner students, it was recognized for achievement by the Texas education agency for having 88.5 percent of students overall above proficient in math and language arts.
Rebecca Herman, AIR’s managing research analyst, has called the results “promising,” and she, Mr. Blankstein, and a slew of education watchers met earlier today to discuss next steps for the research at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. Mr. Blankstein plans to dig into both Mansfield’s and other districts’ experiences in a new book, The Answer Is In the Room; How Effective Schools Scale Up Student Success, coming out later this month.
Here’s the basic AIR report: Revised Hope CLA Report for widespread distribution.pdf. For more technical data and research applications, here is the extended report: Revised_Hope_CLA_Report_for_researcher.pdf
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.