Using Research to Influence State Education Policy Kindergarten to Third Grade: A Partnership of the State University and the State Education Agency
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Using federal grant funds, Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge, the SEA partnered with the State University to evaluate the status of classroom quality and teaching performance in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. Policy decisions and interventions to improve teaching and learning cannot be determined without first measuring the current status of early education.
This study included 124 classrooms within 20 diverse districts. First, time students spend in various learning activities was measured. Findings show that children spent 44% of their school day in whole group learning and only 5% of their day in group work with classmates. Students also spent 25% of their day working individually and 16% transitioning from activity or waiting for a new activity to begin.
Drilling deeper we examined the amount of time children spent engaged in various content areas. Looking specifically at language and literacy skills, most of the time--13 minutes—was spent identifying words while less than 5 minutes, on average, was spent learning vocabulary words. Only 11 minutes on average per day was used for teachers to read to students and, similarly low, 7 minutes was spent on reading comprehension skills.
Our data show that classrooms in K-3 generally had positive climates where teachers were warm, supportive and affectionate with students, responsive to students, and acknowledged students’ feelings and emotions. In addition, classrooms were generally well-organized with consistent schedules and established routines. Lower scores were found on our classroom measures for items examining instructional support such as concept development, language modeling, and integration of subject areas.
These data were used to inform the intervention for the participating districts as a pilot of supports for local education agencies provided by the SEA. The intervention targets key stakeholders including teachers working directly with students, building administrative staff, and central office staff with high-level decision-making capacity. First, teachers participate in an ongoing cross-district professional learning series that focuses on key features of the data. For example, teachers are working on developing projects based on student interest that integrate subject areas and address key standards and required curriculum (with a focus on concept development). Administrative staff participate in a professional learning community to closely examine the data to drive policy changes and influence practice. Education leaders for each district work with a team to plan short- and long-term goals.
The work of the districts and teachers have produced change that demonstrates the strength of a cohesive effort of higher education, state and local agencies working collaboratively using data to improve teaching and learning. Importantly, this work can provide insights for other states seeking to implement similar changes about how a nexus of educational systems can work together effectively to make it happen.