Massive study finds scripted school reform models are marginally better

Education Week reports on a massive 13-year study that evaluated the implementation of three popular comprehensive school reform models that vary in their design and implementation: Accelerated Schools, America’s Choice and Success For All (which has been used in SFUSD in the past). 

After looking at the implementation of these programs at 115 schools, implemented by 300 teachers working with 7500 students, researchers found that America’s Choice and Success For All (approaches that tend to be more scripted than the Accelerated Schools model) were marginally more successful in increasing students’ proficiency:

The Success for All students excelled from kindergarten to the end of 2nd grade. The learning gains at that level, in fact, were strong enough to move the average student from the 40th percentile at the start of the study to the 50th percentile 2½ years later.

The America’s Choice students outperformed all the other groups from 3rd grade to 5th grade.

“I think we know in general how to get kids to read really simple, decontextualized passages well, and that is the strong point of Success for All,” Mr. Rowan [one of the study authors] said. “This isn’t sustained as you go out. It doesn’t inoculate you or teach you to read more-complex material.”

For both programs, the study also found, the gains were greatest when teachers adhered closely to the prescribed teaching practices. “The general principles,” Mr. Rowan said, “are a high degree of specificity for what you want to do and high degrees of support for teachers to do it with fidelity.”

To me, these results are depressing, because they’re so underwhelming — particularly in the case of Success for All (as one commenter says on the Education Week site, “I think it’s more important where a kid ends up in 5th grade than in 2nd.”)  I continue to think that the answer lies less in highly scripted approaches and more in differentiation and continuous evaluation of student progress by the teacher. The best teachers I know are highly collaborative, creative people who use our own curriculum as a starting point, adapting (and improving upon) district resources to better serve their individual students. And at the same time, they continually evaluate the performance of their students, making adjustments when they need to in order to be sure everyone is progressing at an optimum pace.

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One response to “Massive study finds scripted school reform models are marginally better

  1. Thank you for the summary of this study. It seems like these scripted programs are very good at teaching kids to do a specific skill, like “reading really simple, decontextualized passages well,” which sounds like preparing kids to score better on standardized tests. These programs don’t seem to address the much more difficult-to-measure skills of learning how to think critically, analyze more complex information, solve problems, or use your imagination. I agree highly with your description of how the best teachers work.