Rigor and Readiness

There is a growing body of research showing that for students in middle and high school grades course grades and attendance are more predictive of students’ educational attainment (high school and college graduation) than test scores and background characteristics. One emerging hypothesis behind this relationship is that test scores capture only cognitive ability, while grades and attendance not only capture cognitive ability, but also abroad range of noncognitive skills, mindsets, and behaviors that students need to succeed in school and beyond. Moreover,grades, in particular, seem to represent students’ engagement, learning, and mastery;act as gatekeepers of future opportunities; and provide important formative and summative feedback to students.

Given the importance of grades and attendance,and also the cognitive and noncognitive factors they represent, understanding how to improve them is an essential component for improving student outcomes. While research suggests that grades and attendance maybe more malleable than test scores, not much is known about the school and classroom conditions that foster their development.

Algebra summer credit recovery: Comparison of online to face-to-face.  In a joint project with AIR, UChicago Consortium is studying the effectiveness of online summer credit recovery courses for getting students back on-track to graduate.  We are comparing students’ experiences and outcomes in online and face-to-face sections, and examining the long-term effects of enrolling students in summer algebra credit recovery. The project has provided funding for extra sessions of second semester algebra in high schools participating in the study in summers 2011 and 2012. Data are currently being collected for the second year of the project.   

Becoming an Effective Learner (BELS) Survey.  The Becoming Effective Learners Student Survey (BEL-S) was designed from the framework introduced in the Consortium literature review, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance (Farrington et al., 2012). The purpose of the BEL-S survey is to learn more about the effect of students’ noncognitive factors on their academic performance and to better understand how teachers and other school practitioners can best support the development of student noncognitive factors in the school and classroom. Noncognitive factors are the mindsets, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors other than cognitive ability that contribute to students’ academic and life success. While we know a great deal about the effect of noncognitive factors for short- and long-term outcomes, there is still more to learn. Improving measurement of noncognitive factors in classroom settings, understanding the relative importance of each factor, and identifying the conditions that lead to their development remain central areas of exploration in this burgeoning area. Surveying students using the Becoming Effective Learners survey, analyzing and reporting data back to practitioners, and engaging stakeholders in conversations about data, practice, and the relationship between the two, will help to inform both research and practice – with the ultimate goal of improving educational and life outcomes for all students.

Classroom instructional environments: What matters for students’ grades and test gains.  This line of work emerged out of the curriculum studies as an effort to understand why all these new curricula were not more successful in terms of their effects on student achievement.  Through analysis of teacher and student surveys, Consortium researchers examined the relationships of classroom instructional elements with students’ grades and test score gains, and developed typologies of classroom and school types. The study found that the relationship of academic demands with student achievement depends on other elements of classroom instruction—classroom behavior (orderly student behavior) and support.  Test gains depend on the combination of orderly, well-managed classrooms along with challenging instruction.  Good grades and pass rates depend on students getting sufficient support to handle the demands of the class.  Another related study examines the degree to which grades and attendance depend on which teacher a student has, and the characteristics of the classroom.  

College-prep curriculum for all.  In 1997, CPS ended remedial coursework and required all students to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum.  Consortium studies found that it led to more students taking and earning credit in college-prep courses, but no benefits in terms of academic achievement or educational attainment. There were adverse educational effects on both low-skill and high-skill students. UChicago Consortium is starting a follow-up study on the degree to which the results of the policy came from changes in the curriculum versus changes in the ways in which students were sorted into classes. 

Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.  Across the country, districts and schools are spending considerable resources to enact strategies that prepare students to achieve the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While the standards movement presents a significant opportunity to improve the quality of elementary and secondary math and science instruction, the work that districts, schools and teachers must undertake to implement challenging new standards-aligned practices to all students in all types of schools is considerable. This study will articulate 1) the range of ways in which districtwide strategies for realizing the CCSS and NGSS are implemented at the school level, 2) the influence of school context and organization on school-level implementation, and 3) the ways in which students’ instructional experiences and their achievement have changed before and after district-wide standards adoption, given their school’s strategies around implementation of the standards, and their specific backgrounds.

Developing a National Model for High School On-Track Networks.  Data has become the driving force behind many new educational reform strategies. However, the provision of data alone will not be enough to drive improvement unless practitioners and administrators at the district- and school-level understand how to interpret student- and school-level data and have strategies and structures for incorporating it into their daily work. The Network for College Success (NCS) serves as a powerful model for developing and supporting an effective, data-driven problem solving approach that is embedded in the day-to-day work of public high schools. This project is using NCS’s work on freshman on-track to document its model so that the knowledge and expertise developed in Chicago can be transported to other sites.  It is documenting the NCS model in two ways : 1) a narrative report that documents the NCS model for transforming schools into learning organizations that result in increased student outcomes, and 2) the creation of a publicly available toolkit of associated materials and resources (e.g., protocols, guidelines, data reports, case studies, videos) for districts and schools that could be used in conjunction with the narrative report to adapt and develop replication strategies in other cities or sites.

Effects of high school choice.  UChicago Consortium is about to begin a study examining the degree to which students’ outcomes are affected by the high school that they attend, given their characteristics upon leaving middle school.  We are examining a wide array of outcomes, including  graduation, test scores, college-going, feelings of safety, discipline issues, sense of belonging, and, for non-charter schools, attendance and grade point averages. This study should inform the process of high school choice, showing which characteristics of schools are most critical for students with different levels of achievement and background characteristics, considering a variety of outcomes that are important to families.

Post-secondary Outcomes

Beginning in 2003, UChicago Consortium engaged in a partnership with the Chicago Public Schools to track all CPS graduates into college and work and to inform the building of systems of supports that ensure that students and schools are focused on postsecondary access and success. Through a series of reports titled "From High School to the Future," Consortium research documented issues that affect CPS students’ likelihood of going to college and graduating. The Consortium continues this line of work. 

College Match.  Consortium researchers are further studying the role of college choice, and particularly college match, in college retention and graduation for CPS students. The goal is to understand the processes by which the institutional characteristics of more selective colleges may lead to more positive college outcomes for CPS students.

Evaluation of indicator systems.  UChicago Consortium is starting to develop systems for evaluating the use of indicators of college readiness in the middle grades and high school to assist CPS and districts across the country as they develop their own indicators of high school and college readiness.  This project will develop methods for: (1) evaluating which indicators have the most potential leverage for changing student achievement; (2) evaluating the interventions/programs associated with the indicators; (3) developing demonstration reports; and (4) determining whether the indicator systems have resulted in improved student outcomes.

To&Through.  The To&Through Project seeks to empower educators, policymakers, and families with the research, data, and training they need to move more students to and through high school and college. The project brings together the expertise of three organizations at the University of Chicago: the UChicago Consortium on School Research and UChicago Impact, and the Network for College Success. As a part of the To&Through Project, the Consortium has developed district- and school-level reports that provide data on the key milestones for getting to and through high school and college.