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West, M. R., Morton, B. A., & Herlihy, C. M. (2016). Achievement Network’s Investing in Innovation Expansion: Impacts on Educator Practice and Student Achievement.Abstract

Achievement Network (ANet) was founded in 2005 as a school-level intervention to support the use of academic content standards and assessments to improve teaching and learning. Initially developed within the Boston charter school sector, it has expanded to serve over 500 schools in nine geographic networks across the United States. The program is based on the belief that if teachers are provided with timely data on student performance from interim assessments tied to state standards, if school leaders provide support and create structures that help them use that data to identify student weaknesses, and if teachers have knowledge of how to improve the performance of students who are falling behind, then they will become more effective at identifying and addressing gaps in student learning. This will, in turn, improve student performance, particularly for high-need students.

In 2010, ANet received a development grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Program. The grant funded both the expansion of the program to serve up to 60 additional schools in five school districts, as well as an external evaluation of the expansion. The Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University partnered with ANet to design a matched-pair, school-randomized evaluation of their program’s impact on educator practice and student achievement in schools participating in its i3-funded expansion.

Blazar, D., Braslow, D., Charalambous, C., & Hill, H. C. (2015). Attending to General and Content-Specific Dimensions of Teaching: Exploring Factors Across Two Observation Instruments.Abstract

New observation instruments used in research and evaluation settings assess teachers along multiple domains of teaching practice, both general and content-specific. However, this work infrequently explores the relationship between these domains. In this study, we use exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses of two observation instruments - the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) and the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) - to explore the extent to which we might integrate both general and content-specific view of teaching. Importantly, bi-factor analyses that account for instrument-specific variation enable more robust conclusions than in existing literature. Findings indicate that there is some overlap between instruments, but that the best factor structures include both general and content-specific practices. This suggests new approaches to measuring mathematics instruction for the purposes of evaluation and professional development. 

Blazar, D. (2015). Effective teaching in elementary mathematics: Identifying classroom practices that support student achievement. Economics of Education Review , 48, 16-29. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recent investigations into the education production function have moved beyond traditional teacher inputs, such as education, certification, and salary, focusing instead on observational measures of teaching practice. However, challenges to identification mean that this work has yet to coalesce around specific instructional dimensions that increase student achievement. I build on this discussion by exploiting within-school, between-grade, and cross-cohort variation in scores from two observation instruments; further, I condition on a uniquely rich set of teacher characteristics, practices, and skills. Findings indicate that inquiry-oriented instruction positively predicts student achievement. Content errors and imprecisions are negatively related, though these estimates are sensitive to the set of covariates included in the model. Two other dimensions of instruction, classroom emotional support and classroom organization, are not related to this outcome. Findings can inform recruitment and development efforts aimed at improving the quality of the teacher workforce. 

West, M. R., Kraft, M. A., Finn, A. S., Duckworth, A. L., Gabrieli, C. F. O., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2014). Promise and Paradox: Measuring Students' Non-cognitive Skills and the Impact of Schooling.Abstract

The authors used self-report surveys to gather information on a broad set of non-cognitive skills from 1,368 eighth-grade students attending Boston Public Schools and linked this information to administrative data on their demographics and test scores. At the student level, scales measuring conscientiousness, self-control, grit, and growth mindset are positively correlated with attendance, behavior, and test-score gains between fourth- and eighth-grade. Conscientiousness, self-control, and grit are unrelated to test-score gains at the school level, however, and students attending over-subscribed charter schools with higher average test-score gains score lower on these scales than do students attending district schools. Exploiting charter school admissions lotteries, the authors replicate previous findings indicating positive impacts of charter school attendance on math achievement, but find negative impacts on these non-cognitive skills. The authors provide suggestive evidence that these paradoxical results are driven by reference bias, or the tendency for survey responses to be influenced by social context. The results therefore highlight the importance of improved measurement of non-cognitive skills in order to capitalize on their promise as a tool to inform education practice and policy.

Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis , 36 (4), 476-500. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Although wide variation in teacher effectiveness is well established, much less is known about differences in teacher improvement over time. We document that average returns to teaching experience mask large variation across individual teachers, and across groups of teachers working in different schools. We examine the role of school context in explaining these differences using a measure of the professional environment constructed from teachers’ responses to state-wide surveys. Our analyses show that teachers working in more supportive professional environments improve their effectiveness more over time than teachers working in less supportive contexts. On average, teachers working in schools at the 75th percentile of professional environment ratings improved 38% more than teachers in schools at the 25th percentile after ten years.

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