Study of Instructional Improvement

Purpose of the Report

The Study of Instructional Improvement (SII) is among the largest and most ambitious longitudinal studies of elementary schooling conducted in the United States to date. Over a four-year period (Academic Years 2000 – 2001 through 2003 - 2004), SII gathered data from parents, students, teachers, and school leaders in 115 high-poverty elementary schools located in 45 school districts in 17 states across the country. SII gathered extensive data on factors affecting the academic and social development of young children attending schools participating in three of the most widely-disseminated intervention programs in the country. In size and scope, this multi-component research program is the most detailed study of instruction and instructional improvement in elementary schools currently available. Data collection for SII was completed in late spring of 2004 and since that time, activities have shifted from data collection to data analysis and dissemination. Now, the primary goal of SII is to provide unparalleled access to study data (available here) and support materials to researchers and policymakers who share our interest in improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.

Here, we have developed an online report which actively “invites” readers to probe SII data more deeply. We begin by discussing the comprehensive school reform movement, the previous research, and describe the CSR programs we studied. We then move to summarizing some of the major findings of SII researchers---but more importantly, the report introduces the complex and related components of our study in hopes that other researchers will pursue their own research interests with the data. The report makes use of hypertext links that allow readers to access progressively complex layers of information about the data and the methods lying behind the findings we present. Within each section of the report, the text is embedded with one or more hypertext links that send readers directly to additional information. We guide readers to actual downloadable data, the basic psychometric properties of the measures used in SII analyses, or the underlying statistical model guiding the analysis. These pieces of information, in turn, may contain additional hypertext linkages.The point is that we can provide results and a series of scaffolded experiences that allow readers to easily engage at a deeper and very active level with the data and findings.

For example, selecting the section entitled Processes for Instructional Improvement introduces to reader to the comprehensive school reform (CSR) program designs SII studied along with teacher and leader reports of changes made in response to the enactment of the interventions. The reader can click a hypertext link which leads them to the Teacher and Leader Questionnaires or to hypertext linkages to SII-developed scales and measures or statistical models with programming code for constructing measures or conducting the analyses (e.g., SPSS or HLM programs). In turn, these documents link to the questionnaire codebooks containing the frequencies and variable information for each item. At yet another level, we provide linkages to the actual data sets used in the analyses to facilitate re-examination of the results using different data analytic strategies. It is our hope that SII’s data will serve as a springboard to a new generation of research on how to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged youth.It is possible through SII data to address problems associated with the persistently low academic achievement of America’s disadvantaged students, both in terms of how schools organize for school improvement and in identifying effective instructional practices.

Our approach allows readers to take a closer look at design-based school improvement by reporting on the results of our multi-year study of three of America’s most widely-adopted CSR programs: the Accelerated Schools Project (ASP), America’s Choice (AC), and Success for All (SFA). At the time of this study, these three CSR programs were operating in more than 1500 elementary schools across the United States. In describing the results of this study, we discuss three important issues across the report. First, we look at the strategies each of these CSR programs used to promote instructional change inside of schools. Our aim in this section of the report is to develop some conceptual models to describe the “designs” external agencies use as they go about organizing schools for instructional change. Next, we examine whether or not these designs do in fact promote changes in school organization and instructional practice, and if so, in what direction. As we shall see, making changes to school organization and instruction were major goals of each of the CSR programs under study, but each program had a different vision of what this should look like. Finally, we provide some preliminary data on whether or not each of these CSR programs succeeded in improving student achievement in the schools where they worked.

In addressing each of these questions, we hope to address issues that researchers studying school improvement have confronted over several decades. Among these issues are theoretical questions about: (1) how instructional improvement programs can be designed; (2) the relationships between design characteristics and program implementation; and (3) why some externally-designed programs work to increase student achievement while others do not. The ultimate objectives of our data dissemination efforts are to positively change attitudes and knowledge about how to improve the education of disadvantaged students, hopefully followed by concrete changes in education policy and practice related to this knowledge.