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Brief Closing the Gap_Final

Brief Closing the Gap_Final

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09/05/2012

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Program Evaluation 1
 
Closing the Racial Achievement GapAugust 2012 Office of Shared Accountability
Closing the Racial Achievement Gap in Montgomery County Public Schools:Characteristics of Middle Schools With Sustained Success
Elizabeth Cooper-Martin, Ph.D.
Executive Summary
The Office of Shared Accountability conducted astudy to identify characteristics of middle schoolswith sustained success in narrowing the achievementgap between Asian American and White students andAfrican American and Hispanic students. The studyexplored whether middle schools that closed the gapdiffered from middle schools that did not close thegap on a variety of policies, strategies, and practices.During spring 2011, members of the teaching staff ateach Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)middle school completed an online survey about avariety of school-level policies, strategies, and practices. Survey items were identified from adetailed synthesis of research with empiricalevidence for the effectiveness of strategies to narrowthe racial achievement gap in middle schools.Middle schools that closed the gap were identified asthose schools in which all students improved over time, while African American or Hispanic studentsimproved at a higher rate, on at least one data point.These data points related to performance onMaryland School Assessment (MSA) tests in readingor mathematics or in Algebra 1 or higher mathematics classes.The significant differences between middle schoolsthat closed the gap and the remaining middle schoolson survey items suggested three characteristicthemes. One theme was school leadership for learning, teaching, and equity. Respondents atschools that closed the gap— 
 
viewed their principals as stronger in supportingstudent needs and teacher capacity andinvolving parents and the community,
 
reported a greater emphasis on closing theracial achievement gap as a primary goal for theschool and setting measurable goals to do so,and
 
reported more opportunities to discuss race andethnicity and more focus on closing the racialachievement gap as part of recent changes attheir school.A second theme was teacher support for use of data.Respondents at middle schools that closed the gap— 
 
more frequently identified two topics—dataanalysis and teacher collaboration—as a major focus of recent changes at their school;
 
attended more professional development onthree topics: analysis of data for underperforming students, linking data onunderperforming students with instructionalstrategies, and monitoring instruction;
 
more strongly agreed that school leadershipfosters a collaborative work environment;
 
more often visited colleagues' classrooms toobserve instructional strategies; and
 
responded more positively about collaborationas a professional learning community.The third theme was school culture. The culture atmiddle schools that closed the gap appeared closer toone of “high academic press and high personalization” (Murphy, 2009, p. 252). Such aculture sets high expectations and standards for students, yet is caring and personalized, for bothschool staff and students.
 
Respondents at middleschools that closed the gap— 
 
attended more sessions on ways tocommunicate high expectations to all students;
 
more strongly agreed that they search for students’ strengths and talents, they could talk openly with school leaders, and the principalwidely communicates high expectations; and
 
more frequently used student peer groups andcommunication with students about theimportance of rigorous instruction as ways toencourage enrollment in rigorous courses.The recommended next step is to collect informationthat is more detailed on the specific strategies,structures, and processes used by the middle schoolsthat closed the gap to achieve their results.
Evaluation Brief 
 
 
Program Evaluation 2
 
Closing the Racial Achievement Gap
Background
The MCPS strategic plan,
Our Call to Action: Pursuit of Excellence
(MCPS, 2011), presents the system’sFramework for Equity and Excellence. Equity refersto high expectations and access to meaningful andrelevant learning for all students so that outcomes arenot predictable by race, ethnicity, gender,socioeconomic status, language proficiency, or disability. Excellence depends on high standards toensure that all students grow to their highest levelevery year and graduate ready for college or a career.To monitor progress in promoting equity andexcellence, MCPS has identified a series of milestones of academic success, known as the SevenKeys to College and Career Readiness (Seven Keys)(MCPS, 2009). The Seven Keys, which cover allgrade levels, serve as a guide for staff and parents toensure all students achieve at high levels. Two keysfor middle school students are Key 2, scoringadvanced on the MSA in reading and Key 4,completing Algebra 1 (or higher) by Grade 8 with agrade of C or higher.The goal of the Seven Keys is to set advanced rather than proficient standards and to ensure that results arenot predictable for any group (MCPS, 2011). MCPSis committed, in particular, to eliminating theachievement gap between Asian and White studentsand Black or African American and Hispanic/Latinostudents. Because of MCPS’s progress in closing theracial achievement gap, the district was one of fivefinalists for the 2010 Broad Prize in UrbanEducation. To build on this success and to providedirection for future success, this study will identifycharacteristics of middle schools with sustainedsuccess in narrowing the racial achievement gap onimportant middle school data points.In the 2010–2011 school year, there were 38 middleschools in MCPS serving 30,550 students in Grades 6through 8.
 
Of these students, 11.6% were enrolled inspecial education programs, 4.7% were enrolled inthe English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and 29.9% received Free and Reduced- price Meals System (FARMS) services. Anadditional 10.5% had received FARMS services inthe past, but were not receiving services in 2010– 2011
.
The middle school student body was raciallyand ethnically diverse: 0.2% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 14.3%
 
Asian, 22.2% Black or African American, 23.8% Hispanic/Latino, 35.2%White, and 4.3% Two or More (Multiple) Races.
Review of Literature
A review of literature on the racial achievement gap,with a focus on studies that provided empiricalevidence for narrowing the racial achievement gap inmiddle schools, identified the following school-based policies, strategies, or practices:
1
 
 
Leadership within school for equity
 
Principal’s leadership
 
Parental involvement in student learning
 
Professional development
 
School focus
 
 
School’s culture
 
Teacher and principal expectations
 
Teacher use of dataThe following study was used to guide datacollection. Symonds (2004) examined school-level policies and strategies at 32 K–8 schools inCalifornia. Up to three teachers at each schoolcompleted a survey about policies and strategies thatmight contribute to closing the racial achievementgap. Survey responses were analyzed for differences between gap-closing and non-gap-closing schools.The former were defined as those in which allstudents improved over time, but a significantsubgroup (e.g., Hispanic/Latino) improved at a higher rate. Gap-closing schools were distinguished by threefactors: teacher support for use of data, leadership for equity, and school focus.
Study Questions
Based on the literature, this study addressed twoquestions:1.
 
Do middle schools that closed the gap differ from other middle schools on academic school-level policies, strategies, or practices? If so,what are those policies, strategies, or practices?2.
 
Do middle schools that closed the gap differ from other middle schools on environmental or cultural school-level policies, strategies, or  practices? If so, what are those policies,strategies, or practices?
1
T
he full literature review is available from the author.
 
 
 
Program Evaluation 3
 
Closing the Racial Achievement Gap
Methodology
School Identification
Each of the 38 MCPS middle schools was identifiedas a middle school that closed the gap or a middleschool that did not close the gap using a two-step process. The first step was to identify schools with anincrease versus the previous year for all students for each of three school years: 2010–2011, 2009–2010,and 2008–2009. This increase had to be on at leastone of the following strategic middle school data points:
 
Percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the reading MSA
 
Percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the mathematics MSA
 
Percentage of students scoring advanced on thereading MSA
 
Percentage of students scoring advanced on themathematics MSA
 
Percentage of students completing Algebra 1 or higher with a grade of C or higher The second step was to identify schools with threeyears of gap-closing increases, defined as increasesfor the subgroups of African American or Hispanicstudents on the same measure identified in the previous step, but at a higher rate for the subgroupthan the increase for all students on that measure.
2
 Thus, middle schools that closed the gap weredefined as schools in which all students improvedover time, while African American or Hispanicstudents improved at a higher rate, on at least onestrategic, middle school data point. If the rate of increase is the same for all subgroups, gaps betweensubgroups will remain.Using the identification process, there were 10middle schools that closed the gap; performancedetails for these schools are in Appendix A. For eachdata point, schools that did not close the gap includedthose in which, for any of the three years under study,either performance for all students did not increase, performance for the subgroups of interest did notincrease, or performance for the subgroups of interestincreased at a rate lower than the rate of increase for all students.
2
Because the study used data from school years2007–2008, 2008–2009, and 2009–2010, race codes fromthose years were used.
 Data Collection
Data was collected during spring 2011 through anonline survey. It concerned a variety of school-levelstrategies, practices, and policies that reflectedfindings from the literature review and input from program staff on the Middle School Instruction andAchievement team and in the Equity Initiatives unit.This method increased the content and constructvalidity of the survey items. Most items referred tothe last three school years
 
including 2010–2011.Respondents were identified using the key informanttechnique, as in Symonds’ (2004) study. The principal at each school identified three staff members to complete the survey, including at leastone staff member who was not a current member of the school’s Instructional Leadership Team. Allrespondents had to meet the following criteria:
 
Be instructional staff members
 
Be in at least the third year of working at theschool
 
Have been involved with any recent systemicchange(s) at the schoolOut of 114 (38 times 3) possible respondents, 105staff members completed surveys, for a 92%response rate. Each survey was identified by school, but specific respondents were anonymous. However,not all criteria for respondents were met. At 11schools, all respondents were current members of theschool’s Instructional Leadership Team. Further,five respondents were in their first or second year of working at the school. Four of these respondentswere excluded; one was included because his/her school had only one other respondent. Thus, the finalsample used for analysis included at least tworespondents from each school and totaled 101respondents: 28 at middle schools that closed the gapand 73 at the remaining schools. Not all respondentsanswered each survey item. For brevity, the exactnumber of respondents is not included in the resulttables.

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