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PPIC Study on Reading Reform

PPIC Study on Reading Reform

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Published by CaliforniaWatch

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Published by: CaliforniaWatch on Aug 19, 2010
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Lessons inReading Reform
Finding What Works
Julian R. Betts
Andrew C. Zau
Cory Koedel
Supported with unding rom the Donald Bren Foundation
he San Diego Unied School District, the nation’s eighth-largest, launched an ambitiousprogram of literacy reforms in 2000 aimed at narrowing reading achievement gaps.Known as the Blueprint for Student Success, the program ran through 2005. The reformssucceeded in boosting the reading achievement of students who had been identied as lag-ging behind at the elementary and middle school levels. The key element that seems to havedriven this success was a signicant amount of extra student time spent on reading, with apossible collateral factor being widespread professional development for district teachers. The combination was neither cheap to implement nor a magic bullet. But in elementary andmiddle schools it demonstrably worked. In high schools, with one exception, it did not. This study summarizes our statistical evaluation of all of the Blueprint reforms over theve-year period, drawing lessons for educators about why some elements of the Blueprintsucceeded and how they could be implemented elsewhere. Elements that appeared par-ticularly helpful were extended-length English classes in middle school and an extendedschool year for low-performing elementary schools. Even in high schools, we found thatstudents who participated in triple-length English classes were more likely to be promotedto the next grade. There were several goals that the Blueprint interventions did not achieve.But neither did the interventions conrm the fears of many Blueprint detractors—such asthat extra time spent on reading would degrade student performance in other subjects or
would cause student burnout, all to the detriment of their entire school careers. The Blue-print appeared to have little or no bearing on student success in completing high schoolcollege preparatory work.One of the lessons of the Blueprint is that specic changes in both state and federal gov-ernment policy could foster these kinds of ambitious reforms elsewhere, at the school districtlevel. California could continue its recent trend of collapsing categorical funding into moreexible mechanisms that give individual school districts freedom for reforms that boostachievement in the most appropriate way. At the federal level, the Department of Educationcould ease its Title I waiver requirements, so that districts could use that money for reformsthat target not only low-income students, but also low-performing students, regardless of school or neighborhood.A key aspect of San Diego’s reform program was that it was comprehensive and coher-ent. Interventions often were applied in two or more of the elementary, middle, and highschool grade spans. Further, professional development was delivered uniformly, with a singlefocused goal, to teachers throughout the district. But perhaps the most important lessonfor education policymakers is that many of the reforms took several years to bear fruit. Mostnotably, the peer coaching system for teachers did not typically generate positive gains inthe rst year or two, but did appear to do so by the later years. An obvious lesson here is thatschool district leaders everywhere, when they implement reforms, must show considerablepatience in their quest for improved student literacy.
Please visit the report’s publication page to nd related resources:http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=922
Lessons in Reading Reformwww.ppic.org
Beginning in the 1990s, a national movement to enhancethe accountability of public school systems gatheredstrength and culminated in 2001 with the passage of federal No Child Le Behind (NCLB) legislation. NCLBformalized reforms that many states had already initiated,such as creating academic content standards, implement-ing statewide student testing systems, and developing sys-tems of rewards and sanctions for schools based on studentperformance on state tests. California had implemented asimilar accountability system of its own in 1999.In early 2010, President Obama announced plans forthe reauthorization of NCLB. Te proposed legislationcalls for better measures of student learning but maintainsthe original concepts of measuring student performanceand intervening when necessary. Despite changes from theoriginal, the new NCLB will continue to emphasize contentstandards, testing, rewards, and sanctions.However, federal and state reforms have not yet pre-sented many ideas about exactly 
individual schoolsand school districts should intervene to help students whoare lagging behind. NCLB calls for failing schools to imple-ment tutoring and busing—and for schools that repeatedly fail to make adequate yearly progress to face a series of sanctions, up to and including removal of administrators.But it is not particularly prescriptive about how teachersshould teach, how schools should organize the school day,or what curricula they should use to correct deciencies.Te accountability movement presupposes that we knowhow to help students who are struggling academically. Infact, the literature on the eects of specic reforms, such asprofessional development, reduced class size, and summerschool, is quite mixed. Nor does the policy community have much evidence on how best to intervene when stu-dents and schools fail to meet standards.Tese knowledge decits increase the importance of careful evaluation of interventions that have already beenattempted. Increasingly, individual school districts havebecome laboratories for interventions aimed at improvingthe achievement of students who fare poorly on state-mandated tests. Chicago public schools, for example,implemented interventions for students with low achieve-ment that received much attention in the policy world(and, to a slightly lesser extent, in academic circles).
 Te San Diego Unied School District (SDUSD) hasalso received national attention for a series of literacy reforms it implemented from 2000 to 2005, called the Blue-print for Student Success. Tis report presents a quantita-tive evaluation of the eects the Blueprint had on studentachievement in San Diego. Our ndings hold lessons fordistricts elsewhere.
Policymakers have ofered little guidance about how best to intervenewhen students and schools ail to meet standards.
AP Photo/MArcio JoSe SAnchez
Individual school districts have becomelaboratories for interventions aimed atimproving the achievement of students whofare poorly on state-mandated tests.

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