"An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."
– Thomas Jefferson
Each product can be traced back to a district-defined problem of practice. When a partnership with a school district is established, SERP recruits researchers in whatever area the district identifies as its highest priority. SERP deliberately builds on existing knowledge, programs, and tools, but districts rarely nominate a focal problem for which a solution currently exists. A central feature of the partnership work is therefore the design of new programs, tools, and practices. SERP design processes use research knowledge to design for students, teachers, and administrators as end users of the products—prototyping and improving in response to observations and user feedback.
SERP follows the contours of a problem over time. To the extent that funding permits, the newly exposed problems become the focus for the next phase of work.
Addressing a concern raised by Boston Public Schools (BPS) in 2005, SERP has been focused for more than a decade on ways to support the development of academic language— also known as "the language of school." SERP's collaboration with BPS led to the development of a simple interdisciplinary instructional intervention for middle schools to better prepare students for high school texts. The program, Word Generation, was developed in collaboration with faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and is now downloaded by schools in all 50 states and more than 50 countries. Word Generation has been extended downward to 4th and 5th grades and content units for middle grades social studies and science have been developed. An assessment of academic language knowledge has been developed and validated by HGSE faculty.
Lead Researcher: Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education
At the start of the SERP partnership, Boston Public Schools leaders expressed a frustration with middle grades reading assessments: available assessments could either be administered to an entire class with results reported that were inadequately detailed, or detail could be provided with a one-on-one assessment that was resource prohibitive. SERP collaborated with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to develop the RISE (Reading Inventory and Scholastic Evaluation) assessment. The RISE is designed to be administered in under 60 minutes and to provide detailed profiles not typically available with class-administered standardized tests.
Lead Researcher: John Sabatini, Educational Testing Service
RISE scores identified a substantial number of middle school students (1/4 to 1/3 in some schools) who still struggle with basic reading skills. The Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) was designed in collaboration with Boston area districts to allow students to meet credit requirements for English courses at the same time that it provides specialized and comprehensive remediation. Materials are highly engaging and appeal to the emerging capacity of adolescents to think deeply about important social issues.
Lead Researcher: Lowry Hemphill, Wheelock College
A grant awarded to SERP by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as part of the Reading for Understanding Initiative allowed a SERP partnership team to develop measurement instruments and conduct research on the development of perspective taking, critical reasoning, and academic language for students in grades 4-8, and to study the independent contribution of each factor to reading comprehension. Working with practitioners in districts from Massachusetts, Maryland, and California, the team developed or extended instructional programs and programs of professional development.
Co-investigators: Suzanne Donovan, SERP; Catherine Snow, James Kim, Stephanie Jones, Robert Selman, Paola Uccelli, Kurt Fischer, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Jonathan Osborne, Stanford University; Lowry Hemphill, Wheelock College
Addressing the problem the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) put forth, SERP set out to improve achievement in Algebra 1, especially for minority students. Research suggests that the simple instructional technique of having students study examples of problem solutions and explain targeted correct or incorrect steps in the example improves students’ conceptual knowledge without sacrificing procedural skill. SERP’s collaboration with faculty from Temple University, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Rochester led to the development of AlgebraByExample, a set of 42 assignments interleaving worked examples to analyze and explain with problems to solve.
Lead Researcher: Julie Booth, Temple University
Responding to the problem posed by the San Francisco Unified School District regarding the decline in mathematics performance in the middle grades, SERP-recruited researchers identified the culture of mathematics classrooms as a major contributor to the problem. Both teachers and students were focused on getting the right answers to problems rather than on understanding the mathematics. The team of co-developers explored approaches to shifting the culture via small but powerful changes in the tasks given to students. These changes were consolidated into a tool-kit for sense-making in mathematics.
Lead Researchers: Alan Schoenfeld, U.C. Berkeley; Phil Daro, SERP
When classroom teachers successfully shift the focus of the classroom toward student reasoning, students often reveal that they are using below grade-level mathematics to solve problems. The instructional challenge is one of drawing out students’ thinking, comparing problem solving strategies, and moving all students to the grade level mathematics. But few teachers have the preparation to teach in this way. Lessons for diagnostic teaching were developed to support teachers to make the shift in instructional practice and classroom assessment practices. The companion supports for the lessons allow teachers to build their own content knowledge and capacity for diagnostic teaching.
SERP teams heard from principals, coaches, and other leaders that a handy tool was needed to help focus principals’ observations in math classrooms on the implementation of the CCSS mathematical practices. The “5x8 Card” was the result. As a product of user-based design, the 5x8 Card targets the intersection of the principal’s experience observing in classrooms with the underlying principles of the CCSS-M practice standards. Detailed empathy and user experience work led to design specifications: brevity; 5 x 8 inch format; concrete, catalytic ideas that excite action rather than covering all components of instruction comprehensively. Principals have embraced the 5x8 card, but its success created a demand from teachers, teacher leaders, and coaches for a tool to support teachers to make the shifts principals were advocating. SERP responded with the development of the “Deck behind the 5x8 Card.”
Lead Researcher: Phil Daro, SERP
The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics specify content to be taught to eighth grade students that is not aligned with a typical Algebra 1 course. In districts that have moved Algebra 1 to eighth grade, the standards come into conflict with what has become the symbol of a rigorous mathematics course pathway. SERP collaborated with the math leadership teams in San Francisco Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District to generate course pathways that preserve the CCSS-M focus on eighth grade math content, but allow students to compress courses in order to complete as many math courses as were possible when eighth grade Algebra 1 was the norm. The course pathway proposals and their presentation to the school boards in the two districts model effective negotiation of the concerns of parents for college preparatory instruction and the knowledge of mathematics specialists regarding critical middle school mathematics that should not be skipped in the interest of acceleration.
Lead Researcher: Phil Daro, SERP
A SERP team from U.C. Berkeley and Mills College is working with Oakland Unified School District’s high school mathematics departments to introduce Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU)—a five dimensional framework for observing, talking about, and working to improve classroom learning environments. Lesson Study is used as a mechanism for going deeper on the specific content of a lesson. The project will produce an integrated approach—TRU-Lesson Study—that will allow teams of teachers to develop a common language and approach to talking about practice, and a TRU-infused lesson study strategy for driving that practice deeper.
SERP is partnering with the Berkeley Evaluation and Assessment Research (BEAR) Center on the development of an empirically-grounded understanding of how student learning of content and reasoning develops along a trajectory from naïve to scientifically accurate in middle school physical science. In addition to a set of core physical science concepts, the progressions target students’ abilities to reason and argue in a scientific context. The team members are exploring new ground in their attempt to operationalize scientific reasoning such that it can be readily assessed in a quantitative or semi-quantitative manner validly and reliably.
Lead Researchers: Mark Wilson, U.C. Berkeley; Jonathan Osborne, Stanford University, Paul Black, Kings College, London
A SERP team from Stanford University worked with two cohorts of science teachers in San Francisco: one elementary and one middle school. An intensive PD effort that included three summer institutes and periodic meetings over two years explored the particular challenges of comprehending science texts and the ways in which teachers think about and interact with those challenges. A set of resources for 4-8th grade science teachers were developed that alert teachers to the comprehension challenges posed by science texts, and provide strategies for the classroom. The team aims to broaden the conception of a science pedagogy to include more meaningful engagement with text and participation in scientific argumentation. The Stanford team also offers a MOOC.
Lead Researcher: Jonathan Osborne, Stanford University
SERP worked with faculty from Stanford University and with the San Francisco Unified School District to investigate the association between the type of instructional pathway ELL students follow and their subsequent academic outcomes and English proficiency. The project
primarily investigated the relative impacts (or associations) of four types of ELL instructional pathways (bilingual, dual immersion, English immersion, and newcomer pathways). In addition, the project has explored a number of related questions regarding how, why, for whom, and under what conditions different ELL instructional programs are effective.
Lead Researcher: Sean Reardon, Stanford University
SERP and CREATE (Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English Language Learners) partnered to develop additional resources to support English learners with academic language development. The resource, called Advancing Academic Language for All! (AALA), can be used to support all students who struggle with academic language. AALA promotes greater participation for students using Word Generation Series 3 by providing word study, discussion starters, and background information.
Researchers: Colleen Reutebuch and Vanessa Cortez, University of Texas
Beginning in 2007, a SERP team comprised of faculty and doctoral students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and leaders from the Boston Public Schools developed an assessment of schools’ internal coherence, and protocols to build coherence in the interest of improving instruction and sustaining reforms. The Internal Coherence Assessment and Protocol (ICAP) is designed to provide school leadership, and potentially system-level supervisors, with a structured body of information about a school’s capacity on each of the three dimensions of Internal Coherence: leadership focused on the support for instructional practice; whole school and team-level organizational structures and processes; and individual and collective efficacy beliefs. ICAP data profiles are designed to locate schools’ existing capacity on a developmental rubric along the various dimensions of the model. Professional development activities are suggested as next steps for each school guided by the provisional causal order underlying the work.
Lead researcher: Richard Elmore, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Through the partnership work with Baltimore City Public Schools, a SERP team worked with administrators, teachers, and students to identify the biggest challenges undermining students’ academic perseverance, particularly as students start middle school. The environmental stressors led the team to develop a set of deep breathing exercises that teachers can use without training and free of charge.
Related Public Product:
Strategic Education Research Partnership
1100 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 1310 | Washington, DC 20036