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Elementary Education Effectiveness

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In the State of Mississippi there are 149 school districts; of those districts, one-hundred forty-five are accredited, three are on probation and four are under advisement. Mississippi consists of 437 elementary schools, 178 middle, 184 high schools and sixty combination elementary and secondary schools (MS Dept. of Education, 2005). In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was signed, mandating all Title I schools to be held accountable for the success of their students. Under this act; States must define minimum levels of improvement as measured by standardized tests chosen by the state.

AYP targets must be set for overall achievement and for subgroups, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient (LEP) students and students with disabilities (2001). If a school fails to meet the above mentioned criteria a series of consequences follow.

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Once a school is labeled “in need of improvement”, the label remains until improvements are made and the required achievement status is fulfilled for two consecutive years. If the school fails two years consecutively, the consequences become more severe. (Great Schools, 2006) Schools “in need of improvement” consequences:

• After two years of “in need of improvement” status, transfer options to a non-in need school within the district must be given to students. • Three years of failed AYP the school must provide supplemental services such as tutoring as well as transfer options. • Four consecutive years of failed AYP requires the school to implement one of the following: replace school staff, implement new curriculum, decrease authority of school level administration, appoint outside experts to advise the school, extended school year/day, restructure internal organization of school.

This along with transfer and supplemental options. • After five consecutive years of failing AYP the district must plan the restructuring of the school. These plans must include one of the following: reopen school as public charter school, replace all or most staff including principal, enter contract to have outside entity run school or arrange for the state to take over school operations. • Six consecutive years of AYP failure requires implementing the previous years plan (Great Schools, online database). The delta region of Mississippi is considered the poorest areas in the state.

It has been called the “Third World Country in America” (Mississippi Delta Report, 2001). The Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) is used to measure student mastery of skills and content for elementary grades two through eight, as outlined in the Mississippi Curriculum Frameworks (MS Dept. of Education, 2003). The Mississippi Board of Education identifies eight priorities necessary for improving student achievement; these priorities are: reading, early literacy, student achievement, leadership, safe/orderly schools, technology, and parent/community involvement (2003).

Several strategies have been suggested to improve the performances of Mississippi schools; such as creating a more challenging curriculum, creating smaller classes, and increasing parental involvement (MS Dept. of Education, 2005). In 2002, “Reading First was passed into law by a bipartisan majority of Congress under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” (2002). Mississippi was given an eleven million dollar grant which would be used to: …help districts and schools improve student achievement in reading through the application of scientifically based reading research.

Reading First will help States, districts and schools apply this research – and the proven instructional and assessment tools consistent with this research – to ensure that all children can read at grade level or above by the end of third grade (2002). Reading First had four priorities which included; 1) raising the caliber and quality of classroom instruction, 2) basing instruction on scientifically proven methods, 3) providing professional training for educators in reading instruction and 4) supplying substantial resources to support the unprecedented initiative.

With the passing of this program several techniques have been implemented in the hopes of improving reading performances of Mississippi students. The following study, particularly the literature review will investigate existing strategies and the effectiveness of each. Several theories have been examined over the years in hopes of finding an effective strategy to improve student achievement. The teaching theory used as a basis for this study is the Measurement Theory, this theory represents teaching and achievement based on standardized tests and results.

Statement of the Problem Mississippi consists of four-hundred and eighty-six thousand people living in poverty; ten percent of children belong to families that are not able to meet their needs (2005). Recent statistics show that those living in poverty are fifty-one percent African American and approximately forty-seven percent Caucasian (2005). Research has shown that the socioeconomic status of students influence the degree of success they will experience. (Donahue &Grigg, 2003) Mississippi has varying degrees of reading proficiency among school districts.

In the 2003-2004 school year, six districts, consisting of one elementary school, five middle schools and one high school, were identified as “in need for improvement”, based on the reading and math proficiency of its students. For the purpose of this study, only schools reflecting a lack in reading proficiency will be discussed. The U. S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling announced in a November 2005 press release, “Eighty percent of the fastest-growing jobs require at least some post secondary education.

Yet far too many students are leaving high school unprepared for college”. Improved student achievement can provide students better preparation for college, thus closing the achievement gap. Low socioeconomic schools, although improving, are still behind the majority of middle-to-upper class schools in America (Donahue & Grigg, 2003). There are several factors to consider when looking at closing the achievement gap found in low socioeconomic schools.

One factor is that “young, low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting” (2003). As Donahue and Grigg’s report showed, when students start school already behind others, they are likely to continue such patterns if not addressed early on. Existing studies demonstrate the problems researchers are having addressing literacy issues early on in a students academic career.

Researches are trying to find appropriate strategies to combat the achievement gap with many variables which will be discussed further in detail, in the following study. Purpose of the Study The following is a detailed investigation into possible explanations of varying degrees of reading achievement found in Mississippi and what can be done to maintain a higher overall proficiency in reading among Mississippi students, while satisfying the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Many schools have chosen to implement a “school-wide approach” to closing the achievement gap; however, when dealing with schools consisting primarily of low-income students, there are other factors to consider when choosing a strategy. The proposed study will focus on improving reading skills in high-poverty schools found in Mississippi by comparing different techniques widely used and creating a more targeted strategy for low-income students. When deciding on an appropriate strategy for improving reading comprehension there are a few factors one must consider.

The following questions will outline the factors to be researched in this study. Research Questions 1. What impact does social economic status have on the achievement gaps found in the State of Mississippi? 2. What are the contributing factors found in Mississippi schools that are demonstrating low reading scores among economically disadvantaged students? 3. Are there high-poverty schools in Mississippi which demonstrate positive improvements in reading scores? What are the strategies used? 4. How does implementing Theory into Practice (TIP) encourage positive student achievement in disadvantaged schools?

Hypothesis To affectively close low socioeconomic achievement gaps in reading, strong emphasis on establishing proficient reading ability should be made in elementary school. Nature of the Study The research conducted in this study will be an investigation of existing literature regarding techniques used in improving reading skills, exemplary schools demonstrating such techniques and finally, a suggested strategy to use when applying research to low socioeconomic schools with low reading proficiency found in Mississippi school districts.

Significance of the Study The significance of this study is that by identifying factors contributing to the achievement gap found in low socioeconomic school districts, as well as investigating into existing programs that have had a positive influence on reading performance scores in other high-poverty schools is that, school administrators and policy makers will have a better basis in which to improve upon existing programs and interventions that would be more financially attainable than starting new programs.

The high cost of starting new programs such as; creating new assessment strategies, providing more staff and researchers as well as other costly planning and implementing variables, often times are not practical for low-economic schools. While children of today are growing up in a world where data are being revealed at an alarming rate and knowledge is simply a click away, reading plays an increasingly crucial role in society (Topping & Paul, 1999).

The ability to read is not only fundamental for understanding and mastery of every school subject students will encounter, but literacy also plays a critical and crucial role in students’ social and economic lives (Snow, Bums, & Griffin, 1998). As a result, no other factor will have a greater impact on the success of students in Mississippi than their ability to read.

With such an emphasis placed on the importance of reading achievement, educational leaders must clearly articulate the expectation that all students can become successful readers, while providing the most effective strategies and opportunities for students to succeed in reading and adopt lifelong reading practices. (Okpala, et al. , 2001) Definitions of Terms Action Team for Partnership- This partnership is also known as a School Improvement Team or a School Council.

Although the ATP members oversee the school’s partnership program, other teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community members also may lead family and community involvement activities (ATP website). Adequate Yearly Progress- AYP requires that schools hold the same high standards for all their students; regardless of racial or ethnic background, socioeconomic status and English proficiency

Core Academic Subjects- These subjects include: English, language arts and reading, arts, civics, government and history, mathematics and science, foreign languages, as well as, economics and geography. Elementary School- a nonprofit institution which includes, public school, day or residential school and elementary charter schools which State law mandated elementary education.

Family Literacy Services – The services provided to participants on a voluntary basis that foster a positive change in families. These changes include, providing families with interactive activities between parents and child concerning literacy, teaching parents to take an active role in their children’s education, teaching self-sufficiency by providing parental literacy training, and providing education to children which is age-appropriate and prepares them for school and life experiences.

Highly Qualified (in reference to public elementary or secondary school teacher) – A highly qualified teacher will possess a State certification for teaching or holds a license to teach in a particular state due to passing the State exam and is employed in a teaching position after meeting all required testing, training and educational requirements satisfactory to the State, district and school regulations. Mentoring- A responsible elder who provides positive leadership and guidance to a child as a positive role model in that child’s life. A mentor mission is to help a child to one day become a responsible adult.

Minority- a group of students which do not demonstrate the majority’s characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, ethnic background or other key characteristics. Other Staff- staff found within an institution such as personnel, guidance counselors, and administration and teachers aides. Limitations In her 2005 press release Secretary Spelling said, “we all hear a lot of stories about why schools are missing Adequate Yearly Progress, but we don’t hear much about how thousands of other schools are making it and closing the achievement gap”.

This study is limited by location; its main concentration being primarily on Mississippi schools, programs and outcomes. The primary research method is investigating existing literature, as such; there is substantial literature on the failures of many schools trying to improve student achievement; however there is very little literature depicting success. One other limitation to consider is that this study focuses on reading proficiency; however; to get the most accurate depiction of a schools success is to consider all core academic subjects. Chapter Two

The following literature focuses on how schools in the Mississippi School district and nationwide are implementing school improvement plans and closing the achievement gap. In School Improvement and Closing the Achievement Gap Report 2003-2004 the accountability of Mississippi Schools past and present is discussed (2004) and Craig Jerald, author of Dispelling the Myth discusses how nationwide high poverty, high minority schools have high achieving students (2001). Both reports will be discussed here. The researcher wanted to know how many high-poverty and high minority schools nationwide have high student performance.

The study used the Education Trust Database to identify certain criteria. Over 4500 schools were analyzed. Each meeting the criteria set and performing well above the expectation (2001). Both papers discuss the achievement gap, more importantly they reported the areas of greatest improvement. The Achievement Gap Report (2004) focused on the Mississippi school districts. It gave an accountability report on those school districts that have been struggling, as well as providing a strategic outline to close the gap. Specific schools were used as models of for improving test scores.

Dispelling the Myth (Jerald, 2001) focused on school districts nation wide. Although no reasons for poor school performance were given, the author did state that none of the schools were magnet schools. This report showed that most schools with high poverty, high minority students live in urban areas (2001). However, the more recently published Achievement Gap Report (2004) reported that some of the poorest schools are in rural areas. Dispelling the Myth (2001) looked at specific criteria for the study, whereas, the Achievement Gap Report (2004) did not.

Both studies failed to look at specific schools and detail specific strategies used in improving the achievement gap. The Mississippi Achievement Gap Report (2004) plan made suggestions on how schools can improve, but a greater detail is needed to truly understand what each school did to improve scores. Model schools or a model program can be established based on greater research. Socioeconomic Influence Literature regarding reading programs was of most interest for this study. Several scientific journals addressed factors of low socioeconomic status and under achievement.

The achievement gap found amongst low-income students was addressed in Education: The State We’re In (Donahue & Griggs, 2003). Substantial information was given on the obstacles facing high-poverty youth today. Reading proficiency among elementary school students of low-income families are at a disadvantage (2003). When studying low-income fourth graders, the author found that in 2003, across the nation, only fifteen percent are proficient in reading. The authors also demonstrated that the majority of low-income students read about three grades behind non-poor students (2003).

Proficiency differences among races were briefly discussed; Similar disparities exist between white students and students of color; 39% of white 4th graders can read at the proficient level compared to only 12 % of African-American students and 14% of Latinos. Overall, about three in ten fourth graders can read proficiently, and this in itself is cause for concern. (2003) Parental Involvement, Instructional Expenditures, Family Socioeconomic Attributes, and Student Achievement (Okpala, et al, 2001).

Parental involvement is a commonly discussed approach to establishing higher student achievement. A study done in North Carolina was based on three factors; (a) Instructional supplies expenditures will affect academic achievement positively; (b) the SES of students in a given school, measured by the percentage of students that participate in free/reduced-price lunch programs, will affect student achievement negatively; and (c) parental involvement that is measured by parental volunteer hours per 100 students will influence student achievement positively.

These factors were beneficial in understanding the SES influence on successful reading programs. These factors and the results of this particular study will be investigated further throughout this study. Implementing Change A very brief but informative piece, Evidence from Project Star About Class Size and Student Achievement (Folgers & Breda, 1989) addressed three specific questions to ask oneself when considering changing programs. The three questions were; 1) How effective will the change be? 2) How much will it cost and 3) what are the problems of implementation?

(1989) All three of these questions were found to be valuable when assessing existing programs, as well as when considering the necessary factors when looking to improve upon them. The Gallup Poll (1989 Survey) was reported to have an overwhelming approval from parents when asked about reducing class size. The problem with this strategy is that “reducing class size substantially is very costly” (1989). A widely researched program investigated during this study was the Accelerated Reader Program. One report (Melton, et. al. , 2004) demonstrated the uses and results of the AR program.

By definition the Accelerated Readers program is “…a learning information system designed to heighten student interest in literature and to help teacher manage literature-based reading (McKnight, 1992). This study was particularly significant because it was conducted in two Jackson, Mississippi elementary schools. There has been extensive coverage of the AR program. A 2004 study compared the reading achievement growth of fifth graders following a year of participation in the AR program with other fifth graders who did not participate.

The results demonstrated that students in the AR program actually scored significantly lower than non-participants. Although many studies show little to no benefits from the AR program, the program has provided a few guidelines; such guidelines include, 1) Engage students in large amount of reading practice with authentic material 2) students should read at their own individual reading level, and 3) student incentives such as ribbons or extra recess improves the odds of a students success.

By using computer technology, teachers can use the AR program to assess students reading level and invite and motivate students to read material they find interesting (Vollands, et al. , 1999). Students are given a choice of books suited to their particular reading level. Random multiple choice tests are given to test students’ comprehension of the material. In a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Dept. of Education) evaluation, AR programs and other computerized reading programs were reviewed (Chenowith, 2001).

The lack of research on evaluated programs ability to produce long-term gains in reading achievement caused the National Institute to determine the AR programs did not meet standards (2001). Common complaints of the AR program include, 1) when the program ended, participating students went back to reading less than before participating 2) the AR program limited the choice of books available to a student because certain books that were not accompanied by an AR test were not valid (Chenowith, 2001) and 3) AR encourages children to read for the wrong reasons, for example to win a prize (Carter, 1996).

However, as Chenowith (2001) noted, many parents responded to the latter, that it did not matter why students read, as long as they were in fact reading. Topping and Paul (1999) found that with the proper educator training on the AR program, the odds of successful student achievement with the program will improve. Students already in at risk in reading before the AR program will gain positive results when AR is implemented (Vollands, Topping and Evans, 1999). “Many elementary schools have adopted programs which encourage authentic reading time and aid in the development of reading skills for life (Melton, et al.

, 2004). However, little research has been conducted on individual, less costly programs (2004). When studying the effects of the AR program on African American students and white students in Mississippi, black students scored lower (2004). High School Statistics as a Basis for Increased Beginner Learning Although not the primary focus of this study, it is important to understand the future of elementary students by looking into current graduates predicaments.

Over the last twenty years, there have been dramatic increases in high school promotion; as well as, in graduation requirements. Most recently, states and districts, such as Mississippi, have begun implementing graduation and end-of-course exams (Committee for Economic Development, 2000). Some critics have noted that the rise in standards and high-stakes tests will be unfair to students who have attended poorly resourced schools (Achieve, 2000). However, this problem has been met by offering extra help and supportive services to the students of the disadvantaged schools (2001).

One of the most common support methods has been to offer disadvantaged students more time; such as summer school, adding an extra year to their high school education and transition programs to ensure students can fulfill high school requirements (2001). Little progress has been made in developing a better curriculum and instructional support to aid in the acceleration of learning for disadvantaged high school (Balfanz, et al. , 2002). Some high schools have implemented a whole school reform by creating catch-up courses and district wide special prep courses (2002).

These reforms have not been thoroughly evaluated because their infancy; using small, formative studies, thus little is known about the feasibility and rapidity of student acceleration in disadvantaged high schools. This study aims at taking the first step to in understanding the elementary school learning needs and providing appropriate teaching techniques for each schools situation; by reporting on the initial results and impacts of the Talent Development High Schools (TDHS) ninth grade instructional program in reading and mathematics.

The study involves several cities and multiple high-poverty, non-selective high schools within each city. Academic Models of Recognition Piney Woods School in Piney Woods, Mississippi has programs that should be viewed as national models. Although a private school, its strategies for success are practical and successful. The predominantly African American school is known for changing the lives of low-income students by having them “complete a rigid diet of reading, writing, math, science and foreign language” (Wooster, et al.

2001). While requiring students work ten hours a week in order to teach them responsibility, Piney Woods School gives students a sense of unity and tough love. The programs implemented are; Writing Across the Curriculum, which trains freshman and sophomores’ in basic composition skills; Always Reaching Upward, a peer tutoring program which pairs under achievers with high achievers and Save the Males, a tutoring, mentoring and special male focused groups that facilitate responsibility and self confidence.

The results are phenomenal with a ninety five percentage rate of students going on to college after graduation and the other five percent going into military services. Analysis of existing achievement data in high-poverty high schools provides two conclusions. First, students who attend high-poverty high schools are typically performing below national norms and are dramatically short of the performance benchmarks employed to measure academic success.

An analysis conducted by Education Week (1998) indicates, for example, that students entering high school in the majority of large cities are often found to be two or more years below grade level (Quality Counts ’98, 1998). In Philadelphia, for instance, seventeen percent of high school students attend one of twenty-two non-selective neighborhood schools (Neild & Balfanz, 2001); and approximately half of these students are reading below the fifth or sixth grade level. A quarter of these students are reading at the seventh or eighth grade level.

Approximately one in four students attending a nonselective high school in Philadelphia read at grade level. In eight of the non-selective neighborhood schools in Philadelphia, a little over two thirds of first-time ninth graders are performing below the seventh grade level in both reading and mathematics (Neild & Balfanz, 2001). One important conclusion that can be drawn from this data is that in many non-selective urban schools students need accelerated learning opportunities.

A second conclusion is that the current level of academic performance in disadvantaged high schools can lead to multiple negative consequences for students and society. It is too early to accurately gauge the impact of the high-stakes; standards based graduation tests and dropout rates of students entering high school with weak academic skills (Bishop & Mane, 2000; Hauser, 2001). Existing data from metropolitan cities such as Chicago (Roderick & Camburn, 1999) and Philadelphia, however, demonstrates a link between poor academic preparation and course failure; as well as the retention of many high-poverty students.

Course failure and retention in the ninth grade has caused a high amount of high school drop outs. Forty-three percent of first-time freshmen in Philadelphia entering ninth grade with below seventh grade math and reading skills were not promoted to the tenth grade (Neild & Balfanz, 2001); in comparison to the eighteen percent of students entering ninth grade with math and reading skills above the seventh grade level. Student skills below grade level requirements result in retention, poor attendance, and course failure.

First-time freshmen who were not promoted to the tenth grade had a dropout rate of nearly sixty percent when compared to a twelve percent drop out rate for students who were promoted (Neild, Stoner-Eby, & Furstenberg, 2001). The individual and social consequences of dropping out of high school are considerable. The Committee for Economic Development (2000) has documented the economic returns to advanced education. Non-promotion has become the norm in approximately two hundred-fifty to three hundred high schools, in thirty-five major cities in the United States (Balfanz & Legters, 2001).

Sixty percent of the population in these public high schools is African American and Latino students in (2001). The United States Department of Education expresses the importance of raising graduation requirements and standards; therefore it is essential to the success of future high school students, that a means of improving reading proficiency is achieved. Contributing Factors to Student Achievement In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act placed even stronger responsibility on states to raise student performance.

As a result of these accountability standards, states must now administer standardized tests to “measure adequate yearly progress” of all students (2001). They face costly federal mandates and must submit comprehensive plans. The federal law also focuses on narrowing the achievement gap between races. It requires that states monitor the performance of racial and economic subgroups and undertake corrective action in failing schools (Wong, 2004). …states are implementing policies that provide incentives to attract and retain teachers and increase student performance.

Incentives are helping states recruit new teachers into the work force, attract persons from outside education, retain teachers in the classroom and support accountability programs that focus on school-by-school efforts to boost student achievement (Cornett and Gaines, 2002). Researchers examining student performance consistently find that one of the most important influences on student achievement is socioeconomic status (SES) of students. These findings give little comfort to educators in economically disadvantaged schools who are facing heavy pressure to improve performance and close the gap between minority and white students.

Yet Verstegen and King (1998) claim that a growing body of research is using better databases and more sophisticated methodological strategies to provide evidence that school policies can make a positive difference in student outcomes. They also emphasize that resource patterns that optimize performance in one setting do not necessary work in others. Encouraged by this line of thinking, the researcher will investigate factors that may explain the differences in performances in schools that share a common socioeconomic context.

Are there choices made by policymakers and administrators in economically disadvantaged schools that spark significant improvements in performance in these schools? In this study, the researcher will assume the significance of SES or “input” factors in explaining achievement, and the researcher considers the impact of other factors over which schools have some control. Impact of Process Variables Although the statistical models will include measures for SES (percent of economically disadvantaged students and percent white students), the focus will be on process variables.

The latter include those variables that school systems more or less control. The researcher categorizes these variables into three general areas: 1) school class size 2) school policies and 3) proven effective programs to increase student reading proficiency. One of the most controversial characteristics of schools is the amount of students per teacher (FTE). Production function research on the effects of school size has been inconclusive, and both sides have their advocates. Supporters of small schools contend that students get more attention, school governance is simpler, and teachers and administrators are more accessible to parents.

Noguera (2002) states that in high schools where the majority of low-income students of color are achieving at high levels the one common characteristic is the small size of the schools. Lee and Burkam found that students are less likely to drop out of schools with fewer than 1,500 students (2003). However, others argue that large schools are able to offer students a wider range of educational offerings and services (“Still Stumped,” 2002). Recent research indicates that the effects of school size may depend on the SES of students.

Findings show consistently that the relationship between achievement and socioeconomic status was substantially weaker in smaller schools than larger schools, that is, students from impoverished communities are much more likely to benefit from smaller schools. On the other hand, a positive relationship exists between larger schools and the output measures of affluent students (Lee and Smith, 1996; Howley and Bickel, 1999). Because this study will examine the performance of economically disadvantaged students, the researcher expects to find a negative relationship between school size and achievement scores.

That is, the larger the school, the less likely students are to achieve on standardized tests. The relationship between class size and positive student achievement is another relationship that has been closely studied. In 2000, Congress allocated $1. 3 billion for class size reduction as a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (Johnson, 2002). Most of the studies that examine the effect of class size on student performance have focused on primary schools.

One of the largest and most scientifically rigorous experiments was the 1985, Tennessee’s Student Achievement Ratio (STAR) study. The STAR project provides compelling evidence that smaller classes can improve student achievement, especially in primary schools, which could have lasting effects (1985). The four year longitudinal study focused on classes in Tennessee and consisted of grades kindergarten through third. Classes of thirteen to seventeen students were compared to classes of twenty-two to twenty-six students; of the total classes, some had just one teacher and some had a teacher and aid.

Phase one included over three hundred classes and a total of 6500 students (1985). The result after four years was positive support for the reduction of classroom sizes which proved to have positive effects on student achievement. Some critics have pointed out the limitations of project STAR (Vinson, 2002). A couple of limitations listed in a report by Tony Vinson in 2002 were: 1) limiting sample of certain cultural groups 2) schools volunteered to participate in the study, suggesting they had motivation to use innovative teaching practices.

In 1996, Mostellar, a statistician, reported; “the Tennessee Class Size study demonstrates convincingly that student achievement is better in small K-3 classes and the effect continues later in regular-sized classes (1996). In a follow-up study, Nye, Hedges and Kontantopoulos (1999) found that students of smaller class size continued showing significant advantages over students of regular-sized classes, throughout school, to graduation. These students demonstrated higher grades, took more challenging classes, had better graduation rates and were more likely to go on to college (Vinson, 2002).

Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (Vinson, 2002), began in the 1996-1997 school year and was expanded in 1998-1999 and again in 2000-2001 (Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction). The objective of the program is to improve student achievement through the implementation of four school improvement strategies: class sizes no more than 15:1 in grades K-3; increased collaboration between schools and their communities; implementation of a rigorous curriculum focusing on academic achievement; and improving professional development and staff evaluation practices.

Schools in SAGE have renewable 5-year contracts with the state and get state aid equal to $2,000 for each low-income child in the grades served by the program. During 2005-06 495 schools participated in SAGE (up from 30 when the program began). Just over 93,000 K-3 pupils were served. State funding, which was $4. 5 M in 96-97 will be $98. 6 M in 2006-07. A few districts are also benefiting from a state categorical aid program created in 1999 to help schools pay debt service on the cost of new classrooms built to accommodate SAGE (DPI).

The SAGE program in partnership with John Hopkins University of Baltimore Maryland, invites, states or districts to become members in improving the student achievement in the potential members’ schools. Through the National Network of Partnership Schools, SAGE and others in the network will work states, districts and other educational organization members to form an Action Team for Partnership plan. Members follow the Six Types of Involvement format (NNPS online). Five years of NNPS surveys and result focused studies on member schools’ progress has been reported (2005).

NNPS uses research results to develop practical tools, materials, and guidelines for schools and school districts. Presently, over 1000 schools, 100 districts, and 17 state departments of education are working with NNPS to use research-based approaches to establish and strengthen their programs of school, family, and community partnerships (2005). It is suggested that incorporating the following elements create better programs and outreaching to parents of the students and increased parental involvement (2005). 1. Leadership 2. Teamwork 3.

Action plans 4. Implementation of plans 5. Funding 6. Collegial support 7. Evaluation 8. Networking Results from longitudinal studies showed that “ a review of literature on family involvement with students on reading, indicated that, across the grades, subject specific interventions to involve families in reading and related language arts, positively affected students’ reading skills and scores (Sheldon & Epstein, 2005b). The original SAGE pilot program research involved participants of which fifty percent were below the poverty level (Vinson, 2002).

Participating classes were reduced from average size to fifteen students per teacher. An evaluation by Molinar, Smith and Zahorik (1999) revealed that the first grade SAGE students demonstrated higher achievement when compared to nonparticipating schools in both language arts and math. Second and third graders were reported to follow the same pattern. The third study to be reviewed is the Prime Time (1984) project in Indiana. This was originally planned to be a two year project started in 1984 but it had such promising results that by 1988 all k-3 classes were reduced in Indiana.

The average FTE was eighteen. In 1989, McGivern, Gilman and Tillitski compared samples of achievement levels of second graders from six districts with reduced class sizes and three districts that were not reduced and found significantly larger gains in reading and math among students of smaller classes. As with project STAR, SAGE has suffered criticism. Limitations mentioned were that “students were not assigned to experimental control groups on a random basis”, and that school policies were changed and implemented during the course of the study (Vinson, 2002).

A widely criticized factor was the use of teacher incentives to motivate small classroom achievement. As mentioned previously, opinions on class size vary. Over the years several researchers have analyzed studies and evaluated the effectiveness of each. Glass and Smith (1979) found after analyzing seventy-seven empirical studies on class size versus student achievement, that small classes were associated with higher achievement at all grade levels.

For greatest results in student achievement, students should attend small classes for over one-hundred hours (1979), with under twenty students. Small classes are beneficial because of 1) better student reaction 2) teacher morale and 3) quality of the teaching environment (Vinson, 2002). In a review of one-hundred relevant studies, small classes had been the most beneficial, during kindergarten and third grade, but only if teachers change their methods and procedures (Robinson and Wittebols, 1986).

Slavin’s (1990) research of empirical studies, were chosen for analysis based on a three part criteria; 1) class size had been reduced for at least one year 2) twenty students were compared to substantially larger class sizes and 3) students in both class sizes were comparable (1990). Contrary to previously mentioned researchers, Slavin believed that smaller class size had minimal positive effects on students and those effects did not continue once students were returned to normal, larger classes (1990).

A highly published researcher, Eric Hanushek has voiced his opposition to small classes benefiting student achievement since the mid-1980s. In all his reviews of class size studies, he’s always concluded that; “The evidence about improvements in student achievement that can be attributed to smaller classes turns out to be meager and unconvincing (Vinson, 2002)”. Johnson (2000), citing a study at the Heritage Foundation examining National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading data, asserted that the difference in reading assessment scores between students in small classes and students in large classes was insignificant.

He criticized class size reduction programs citing California as example of how such programs exacerbate the problem of lack of qualified teachers to fill classrooms. His claim of the lack of association between class size and performance was consistent with Hanushek’s conclusions (1999). Studies of the effects of class size in secondary schools are much more rare and largely equivocal (Deutsch 2003; Grissmer 1999). Many of those who advocate for smaller class sizes at the secondary level argue that small classes positively impact the school environment, thus, improving performance indirectly.

In her review of the literature of class size and secondary schools, Deutsch (2003) highlights studies that conclude small classes stimulate student engagement, allow more innovative instructional strategies, increase teacher-student interactions, reduce the amount of time teachers devote to discipline, improve teacher morale, and minimize feelings of isolation and alienation in adolescence that can come from anonymity. Another important process variable the researcher will investigate is the effects of school policy on student achievement.

An influential policy becoming common in schools is that of parental support and teacher incentives. As with the other factors in this model, conclusions about the effects of both on student performance has been mixed, but recent studies seem to point to more positive correlations, particularly teacher experience (Hedges, Lane, and Greenwald 1994). Mississippi’s Department of Education’s Schools and Parents Partnering for Student Success is a brochure given to the parents of Mississippi public school students to educate them on what level of proficiency their child should be on in an attempt to form a relationship between school and home.

Strategies for improving student achievement according to Mississippi’s School Improvement and Closing the Achievement Gap Report 2003-2004 include: • Strong parental involvement • Community and church support • Various reform models aligned to state curriculum • Dedicated teachers • Structured teaching • Thinking maps • Stable staff • Comprehensive systems to monitor student progress • Aligned curriculum, assessment, and instruction • Peer coaches

• Instructional time that is increased (2004) As the reader will notice, the majority of these strategies incorporate relationships between the school and outside sources for example parental and community involvement. These strategies were created by schools in Mississippi demonstrating high student achievement. Finally, the researcher will also examine the effects of global resources, that is, per pupil expenditure (PPE), on the impact of performance.

In their review of production function research, Verstegen and King cite Hedges, Laine, and Greenwald’s assertion (1994) that “Global resource variables such as PPE, show positive, strong, and consistent relations with achievement” (1995, 57-58). However, other studies fail to yield significant results (Chubb and Moe 1990; Okpala 2002). Tajalli, in his examination of the wealth equalization or “Robin Hood” program in Texas, found that the transfer of nearly $3. 4 billion of dollars to poor school districts did not have a significant impact on the improvement of performance in these districts (Tajalli, 2003).

It may be that expenditures in general have an indirect effect that is not apparent when using PPE as a direct measure. In his study of school spending Wenglinsky (1997) develops a “path” in which he concludes a school’s economic resources are associated with academic achievement. He posits that per-pupil expenditures on instruction and central office administration are positively related to class size, i. e. , more spending on smaller classes. Smaller teacher/student ratios contribute to a cohesive school environment, which enhances achievement. Chapter Three

Description of Methodology This study is a comparative analysis of eight Mississippi elementary schools from seven school districts; two K-2, two K-3 and four K-5. Factors analyzed were the students to teacher ratio (FTE), socioeconomic status (SES), and student ethnicity, and comparison MCT scores. At first a total of twenty schools were randomly chosen from different districts. The researcher then chose eight schools of conflicting SES percentages. It is a comparative study using the case analysis method; since it attempts to compare school factors influencing student performance.

Using the Mississippi Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) data, the researcher will examine these variables to determine the elements that can impact success or failure of public school campuses. The measure of performance is the standardized test given in 2005 to students in Mississippi public schools, the MCT. The researcher focused the study on Mississippi elementary schools that are predominantly populated by students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The socioeconomic status was based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

The teaching theory used as a basis for this study is the Measurement Theory, this theory represents teaching and achievement based on standardized tests and results. Validity and Reliability The MCT scores are provided by the Mississippi Department of Education, and the demographics of each school were provided by the NCES found on the greatschools. com database. Twenty schools were chosen by random; then eight were chosen for analysis based on conflicting SES factors in order to get realistic insight as to the influence of student success factors on each school size.

This study has limitations due to the fact that it is based on MCT scores which can be deceiving. These tests have been criticized by researchers because they do not portray a student’s overall understanding of a subject and do not allow for different learning abilities and styles. It is because of this limitation that further study should be conducted on the achievement levels of students based on different approaches to classroom learning. Sample and Population Three samples were used for this study. Sample one consisted of two schools serving grades K-2; each school was from a different district.

Sample two consisted of two schools which served K-3 and were from two separate districts. Finally, the third sample consisted of four K-5 schools, from two different districts. Overall, seven districts and eight schools of different sizes in the state of Mississippi were compared. The study specifically seeks to identify variables in low performing schools that could hinder them from improving performance. In order to provide an accurate study, the researcher took samples from different sized schools with different student demographics.

Implementation Research was conducted by recording data for each school for a side-by-side comparison of different factors (see Appendix). All factors were found through greatschools. com, which summarizes each school’s characteristics for easy research. All school samples were then analyzed for the reading achievement average. Based on the average, the researcher then examined the achievement factors; determining whether there was a trend between any of the achievement factors and the MCT results of the chosen school samples.

Factors compared during analysis were; socioeconomic status (SES), student-per-teacher ratios (FTE), and the percentage of nonwhite students. The MCT scores for 2005 were used as an indicator of overall reading proficiency of the chosen school. In order to determine whether a variable was a consistent influence on the MCT scores, three consecutive years of MCT scores from 2003-2005 were analyzed. The overall study aimed to discover a consistent pattern between a variable, such as SES or FTE, and the level of reading proficiency.

Data Analysis Two of the three samples were consistent with the researcher’s hypothesis that SES is a strong influence on reading proficiency. Sample 1 however was uncharacteristic of the other two. In Sample 1, both schools demonstrated above the state average in MCT reading scores, however, the school with the highest SES percentage actually did better. This is uncharacteristic since Sample 2 and Sample 3 demonstrated a trend in high SES and low MCT scores for three consecutive years.

As discussed in chapter two, the literature review, the influence of class size on student achievement has been an on going debate among researchers. For this reason, the researcher included student-per-teacher ratios as a sample variable. The researcher had expected to see some evidence of FTE influence reflected in the MCT scores; however, that was not the case. According to the data collected, the FTE of all three samples ranged between fifteen and seventeen, with the state average being fifteen. The results demonstrated no reoccurring trend between FTE and MCT scores.

Sample 1 schools demonstrated varying above average MCT scores and the same FTE of seventeen. In Sample 2, School 1A demonstrated a below average MCT score with a FTE of fifteen; however, 2B had higher test scores and a higher FTE. In Sample 3, all but one of the schools had a FTE of Seventeen, 3B demonstrated a FTE of fifteen and a below average MCT score. School 4B had below average MCT scores but a FTE of seventeen, like the remaining two schools with higher MCT scores. Between all three samples, there was no reoccurring trend between MCT scores and FTE.

The researcher had expected student ethnicity to play a large role in student achievement levels, however based on this studies samples, there was little proof that such a trend existed. As demonstrated in Appendix A through C, schools demonstrating low achievement scores varied in the percentage of nonwhite students. The same variations were found in schools with high achievement scores. Overall, the only achievement factor that demonstrated a trend was the socioeconomic status factor. SES as a factor of achievement was present in Samples 2 and 3, but seemed irrelevant in Sample 1.

Based on the results and the uncharacteristic trends found in Sample 1, the researcher feels that the quality of the curriculum and teaching strategies had an influence of the high achievement levels found in Sample 1. The researcher feels strongly that SES is an influential factor on the reading achievement of elementary students in Mississippi. It must be noted however, the influence of SES can be minimized with the proper curriculum and learning strategies. MCT scores give educators insight into the overall achievement levels of students, and should be used as an indicator of what type of teaching strategy should be used.

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