School research team reports progress

David Figlio.

 

Members of the Northwestern Evanston Education Research Alliance updated the city’s school boards on research projects that range from optimizing District 65 bus routes to improving curriculum Monday night.

David Figlio, dean of NU’s School of Education and Social Policy, said that NEERA has developed research agendas in collaboration with administrators of both school districts to develop tools, curricula, programs and policies to meet the districts’ needs and that NU has received $6M in grant funding to support the research.  

Amy Pratt, assistant dean for community education partnerships with Northwestern University’s school of education and social policy, explained two science-related projects as part of the update.

A team from the McCormick School of Engineering, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is building mathematical models to improve the student experience and optimize bus routes for District 65.

A different group is creating a Next Generation Science Standards curriculum for students in grades 4-8, along with professional development, study groups and coaching for teachers implementing the curriculum for about 1,500 students each year.

Nichole Pinkard, associate professor of learning sciences, explained the importance of out-of-school time to get middle schoolers engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities.

The second METAmedia location at Family Focus, added to the facility at the YMCA, expands opportunities for over 100 middle schoolers, particularly girls and students of color, to get access to technology.

For her research Pinkard is following a cohort of students from the 5th Ward through middle school to identify experiences that lead to specific outcomes.

Pratt explained three projects at ETHS, starting with the Biology Identity Opportunity or BIO study that involves research to understand and measure stress in ninth graders, which may be academic or race-related, and develop interventions, such as workshops to help students develop positive ethnic and racial identities and positive academic identities, reduce stress and improve emotional well-being and academic outcomes across four years of high school.  

A second research effort is focused on efforts at ETHS to create a preventative rather than reactive disciplinary approach to reduce racially disproportionate disciplinary practices, increase students’ sense of school attachment and belonging and provide students with disciplinary environment that aligns with their developmental needs.

The third project involves analyzing results of focus groups conducted with 300 students to provide feedback on the chemistry and Spanish curriculum last year and Spanish, U.S. History and Algebra 2 during this school year.

Lila Goldstein, lead research data analyst, said that the on track indicator that the team has been designing now has a name: the NEERA Persistence Compass.

She expects that by summer the team will have identified factors to track that are predictors of persistence for individual students and to set thresholds for other transition points in the K-12 experience. The team is also working on creating a user interface for teachers to use the Persistence Compass.

Figlio said that NEERA is about three different things: building additional capacity for research in the districts, service work in developing the Performance Compass and projects serving both students and researchers.

Candance Chow, District 65 board member, asked for a “sneak peek” on what factors are being explored besides the obvious ones such as course selection and grades.

Goldstein said that factors the districts are already measuring are “low-hanging fruit,” such as grades, discipline and electives but are able to break that down a bit to consider course level, number of electives and AP tests.

Chow asked how the Compass might help identify kids schools are missing who need intervention but are not currently being supported.

Figlio noted that Compass is diagnostic, not prescriptive, but also provides “bread crumbs”  that indicate areas that might be appropriate for exploration.

Chow said that the focus is on supporting marginalized families and the model doesn’t need to be “neutral.”

Figlio said they need to focus on the generalizable components, in part because the sample sizes get too small to be useful if subdivided by race, free and reduced lunch status or other characteristics. Second, as a diagnostic tool it lays out a general formula and provides one more piece of evidence for school administrators to use to move forward.

Jude Laude, member of the ETHS board, asked if non-academic factors, such as executive functions, are included in the Compass.

Figlio said that at this time the tool uses administratively measured data but the findings may inspire innovative ideas for enhancing such things as executive functions.

Monique Parsons, vice president of the ETHS board, said that documenting participation in out-of-school activities, which is being done through EL3, can identify participation patterns and help recommend activities that encourage student success.

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