Classroom, School, and District Impacts on Diverse Student Literacy Achievement
by Kristen Campbell Wilcox , Hal A. Lawson & Janet Angelis - 2015
Background/Context:Prior research has investigated the literacy achievement gap with particular focus on ethnically and linguistically diverse students’ performance. This study extends that research by examining the relationships among classroom instructional practices, school priorities, and district policies in higher performing schools.
Purpose/ Research Question: The purpose of the study was to identify differences between schools with typical literacy performance among diverse students and schools where diverse students exceeded predicted performance. Primary research questions were: What qualities of literacy instruction are characteristic of elementary schools with higher literacy achievement among ethnically and linguistically diverse students? Compared to schools with average literacy achievement among diverse students, what are the proximal and distal factors that describe and explain significantly different diverse student literacy achievement outcomes?
Setting: Fifteen elementary schools in New York State provided the sample. All serve ethnically and/or linguistically diverse students. Ten of these schools were classified as higher performing based on three years of state assessment data for diverse students; five were classified as average performing based on the same assessments.
Research Design: This study was a comparative multiple case study using mixed methods.
Data Collection/Analysis: Two researchers visited each school for two days interviewing 12–15 teachers and administrators using a semistructured interview protocol. They also collected documents (e.g., district goals, curriculum, lesson plans), and constructed interpretive memos. All interviews and memos were coded using HyperResearch software and documents were used to triangulate findings. Axial coding and matrices were used to identify salient proximal and distal contrasts between cases.
Findings:. Practices between the two sets of schools differed at three levels: classrooms, schools, and district office. Differences included the extent and effectiveness of differentiated and technology-enriched literacy instruction and how coherently school and district policies and practices supported and sustained effective classroom practices. Higher performing schools showed evidence of the use of at least 90-minute balanced literacy blocks that embedded support (e.g., ESL and Special Education). Also in these schools, teachers reported relevant professional development and supports for collaborative work and instructional coaching.
Conclusions: Factors and forces in the classrooms, schools, and district offices, and especially in their relations help to account for differences in the two sets of schools. These forces and factors are malleable and actionable, i.e., ones that school and district leaders can do something about in their quest to improve the literacy achievement levels of diverse students.
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