Creating Synergies for Change

by Joanne Carney, Marilyn Chu, Jennifer Green, William Nutting, Susan Donnelly, Andrea Clancy, Marsha Riddle Buly & David Carroll - 2019

Background/Context: The challenges documented in the literature on research–practice partnerships and similar school–university collaborations are outlined in the literature review in this issue. Yet only a collaboration among multiple educational and community organizations could create a synergy powerful enough to achieve the multifaceted goals of this project: (1) enhance instructional practices to better meet the needs of diverse learners; (2) better prepare teachers and teacher candidates to engage families in support of their children’s success; (3) develop a community of practice in which preservice teachers, teacher educators, in-service teachers, administrators, and other educational and human service professionals participate in ongoing, collaborative professional development; and (4) recruit and retain more teacher candidates from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study analyzes features and outcomes of a six-year school–university partnership funded by a large state grant. Project goals included developing innovative models for closing the achievement gap in an elementary school with a high percentage of English language learners and high-poverty measures. Using an inquiry-action model, the partners worked to better engage and support families as they enhanced teacher preparation and professional development.

Research Design: This case study uses mixed methods research to analyze how one research–practice partnership navigated the challenges inherent in such collaborative work.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data sources included student standardized testing data, teacher and intern surveys, semistructured interviews, a formative assessment of partnership processes, student and intern work samples, and observations in classrooms and teacher professional development activities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This partnership avoided or overcame many of the challenges typical of school–university partnerships. Four factors appeared to be significant to the project’s success. First, all the key coordinators of the partnership, including the school principal and teacher education faculty, remained in place for five years. Similarly, there was very low turnover among teachers in the school, which meant that professional development was sustained. Second, the personal and professional characteristics of the people involved in the partnership were the right mix for the task. Shared meaning was fostered and school–university status hierarchies leveled as late-career university faculty spent large amounts of time in the school, participating in professional learning communities with teachers and teacher candidates. Third, trusting relationships were fostered within the school by the principal; there was a high level of trust from the outset. Fourth, both school and university leaders waited for indications of “readiness” among teachers and faculty, drew on expertise within the team, and demonstrated a commitment to organic evolution.


In this article, the partners in a six-year-long schooluniversity partnership funded by a state legislature describe the features of their project and assess the successes and challenges of their work together in relation to project goals. This case study uses mixed-methods research (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2011) to provide evidence of how one researchpractice partnership (Coburn & Penuel, 2016) navigated the challenges inherent in such collaborative work. Data sources included student standardized testing data, teacher and intern surveys, semistructured interviews, a formative assessment study of partnership processes, student and intern work samples, and observations in classrooms. The case is intended as a contribution to our understanding of the factors that make researchpractice partnerships more or less successful.

The schooluniversity partnership we describe and analyze here is a collaboration between the Elementary Education Department in a College of Education at a regional state university on the West Coast and Riverview Elementary (pseudonym), an elementary school in a school district located in a small town in an agricultural area. The highly diverse school district employs nearly 900 staff and serves approximately 6,200 students in kindergarten to Grade 12. The district has six elementary schools (K5), two middle schools, and one high school. The university has a long-established teacher preparation program in elementary education that certifies nearly 100 candidates per year. Student teaching for candidates in the program occurs as a three-quarter internship. (Note: The preservice teachers are referred to as interns by teacher educators and the classroom teachers who mentor them. This is the term used in this article for teacher candidates engaged in that three-quarter student teaching experience.) The preservice teachers/interns are part-time in the elementary classroom during internship quarters one and two while they continue to take university courses; during the third quarter, they assume full-time teaching responsibilities. More details about the program can be found in the accompanying Napolitan et al. article (2019).

Preliminary planning for this partnership project was a fully collaborative effort by personnel from the university and school. University team members included the chair of the Elementary Education Department and faculty members from both the elementary education and early childhood certification programs within that department, as well as the human services, school counseling, and special education programs. The Riverview team included the school principal and staff members from the school and district. Principal investigators for the project, since its inception, have been the Elementary Education Department chair (now former chair) and the school principal. Co-coordinators, one representing the College of Education and one representing Riverview Elementary, were hired with grant funds to lead specific initiatives and provide day-to-day management of project initiatives.

Given the challenges documented in the literature on research-practice partnerships (Coburn & Penuel, 2016) and similar types of university-school collaborations, which are outlined in the literature review in this issue (Phelps, 2019, this issue), particular characteristics of the individuals involved in our partnerships leadership are of significance. First, all the university faculty and staff in key positions had extensive experience in schools and/or early childhood settingsin fact, nearly all were certified teachers. This experience made it less likely that the university partners would make errors simply because they lacked an understanding of the realities of schools, which is cited as a common challenge for schooluniversity collaborations (Heckman, 1998; Trubowitz & Longo, 1997). Second, all these faculty team leaders had established records of publication and, being at the latter stages of their careers, would not be unduly concerned about the reward structures in higher education that prioritize traditional forms of scholarship and, in effect, discourage time-consuming collaborations in schools (Heckman, 1998; King, 1997; Zeichner, 1995). Third, the school principal also had long experience, not only as a building administrator but also in several administrative roles in the district office. His knowledge of district policies and network of personal connections in the district were invaluable for project functioning. Finally, all the leaders of the partnership, including the school principal, remained involved throughout the five-year effort. A lack of continuity caused by staff and leadership changes is cited in the literature as a major challenge for schooluniversity collaborations (Snyder & Goldman, 1997; Trubowitz & Longo, 1997).

Additional factors particular to our partnership related to challenges cited in the literature are noted as we explain the partnership structure and approach. Full discussion of the implications of these factors is in the conclusion.

In addition to the schooluniversity team most involved with project functioning, the partnership structure also included an advisory team, which guided both planning efforts and continuing implementation. This advisory team, which generally met monthly at the start of the project and then bimonthly during Years 36, included representatives from the projects constituents: university and school faculty, administrators, a member of the parent group, and a teacher candidate. The advisor for a grow-your-own high school-to-teacher preparation program at a local community college also participated as a member.

During the planning year, when a needs assessment and implementation plan were being prepared, subcommittees corresponding with the four goal areas of the grant were part of the team structure. These subcommittees did intensive work formulating logic models to identify desired changes and make recommendations for actions to achieve targeted outcomes. The areas of focus and goals have been the following:


Student achievement: Enhance instructional and assessment practices to better meet the needs of all learners, especially ELLs and those affected by poverty and trauma.


Family engagement: Better prepare teachers and teacher candidates to engage families in support of their childrens academic success and to learn with families how to address their needs and goals.


Teacher preparation and professional development: Develop a community of practice in which preservice teachers, teacher educators, in-service teachers, administrators, and other educational and human service professionals participate in ongoing, collaborative professional development, with inquiry into student learning as their focus.


Teacher recruitment and retention: Recruit and retain more teacher candidates from culturally and linguistically diverse backgroundsin particular, those who are themselves members of the local community.


Our theoretical model has been based on an action research approach for achieving continuous improvement in a community of practice (Folkman, 2003) through a continuing cycle: inquiring into evidence, taking appropriate action, assessing results, critically considering methods for improvement, and repeating the process. Ongoing communication, continuous assessment, and data-informed decision making are built into the process. Drawing on the science of implementation, we have used evidence-based active implementation frameworks (Fixsen, Naoom, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005) to help us close the gap between research and practice and develop sustainable approaches to enhance the education and well-being of P5 students and the effectiveness of teacher candidates, teacher educators, in-service teachers, and administrators. By simultaneously addressing challenges and implementing initiatives at multiple levels and with participants with a variety of roles and expertise, we aimed to create synergies that would result in transformative change.

Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of our model. The five participant groups who comprise the RiverviewUniversity community of practice are designated within the rectangles on the periphery. The most significant project initiatives over the past five years are represented within the constellation of participant groups. Initiatives can be grouped into two categories: actions focused on team capacity-building and those focused more directly on students and their families. The goals, related activities, and outcomes of these initiatives are presented in a logic model table later in the article (Table 3).

Figure 1. RiverviewUniversity model and primary initiatives


In Part 1 of this article, we give an account of the process of inquiry that began with the needs assessment and continued as we enacted our inquiry-action team approach. In Part 2 of this article, we describe the most significant project initiatives. In Part 3, we document and discuss the impact of those initiatives.


In keeping with our inquiry-based approach, during our planning year (20122013) and continuing throughout the duration of our project, we engaged in multiple forms of inquiry to understand the characteristics and needs of all stakeholders:


Students and families at Riverview Elementary


Riverview Elementary staff


Elementary Education Department programs and candidates (early childhood and elementary)1


To meet the needs of students and families at Riverview Elementary, we needed to better understand the community context and the demographic characteristics of Riverview families, as well as gain insight into families hopes and dreams for their children.

Community Context

Riverview Elementary is located in a small town of approximately 30,000 in a river valley known for its rich soil and relatively mild climate. The 2010 census indicated that the majority of the community identified as White (57.2%), with Hispanic being the second largest demographic group (35%). Nearly 20% of the population was born in a foreign country; the majority of those immigrants came from Mexico and work in agriculture. The most recent migration has been largely from areas of Mexico populated by Indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Mexican families in the community have ongoing ties to their home villages in Mexicosending money and, until recently, visiting regularly. Mexico is part of the extended context of the school, and fears of deportation add to the pressures many families face. Despite these challenges, there appears to be a strong sense of community among the Latino families who work in agriculture compared with poor White families, who seem to be more isolated. Not all Latino families in the community are new arrivals to the United States, however; many second- or third-generation Latino families are well established in the community.

Many of those who identify as White in the community are descended from predominantly English, Dutch, and Scandinavians settlers who, attracted by the agricultural potential of the land, established farms in this river valley that was originally populated by coastal Salish people. (Although several tribal reservations are located in the region near this district, virtually no students identify as Native American at Riverview Elementary.) Those in the White group tend to have ties to many others who have resided in the community for generations. These sorts of long-standing family and community ties are characteristic of most of the teachers at Riverview Elementary.

The attendance district for Riverview Elementary has two parts: on the eastside, a pocket of low-income housing, where many migrant agricultural families live, and to the west, an area of largely agricultural land, with farms and some suburban-type homes. Because a major river bisects the attendance district, there can be transportation challenges for students and families when the school offers activities and services.

Demographics of Families


The majority of families at Riverview Elementary have been categorized as Hispanic/Latino in state education data (e.g., OSPI, 2017). However, at the beginning of the project, by conducting visits with a pilot group of volunteer families (described next), we learned that a significant percentage of the students listed as Hispanic were actually from Mexican Indigenous populations, originating from the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, and their families did not necessarily speak either Spanish or English at home. Mixtec and Triqui were the most common Indigenous languages spoken. Many of the children speak an Indigenous language in the home, Spanish in their extended communities, and English at school. (Note: When referencing state-level data from 2012 and earlier, we use the term Hispanic because that is how students of Mexican and Latin/South American heritage were categorized by the state education agency at that time. In later years, the category was changed to Hispanic/Latino of any race, and so in our reporting of demographic information and test scores during the later years of the project, we use Latino, Latina, or the nongendered term, Latinx. Because the first language of many of the students and their families is not Spanish, Latinx would be preferable to Hispanic.)

Other state data shown in Table 1 gave us a sense of the socioeconomic status of families and the extent to which students at Riverview School were ELLs.

Table 1. Riverview Student K5/6 Demographics, 20122016
















American Indian/Alaskan Native










Black/African American





Two or more races





Total No. of Students





*Grade 6 moved to middle school in 2014 district restructuring.

Throughout the duration of our project, poverty measures were well above 75%, and approximately 1/3 of students were identified as transitionally bilingual. Note also that the number of migrant families has actually increased over the four years (Table 2). The challenge for the school in educating the children of families who do migrant agricultural labor and move from place to place in the area or follow the crops to other states has been exacerbated by some families practice of visiting home villages during the winter, at least until recently.

Table 2. Riverview Family Income and Language Status, 20122016






Free/reduced lunch





Transitional bilingual










Families Hopes and Dreams

In spring 2013, 16 families volunteered to have teachers come to their home or to meet privately at school to learn their hopes and dreams for their child. The family engagement subcommittee adopted this focus to understand how multilingual families wanted to communicate with the school and to put into practice the belief that parent partnerships would emerge if all families participated in a process in which they were treated with respect and listened to as people who are rich in ideas (Chu, Jones, Clancy, & Donnelly, 2014). These visits and the resulting benefits are described in more detail in the Family Engagement and Support section.

Kindergarten Readiness Data

Our project also sought evidence of the status of children entering Riverview Elementary. In 2012, the school voluntarily participated in the states kindergarten assessment program, which measured the academic, physical, social, and emotional readiness of entering kindergartners. This formal curriculum, play-based assessment (Heroman, Burts, Berke, & Bickart, 2010), confirmed the schools belief that entering kindergartners were not entering school at the same level as the majority of their peers across the state. The percentage of incoming students at Riverview Elementary who demonstrated the skills typical of 5- to 6-year-old kindergartners was generally about half the statewide average. A much larger percentage demonstrated the skills typical of 3- to 5-year-old preschool children, with a small percentage demonstrating skills typical of birth to 3 years (OSPI, 2017). This starting place for many students contributed to the schools challenge in closing the opportunity gap.

Student Achievement and Intervention Data

In September 2012, the school contracted with the Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) to conduct a comprehensive school review. In their analysis of student achievement data, the opportunity gap was apparent (Center for Educational Effectiveness [CEE], 2012). From 2009 to 2012, reading proficiency levels remained static or showed slight gains, and math proficiency levels declined. A value-added analysis included in the review showed that struggling students (Level 1 or 2) were not catching up to their peers; in some categories, they were continuing to fall further behind. These trends were particularly apparent when test results were compared by ethnic categories (White vs. Hispanic) and gender (girls vs. boys), with Hispanics and boys experiencing the largest gaps. While the number of girls meeting state testing standards had been generally on the rise, the number of boys meeting standards had at best remained static and at worst had declined as much as 20%. This trend was particularly noticeable in reading, where boys performed as much as 50% below girls in some grades. By inference, one could assume that Hispanic boys were experiencing the most significant gap, although this level of disaggregation was not available in the reviews analysis.

These data on male achievement prompted us to look at statistics related to discipline and intervention referrals and attendance with respect to gender: A total of 72% of the students in special education were males; 77% of the students referred to the response-to-intervention team because of serious academic difficulties were males; and more than 90% of the students referred to the office because of discipline concerns were males.

English Language Acquisition Data

In terms of Riverview students State English Language Proficiency Assessment, in 2012, the data showed strong growth for students in Levels 1 and 2, while they received sheltered instruction with an English language learner specialist. However, there was a tendency for students to plateau at Level 3, resulting in a longer timeframe for transition to Level 4 (CEE, 2012).


To effectively partner with staff at Riverview Elementary, we first inquired into their demographic characteristics and then assessed the school climate. How was the school perceived by staff and parents? What areas were strong, and what ought to be our focus for improvement?

Demographics of Staff


District data indicate that Riverview Elementary teachers identified themselves as 98% White, female, English-speaking adults, with two teachers being fluent in Spanish at the start of the project. Very little turnover of teachers occurred from 2012 to 2016, with 16 of the annually employed 1921 teachers retaining their positions over the four years studied (Principal, personal communication, 2016). This remarkable staff continuity is unlike the situation faced by many urban districts, which deal with high teacher turnover. It meant that we did not have to face the challenges of bringing new personnel into an ongoing project (Snyder & Goldman, 1997; Trubowitz & Longo, 1997), and the professional development provided by our partnership endured.

School Climate

Surveys and on-site interviews designed to assess nine characteristics of effective schools were conducted by the CEE in September and October 2012. Respondents included school faculty and staff, parents, and the older students.

The results of this study (CEE, 2012) rated Riverview Elementary very highly in comparison with other elementary schools with similar demographics in the state. On seven of the nine characteristics of effective schools, Riverview rated higher than the comparison group and only slightly lower on the other two. Of particular note are strengths in these areas: (1) effective leadership (staff expressed a high level of trust in the principal); (2) supportive learning environment (staff, students, and parents frequently referred to the school as feeling like a supportive family); and (3) clear and shared focus (staff demonstrated a commitment to making a difference in the lives of the students and their communities). In the report, staff were described as hardworking and willing to make changes and explore new ideas (CEE, 2012). The implications of the leadership characteristics of the principal are significant and are discussed further in the conclusion.


As a result of the inquiries described earlier and additional ongoing investigation, we focused our schooluniversity partnership efforts on the following areas:


Family engagement and supportpromoting family engagement and providing additional social service supports


Family literacypromoting family literacy in both English and Spanish, with various forms of outreach to the families who spoke Indigenous languages


Assessment and instructionenhancing the schools assessment systems and instructional practices


Professional learning communitiesestablishing a professional learning community approach


Pathway to teacher educationhelping to create a pathway to teacher education for bilingual/bicultural students

Table 3 shows a logic model with projected outcomes for these actions. Each of the major components is described in more detail in the sections to follow. It should be noted that whereas the five areas for action were envisioned from the start, the more specific activity initiatives were developed gradually and collaboratively, through a process of organic evolution.

Table 3. RiverviewUniversity Logic Model




Changes in communications, family support, instructional practices, and increased numbers of bilingual/bicultural teachers = Changes in student well-being, engagement, and learning





Family Engagement & Support


Initiating and ongoing activities that enhance parent participation in school planning and decision making


Family visits


Changes in parent conferences


Parent action team


Social service supports via community agencies and CIS


Staff PD on ACEs

School staff develop personal relationships with families; parent leaders emerge as participation intensifies; collaboration between school and families increases over time; staff able to provide support to students affected by ACEs.

Staff is more knowledgeable about family culture, needs, and  aspirations.


Parents feel comfortable interacting with school staff and participate more in school activities.


Participation in parent leadership group expands.


Students benefit from increased feeling of community and collaboration between home and school, resulting in fewer behavioral interventions.


Parents are supported in helping their children succeed.


Parents are supported in continuing their educational goals and meeting economic, health, and other social challenges.


Students develop bilingual literacy skills and feel pride in their heritage.


Students are engaged in learning, resulting in fewer behavioral interventions.


Students develop academic language skills.


Students succeed academically, as measured by classroom-based measures and standardized test scores.

Family Literacy


Ongoing activities that enhance families abilities to support student achievement, with special emphasis on the needs of Latino families


Family Read


Club de Lectura


Library access


Access to internet and mobile technology


ESL classes


Conversational Spanish

School supports parents own educational goals and development of literacy skills; parents are better able to communicate with educators and social service professionals; parents become students alongside their children and gain digital literacy skills.

Assessment & Instruction Enhancement


Schoolwide efforts to implement an effective RTI system, use progress-monitoring assessments to inform practice, and use differentiated instructional strategies that support English language development


Revisions to RTI system


Mobile technology


Extended-day program


GLAD professional development


Increase in numbers of teachers with ELL endorsement

Teachers and interns regularly use instructional strategies that promote language development and literacy skills; teachers use educational technology to enhance assessment and instruction; teachers use data to focus interventions and extended learning opportunities.

Professional Learning Communities


Collaborative teams using data-based decision-making model


Schoolwide training in DuFour PLC model


Grade-level PLCs meet regularly


Cross-team conversations

Teachers, interns, teacher educators, and specialists collaborate in data-based discussions; teachers develop assessments to inform practice; teachers collaborate on providing enrichment and interventions to further all students learning; teachers guide their own PD.

Pathway to Teacher Education


Cascading mentorship


Campus field trips


Collaboration with groups also working to create pathway

Students visit university for a vision of future possibilities; Latinx students at the elementary, high school, and community college levels mentor younger Latinx students. Partnership project works with grow-your-own teacher prep group and CoE to link local bilingual/bicultural students with teacher ed programs.


More bilingual/bicultural students entering teacher ed programs.


More bilingual/bicultural teachers in district schools, resulting in more student and family engagement.

Note. CIS = Communities In Schools; ACEs = Adverse Childhood Experiences; CoE = college of education; ELL = English language learner; GLAD = Guided Language Acquisition Design; PD = professional development; PLC = professional learning community; RTI = response to intervention.


The goal of developing trusting familyschool relationships was discussed by the elementary teachers, administrators, and university faculty as requiring the professional staff to listen to and consider with families how to engage in mutually meaningful and codesigned efforts (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2011; Warren, Hong, Rubin, & Uy, 2009). Family visits were chosen as a method, in spring 2013, to begin a dialogue with a pilot volunteer group of 16 families. These families, who were representative of the schools demographics, were asked only to share their hopes and dreams for their children.

Teachers were first offered professional development from a Spanish-speaking teacher and a paraeducator who was a graduate of the districts schools. This paraeducator, who was well regarded in the community, was originally from the same region of Oaxaca, Mexico, common to many local families. The professional development session, codesigned with university faculty, encouraged an emphasis on a facilitative, flexible, and collaborative stance, common in early childhood home-visiting traditions, rather than an expert and directive orientation (Roggman, Boyce, & Innocenti, 2008). This focus was in contrast to models presented to the districts staff in prior years, including Paynes culture of poverty framework, which created poverty stereotypes and lacked a research base for the frameworks assertions (Bohn, 2007; Bomer, Dworin, May, & Semingson, 2008; Gorski, 2013; Korsmo, 2013). Instead of relying on a deficit framework, the school staff began to consider other ways for learning about factors that might be limiting family participation in school.

Hongs (2012) work with an elementary school with a similar, but urban, demographic was shared by university faculty as focusing on an awareness and respect of peoples lives in specific communities. Hong identified three levels of family engagement: induction, integration, and investment. The home visits were viewed by school staff as beginning a process of induction to collaborative family engagement that had the potential to evolve over time into an integration into the schools life, with eventual institutional investment in families as true partners in the education of the children of this specific community (Hong, 2012).


Following the family visits, documentation of the home-visiting experiences was posted on the walls of the school to make the family perspectives visible to the school community.

While only a small sample of fewer than 25 families and teachers participated in the three rounds of home visits during 20122013, the sharing of family and teacher responses impacted decisions on future engagement efforts. The documentation on school walls and the subsequent discussions of it in teacher professional development meetings revealed that parents wanted to meet educational goals for themselves and for their children, and they wanted to participate in school events if they were scheduled at times and in ways that fit their lives. The relaxed dialogue with families indicated that winter evenings with dinner provided would be preferred by this predominantly farm-working community. Inviting whole families, including younger siblings, was also a key to participation. Participating teachers praised the impact of listening to family stories and described how they better understood the high expectations families had for their children.

After consideration of what the families said, evening activities were planned for a series of Wednesday nights. These winter evening activities became known as Wolf Pack Nights, named after the school mascot. Specific activities varied over several years, based on teacher and family interests and perceived academic and support needs. The report in the January 2015 RiverviewUniversity partnership newsletter described these family events:

On Thursday, January 22nd, 2015, Family Nights got off to a great start with over 100 people attending. . . . Families gathered for dinner at 6:00 PM followed by a variety of activities for all ages.

ESL classes that began last year are continuing with a teacher from the local Community Action Agency. In response to parent and staff requests, there is also a conversational Spanish class being taught by the school's head secretary.

A teacher is heading up a knitting class, and the library is open for story time, homework help, and computer access.

Also, continuing from last year is the popular Club de Lectura, a heritage literacy program for Spanish-speaking students. 

Outcomes during this induction phase thus included a wide array of options for learning and social activities, which prompted a schoolwide intersection of school and family interests. These activities were codesigned and cofacilitated by school staff, university faculty, and families. The Phelps (2019, this issue) literature review on universityschool partnerships points out that partners can feel powerless and voiceless if their fellow collaborators are not willing to interrogate their own positionality and to learn from and alongside them (Noffke, Clark, Palmeri-Santiago, Sadler, & Shujaa, 1996; Snyder & Goldman, 1997). In this case, participation of school staff, teacher education students, university faculty, and other team members in these schoolfamily events was important in building shared meaning.


The development of a parent presence in the school, with about a quarter of the school engaged in Wolf Pack Nights and related activities, was firmly established during the projects first two years. Teachers and parents were observed to be more comfortable with each other, with a shift in perception from strangers to the familylike atmosphere on Wolf Pack Nights. Missing from this process of positive relationship development was the cultivation of families as decision makers in identifying issues and contributing to changes in school policies and practices. The parent teacher organization was a small, all-White, middle-class fundraising arm of the administration. Teachers and university faculty wondered, how could the minoritized parents develop an identity as part of the school community while working together with the professional staff for positive changes when needed?


A university human services professor was brought in to consult with the school, and he offered to facilitate the formation of a parent action team, which used a community navigator approach that prioritized the insider knowledge of the poverty-impacted Spanish and Indigenous-language-speaking families in the school (Korsmo et al., 2015). The group considered together how to increase family engagement based in their growing personal relationships:

A significant outcome thus far in the Parent Action Teams time together is the degree to which all individuals are able to spread a sense of trust in school personnel and diverse sectors of families within the school community throughout their own personal networks. The members of the group can, in a sense, vouch for each other, with parents speaking to other parents about their positive experiences working with school personnel, and vice versa, with school personnel able to speak first-hand with their colleagues about the strengths and assets of the families, thus stretching their various circles of influence. (Korsmo et al., 2015, p. p. 5)

The outcomes achieved during this integration stage included hearing new family voices for the purpose of making meaning, and the cultivation of new leaders as equal partners in school decision making. These efforts were supported by an in-school bilingual family liaison staff member who was hired with district funds. The staff member in this role at Riverview was actually trilingualable to speak Spanish, English, and Mixtec. She was available for translation activities and outreach to families.


After building family engagement through the induction and integration stages, the focus turned to maintaining and growing engagement for the long term. The school successfully fostered a diverse group of families, who represented all the major community groups, to feel valued and to experience authentic interactions that produced mutually beneficial activities and initiatives.

Previous deficit models have been replaced with a recognition of the assets that the schools parents bring. Yet the partnership team recognized that a small but significant group of families were not being touched by any of the schools family engagement efforts. These families included those with children who seemed to be experiencing trauma and disruption in their lives. In response, the team looked for additional social service supports and professional development.

Wraparound Social Services for Families

During the early years of the RiverviewUniversity project, we partnered with the Community Action social service agency in the county to provide adult English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes and to increase access to wraparound services for families. This agency coordinates a full range of assistance programs including, housing, legal, financial, food and nutrition, health, and energy assistance. Information about these services had been made available in the school, and information tables were set up at various school family events.

Despite these efforts, school staff reported that there was a sizeable number of hard-to-reach families who seemed to be experiencing trauma, which often resulted in children exhibiting extreme behaviors in school or being chronically absent. Teachers increasingly expressed a need for more knowledge and support in helping these children. In response to these concerns, our schooluniversity team made the decision to provide an in-school staff person who could connect families with social service resources. Struggling students and their families have a hard time accessing and navigating the maze of public and private services on their own. We felt that a school-based coordinator would be able to bring these local resources into the school, where they would be accessible, coordinated, and accountable. In January 2015, a partnership with the Communities in Schools program (Communities in Schools, n.d.). was established, and an on-site Communities in Schools coordinator was hired for Riverview Elementary. This site coordinator works with Riverview staff to identify students and families who may be in need of assistance and then works closely with families to obtain community social services to address their needs.

Professional Development on Adverse Childhood Experiences

Another effort to respond to staff concerns about the effects of traumatic experiences on Riverview families prompted the partnership team to contract for staff professional development on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In spring 2016, Dr. Susan Kincaid offered a hybrid course that included a face-to-face workshop plus online modules aimed at helping school personnel understand the effects of ACEs on learning and to investigate the compassionate school model (Wolpow, Johnson, Hertel, & Kincaid, 2016) for ways to promote resiliency. Participants in the three-module online course included 35 of the 38 certificated staff at Riverview, 23 of the 30 classified staff, two elementary education interns, the two cofacilitators, and the Riverview principal. In total, the 62 participants used the module extensivelyaccessing resources and training materials 7,638 times and making 180 comments. Subsequent anecdotal data suggested that what these participants learned from the myriad of resources in the online course was helpful in working to support students and their families and promote resiliency.


In addition to the actions taken to better engage and support families, the project also targeted improvements in family literacy for significant action. Enhancing family literacy can have positive effects on the well-being and achievement of children (Castro, Mendez, Garcia, & Westerberg, 2012), and so our project launched a number of initiatives focused on improving parents literacy skills in both English and Spanish. Because the Indigenous languages did not have a written form, we found ways to use video and audio technologies to record parents speaking their own language for various curricular projects.

Family Read. This offering for 3- to 5-year-olds and their parents was adapted from a research-based program, Motheread/Fatheread (Motheread, Inc., 2017), which has been successful in similar bilingual communities with outcomes of improving young childrens oral language development and early literacy skills, leading to greater success in school (Frede & Barnett, 2011). In the research, families reported increased social support and confidence in supporting both their child in school and in making plans to meet their own adult educational goals (Castro et al., 2012; Hong, 2012). Riverview Elementary families were enthusiastic about the program, and evaluation data suggest similar outcomes. As the Family Read program approached its conclusion, a group of parents requested that this program be followed up with an adult ESL class so that they could learn English. Family Read classes included both Spanish-speaking parents and those who spoke Indigenous languages. The schools family liaison staff member provided translation during the classes.

Adult ESL and Spanish classes. To offer the adult ESL class that parents had requested, we partnered in 2014 with the local Community Action organization. The ESL class was taught at the Riverview Elementary site three nights per week. This represented a significant time commitment for these families, many of whom came straight from working in the fields. Food was provided for parents and children who attended. While parents were in their ESL classes, a literacy-based childcare program was offered to continue the development of oral language, as promoted in the Family Read program.

During 20142015, a conversational Spanish class was offered by request as a part of the Wolf Pack Night program at Riverview. This class was taught by one of the bilingual office staff members. Attendees included teachers, teacher educators, parents, and community members. At the classes, small groups had guided conversations in Spanish, with Spanish speakers in the role of experts and English speakers in an unfamiliar role for many of them: language learners.

Club de Lectura. A Club de Lectura program began during the Wolf Pack Nights but was subsequently offered on a different evening so that students did not have to make a choice between this option and others. In this heritage-language program, older students mentor younger students to enhance both the students bilingual language abilities and their English literacy (Niehaus, Rudasill, & Alelson, 2012). Although there is no Club de Lectura curriculum for Indigenous languages and we did not have sufficient resources to devise our own, many of the children who spoke primarily Mixtec or Triqui at home were immersed in Spanish within their community, and they too benefitted by receiving more oral practice and written materials in Spanish. In conjunction with Club de Lectura, there were also efforts to bring Spanish and Indigenous languages into classroom curricular activities.

An iPad initiative contributed to our efforts to enhance family literacy. Students in several classrooms each received their own iPad, which they used for classroom learning activities. They were also able to bring their iPads home with themproviding access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not only did the students use the iPads at home for curricular-related language-rich activities, but others in their family were able to do so as well. More detail about the 1:1 iPad project is provided as we describe a number of innovative instructional practices.


As noted in the logic model (Table 3), enhancing the school assessment system and improving instructional practices in the school were key areas for action by our project as we endeavored to improve student achievement and model best practices for preservice teacher preparation. During the planning year, we investigated to what extent the schools response-to-intervention system was functioning as it should. Based on student achievement and other classroom observational data, we had reason to believe that enhancements in instructional practice were also needed. To enhance instruction, we launched a wide variety of initiativesthe most significant being an extended-day program, the use of mobile technologies to support active learning, and professional development for Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD). Actions taken to improve assessment and instruction are described in the sections to follow.

Evaluating the Schools Response-to-Intervention System and Expanding Progress Monitoring

During the planning year of the grant, our partnership project funded a response-to-intervention implementation review by a university special education faculty member. This review of Riverview Elementarys intervention practices helped the faculty to see them as a schoolwide system of prevention and intervention services rather than just a team that deals primarily with special education referrals. According to the report, some important basics were in place: (1) the principal was viewed as very supportive; (2) the master schedule provided time for core instruction and various levels of intervention; and (3) the faculty had a focus on prevention and had been making efforts to integrate differentiated instruction within the classroom to meet students needs. The report recommended improvements in (1) data-based decision-making, (2) the use of checklists and protocols to monitor fidelity of intervention delivery, (3) consistency of progress monitoring, (4) further professional development to expand differentiation within the core, particularly in math, and (5) increased communication with parents.

In an effort to do more data-based decision making and establish a robust system of progress monitoring, an iPad assessment pilot was initiated by K2 teachers. These primary instructors used iPads to monitor the progress of students in math by means of AIMSweb curriculum-based measures (August, Branum-Martin, Cardenas-Hagan, & Francis, 2009; Bradley, Danielson, & Doolittle, 2005). Subsequently, this pilot was extended, and iPads began to be used regularly to monitor student progress in both math and literacy in all the grades. Data from these and other curriculum-based measures are now being used to benchmark and decide on appropriate intervention strategies. Other mobile technologies offering dynamic diagnostic assessment, such as Lexia, Dreambox, and IXL, are being used extensively in the school to collect assessment data in real time and as tools for differentiated, student-paced learning. Mobile technology has also been used to capture more complex samples of students oral and written work for self-assessment and teacher evaluation.

Extended-Day Program

After implementing an enhanced progress-monitoring system, students were targeted for additional instructional timeprimarily in the area of mathematicsduring an extended-day program. Since 2013, over the course of 16 weeks, students identified for this program have come to school early 4 days per week for an extra hour of targeted teaching and learning. Data has been collected pre and post to measure the impact of the extended time on those specific areas of focus. The theory of action behind this work is that many students need to make more than one years worth of growth in one years time in order to close the achievement gap and move closer to or reach grade-level standards (Marzano, 2003; OSPI: Bilingual Education Advisory Committee, 2011; Professional Educator Standards Board, 2008).

Progress-monitoring data also provided the information needed for teachers to make data-informed decisions for intervention and differentiation during class time (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Zumeta, 2008; Keller-Margulis, Shapiro, & Hintze, 2008). These data later became a focus for grade-level professional learning communities.

Enhancing Instructional Practices With Mobile Technology

Research suggests that increasing access to technological resources for families living in poverty will help to close the opportunity gap for those students by leveling the playing field (Contreras & Stritikus, 2008). We saw opportunities to use mobile technology for innovative instructional approaches and active learning in the classroom. In 20132014, iPad/iPod carts were purchased for each grade level to extend this work. Interns drew on their previous teacher education coursework to model mobile-technology-supported instruction in their classrooms.

Two classrooms have piloted a 1-to-1 iPad project in which each student was assigned an iPad for the year, and families could arrange for their child to bring it home, thus potentially enhancing family literacy. The teacher and intern in one of these 1:1 classrooms were supported by a teacher educator on the partnership team who spent a two-quarter sabbatical in the school. Together, the teacher, intern, and teacher educator developed an innovative social studies unit that used the multimedia capacities of mobile technology to integrate oral and written language.

In Phase 1 of this community-focused inquiry unit, children took photos in their school community, wrote scripts to tell about community members, and then created a number of brief video slide shows that integrated images and voice narration.

During Phase 2 of the inquiry project, students took home an iPad to interview their families about where they had lived before moving to this community and discover why they had chosen to move. With the help of the three educators in this classroom, students then created videos to show the geographical location of the different communities and share their family stories. Students were encouraged to have the family member being interviewed speak whatever language he or she choseand the result was videos in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Mixtec. These videos were presented by students in small groups, where the excited discussions validated family experiences and exposed all to rich oral language. This multifaceted community inquiry project supported by mobile technology was a model for how Common Core English Language Arts skills can be developed in an integrated way and an illustration for how teachers can make powerful connections to families (Carney & Sadzewicz, in press).

Developing shared meaning and trusting relationships is one of the major challenges in a researchpractice partnership (Phelps, 2019, this issue). This collaboration by three educators who straddle the schooluniversity divide is a good example of how situated professional learning and coteaching can diminish status hierarchies and power differences. The university faculty member may have had more expertise in technology, but the teacher and intern were experts in the social studies curriculum and much more knowledgeable about the needs and capabilities of particular students. (Additional discussion of the implications of the faculty member spending extended time in classrooms during a sabbatical can be found in the conclusion.)

As digital technology tools have become more available in all classrooms at the school, and teachers more experienced in using technology for instruction and assessment, iPads and other devices have been used for a wide range of innovative instructional purposes: Teachers and students have used iPads to present information in graphic-rich formats, practice oral language skills, explain their mathematical reasoning as they write formulas, and express their knowledge in a multimedia format. Many of these innovative practices have been implemented collaboratively by interns, classroom teachers, teacher educators, and the district digital literacy specialist (who has been an adjunct instructor for the elementary education technology methods course). This context-specific approach has situated powerful teacher learning opportunities in a professional community of practice (Borko, 2004; Greeno, 2003; Lave & Wenger, 2013).

Enhancing Instructional Practices With Guided Language Acquisition Design

Guided Language Acquisition Design (Project GLAD) is an instructional model that includes 35 differentiation strategies designed to help teachers integrate English language development with grade-level content in a mainstream classroom (Deussen, Autio, Miller, Lockwood, & Stewart, 2008; Deussen, Autio, Roccograndi, & Hanita, 2014; Vanosdall, Klentschy, Hedges, & Weisbaum, 2007). The ultimate goal of Project GLAD is to ensure that all studentsboth ELLs and native English speakersare able to read and write grade-level text and access grade-level academic content. Project GLAD strategies develop academic English by building the vocabulary and linguistic structures that all students need to be able to participate in subject-matter discourse.

The most significant research on the effectiveness of Project GLAD for improving the language skills of ELLs is that of Deussen et al. (2014). Despite what the authors termed uneven implementation in the project they evaluated, their study found that the use of Project GLAD strategies resulted in small gains among fifth-grade ELLs in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and the writing traits of ideas and organization. Another key finding is of relevance because, as noted previously, Riverview ELLs tended to plateau at the intermediate level. This is precisely the group that derived the most benefit from Project GLAD in the Deussen et al. study, with effect sizes of 0.29 to 0.46. These large effect sizes prompted the researchers to suggest that Project GLAD strategies might have the potential to begin closing the achievement gapindicating that using Project GLAD at Riverview Elementary was appropriate.

Every one of the teachers and specialists at Riverview are now Tier 1 GLAD certifieda significant accomplishment. During 2016, we extended those efforts to include interns. As the partnership between the university and the district expanded beyond Riverview Elementary, an increasing number of interns placed in district schools were offered Project GLAD training, either through the districts summer Project GLAD offering for teachers or through a partnership-funded opportunity. A milestone was reached during fall 2017: The entire cohort of 27 interns in five district schools, including the eight at Riverview, were all Tier 1 GLAD certified. This teacher education initiative is an important step in ensuring that new teachers have the skills to teach in ways that close the achievement/opportunity gap. It also enables the interns and teachers to collaborate on implementation of GLAD strategies in the classroom, promoting mutual learning.


Establishing a professional learning community approach is the fourth major area we identified for action in our logic model (DuFour & Marzano, 2011; Gallimore, Ermeling, Saunders, & Goldenberg, 2009; McDonald, Mohr, Dichter, & McDonald, 2013). In accord with our inquiry-action team model, professional learning communities at Riverview Elementary include preservice teachers, teacher educators, in-service teachers, administrators, and other educational and human service professionals. The meetings are focused on evidence of student learning and how it might be enhanced, as the members participate in ongoing, situated professional development. Twenty-six teachers and specialists at Riverview Elementary (all but one), the principal, and five university team members have attended DuFour Professional Learning Community training, and this data-informed decision-making model has been implemented schoolwide. Grade-level teams adhere to the critical elements of effective collaboration action promoted by DuFour: the identification of essential learnings, agreed-on use of formative assessment, group analysis of formative assessment results, and team-defined intervention and enrichment based on those assessments.

Our teacher candidates are part of the grade-level teams along with their mentor teachers and are being inculcated in professional learning community practices. Including teacher educators from the university has also enhanced their professional learning, and it makes it possible for these teacher educators to share their knowledge of how professional learning communities function with all the teacher candidates with whom they work as instructors.


The Club de Lectura after-school program, described previously, connects elementary students with mentors from a state-funded high school careers-in-education initiative and a grow-your-own future-teacher program based at both the local community college and the university engaged in this project. These partnerships enabled us to form a multilevel cascading mentorship approach (Timmons-Flores, 2013) designed to support Latinx and Indigenous Mexican students from elementary school through high school, into higher education, and, ultimately (it is hoped), to recruit some of these students into teacher education.


In this section, we share various data on the impact of the RiverviewUniversity partnership and discuss the significance of those findings. The section is organized according to participant/audience groups, although some data reflect impact related to multiple audiences.


In the Family Engagement and Support section earlier in the article, we explained in detail how our project increased overall family participation, particularly the participation of Latino families.


Drawing on surveys, interviews, and other communications with Riverview teachers and administrators, we have identified some significant ways in which partnership-funded activities and the collaborative work with university faculty have impacted the culture and practices of the school.

Identifying and Documenting Best Practice

Ongoing inquiry about the needs of the students, families, and teachers and discussions about how to best meet those needs have provided opportunities for the school to benefit from the expertise and knowledge that university faculty have to offer, as faculty themselves learn from the school perspective.

I think from the schools perspective we tend to grab ahold of improvement efforts without always doing due diligence to researching best practice and the research behind the implementation of a particular strategy because the pace of our lives is pretty fast. The kids are here in front of us today. We need a solution today. . . . School people can move pretty quickly from one intervention to the next without necessarily pausing and taking time to consider the impacts upon kids and their learning, and we dont necessarily have the expertise to do that kind of work either. Within the partnership, weve been able to lean on college faculty who have a lot of expertise in that arena. (Principal, Interview, November 2017)

The Riverview principals observations point toward a challenge identified in the partnership literature: different points of view and expectations among school and university educators (Sirotnik, 1991). Yet there are advantages to the different perspectives once trust is established between the partners. Just as the principal suggested, Trubowitz and Longo (1997) noted that without direct responsibility for the day-to-day, university staff thinking is less oriented to the short term, less bound by the immediate, and, in that way, the outsiders perspective is of value to the school. Conversely, given that school staff are outsiders to the university system, their perspective is of value to university faculty because of the way it is grounded in the practical realities of schools.

Strengthening Staff Cohesion Around Common Goals

In grade-level teams and as a whole school, the partnership-funded professional development in Project GLAD and professional learning community implementation has created a shared language and focus that everyone understands and participates in.

I think that with everybody being trained, it really does give more of a focus to your [professional learning community]. Its really focusing our time together, making it more intentional. Weve had a few cross-grade staff meetings where weve talked about what were doing in our [meetings] and I think that cross-grade interaction, because were all using the same language and were all understanding what our purpose is and that theyre all our kids. I think its helped create a more unified staff. We all have a common goal. (Kindergarten teacher, interview, November 2017)

Because some of the professional learning community meetings were attended by university faculty, a shared language developed in those meetings among teachers, interns, and faculty. In this way, discussions contribute to the shared meaning that knits together a partnership, counteracting the different beliefs, values, and discourse that cause problems for so many researchpractice partnerships (Penuel, Coburn, & Gallagher, 2013; Richmond, 1996; Snyder & Goldman, 1997).

Teachers Developing Mentorship Skills

Many of the teachers at Riverview Elementary have worked with several interns as part of the partnership with the university. They have developed their mentorship skills and are now helping to shape the elementary education certification program for the interns.

As we have worked with interns over the last 5 years, I have been much more mindful of the why behind my teaching. I am also better about explaining the reasons why I do something. After the DuFour training as a team, we became better at distinguishing what standards were the most important and that helped focus our teaching. We planned our lessons around [Project] GLAD strategies and were able to bring those trainings to the interns as well. . . . Having interns as a grade-level team is dynamic for us as cooperating teachers and also for the interns. As cooperating teachers, we can share ideas on how to help the interns and work out timelines for them to begin teaching. (Second-grade teacher, email communication, May 2017)

More information and discussion of the impact of our schooluniversity partnership on teacher education can be found in an accompanying article by Napolitan et al. (2019, this issue).

Expanding Horizons and Developing Teacher Leaders

Several Riverview teachers have had the opportunity to coauthor articles and present at conferences with university faculty. These experiences have provided opportunities for teachers to learn about similar partnerships around the country and to see themselves as contributors to the profession in a larger context than just their school or district.

Presenting at the Professional Development Schools conference was so exciting. Working with [two university faculty and a school colleague] helped me think outside of our classroom. Even though the presentation was on [Project] GLAD strategies and working with interns during the training and afterward in the classroom, it made me think of the bigger picture. . . . Working with the staff members from the university allows me to see teaching through their eyes, and a change of perspective is powerful. (Second-grade teacher, email communication, May 2017)

The new ideas and animated discussions that occurred in the context of professional conferences are now prompting significant changes in the mentoring and supervision of the elementary education interns.

Infusing Guided Language Acquisition Design Strategies (Project GLAD)

With the high proportion of ELLs at Riverview, we realized that instruction needed to be highly interactive, with numerous supports for academic language and opportunities for ELLs to intensively practice oral language. Project GLAD offered a large, research-based repertoire of specific strategies and a well-developed teacher training model. We previously explained our various Project GLAD initiatives. Now we ask: What was the impact? Did those teacher and intern trainings result in changes in instructional practice?

During fall 2014, partnership funds were used for a Project GLAD training situated at Riverview; during spring 2015, teachers responded twice to a survey asking about their use of Project GLAD strategies during the previous month. Data from this survey indicate that more than 50% of the teachers used 10 or more Project GLAD strategies regularly or occasionally during the 2-month period being surveyed. Additional dataanecdotal comments, teacher work samples in the form of Project GLAD-infused units, and classroom observationsalso provide evidence that teachers are regularly incorporating a wide array of Project GLAD strategies into instructional practices.

Since the intensive 2015 training at Riverview, our partnership project has continued promoting the use of Project GLAD strategies as a way to support ELLs and better engage all students. Teachers had the opportunity to attend refresher sessions during the December 2016 Project GLAD training situated at Riverview Elementary, which was offered to interns as well. All eight mentor teachers who had interns at the time attended one or more refresher sessions.


In the previous two sections, we have presented evidence of change in two major areas targeted in our logic model: family engagement and support, and assessment and instructional practice. We anticipated that if we made improvements in these areas, student achievement and well-being would be enhanced. Has that occurred? In the next section, we present data showing positive impact in both areas.

Riverview Smarter Balanced Assessment and State Scores

Tracking student achievement over the duration of the RiverviewUniversity partnership project has been challenging, given that the state standardized assessment measure changed three times since the innovation and success plan was formulated. Because comparison is difficult across multiple measures, we have chosen to focus on the most recent data: Smarter Balanced Assessment scores from 2015 and 2016 for our most detailed analysis. (During this interval, state-level data had a Hispanic/Latino of all races category for students from Mexico and Latin America, and because Hispanic is not particularly accurate for many of the students at Riverview, we will use Latino, Latina, or the nongendered Latinx in reporting and discussing these data.)

In Table 4, the percentage of Riverview students meeting standard in Grades 35 on both the English language arts and math measures on the Smarter Balanced Assessment is displayed in relation to state and district percentages. Table 4 also shows scores for four demographic groupsLatinx, White, male, and femalegiven that our project has been trying to close gaps between these groups.

Table 4. Riverview 20152016 Smarter Balanced Assessment Scores: Percentage Meeting Standard in English Language Arts and Math

ELA meeting standard






School: ALL

School: Latinx

School: White

School: Male

School: Female

3rd Grade










4th Grade










5th Grade










Math meeting standard










3rd Grade










4th Grade










5th Grade










Note: ELA = English language arts. Shading indicates % above state average; * indicates % above district average.

In looking at English language arts scores, we note persistent challenges: The percentage of students meeting standard in most demographic categories is below the state average. However, 29.3% of students identified as transitional bilingual, so it should not be surprising that English language arts scores are not the same as schools with fewer ELL students. When compared with schools of a similar demographic (focusing on percentage of free/reduced and percentage of ELLs), Riverview students outperform others in that demographic.   

Smarter Balanced Assessment scores in math, on the other hand, show numerous categories (highlighted) where the percentage of students meeting standard in math is above the state average. In Grade 4, the four categories of ALL, Latinx, male, and female are above the state average. In Grade 5, Riverview male students meet standard at percentages above the state average. The percentage of males meeting standard in math is especially noteworthy given the significant gap in achievement for boys when our project began in 2012.

Improving the achievement of Latinx students was a major goal for our project, and so we looked carefully at the scores for that demographic. Comparisons across the district reveal that Latinx students at Riverview exceed the district average in five out of six categories. (Only grade 3 English language arts is below the district average.) Recall that kindergarten-entry assessments show that Riverview students demonstrated school readiness at levels about half of the statewide average. In comparing scores on those readiness measures with other entering kindergartners in the district, Riverviews students were consistently performing below other schools in the district. Thus, that Riverview students in Grades 35 are exceeding the district average in three out of six categories represents a notable accomplishment. The differences in the percentage of Latinx students meeting standard at Riverview, where scores are consistently above the district average, suggests that the school has been particularly effective in developing practices to meet the needs of this demographic of studentsespecially in math.

Further analysis of Smarter Balanced Assessment math scores to determine the relative levels of performance reveals that not only are Riverview Latinx students performing at standard, but they are demonstrating mastery at Level 4 in percentages that exceed both the state and district averages, as indicated in Table 5.

Table 5. Smarter Balanced Assessment Levels of Proficiency for Latinx students











Grade 3

Level 4







Level 3







Level 2







Level 1







Grade 4

Level 4







Level 3







Level 2







Level 1







Grade 5

Level 4







Level 3







Level 2







Level 1







Note: ELA = English language arts. Shading indicates % above both state and district averages.

Thus, Smarter Balanced Assessment data indicate that Riverview Elementary has had success in improving the achievement of Latinx studentsparticularly in math. We will discuss what initiatives at the school may have enhanced math achievement. Before engaging in that discussion, however, we share additional data analysis that goes deeper into evidence of student achievement and considers whether the achievement gaps apparent at the beginning of the project have been narrowed or closed.

Analyzing Project Impact on Student Achievement Gaps

We ran a series of independent samples t tests comparing different groups of students from the 2024 graduating class (students who were in fourth grade during the 20152016 school year). This particular group of students was selected because they had attended Riverview since at least Grade 2, the first year of partnership project implementation, and thus had the most exposure to the numerous project interventions. Our analyses occurred in three stages. First, we analyzed the patterns of achievement in this group for males and females; second, we examined the achievement of White versus Latinx students; and third, we sorted the students into what we defined as a longer and shorter duration group based on how long they attended Riverview. Each stage of analysis is reported.

The demographic breakdown for the 77 students in this data set (current Grade 5 students) can be seen in Table 6.

Table 6. Demographics of Riverview Grade 5 Students



Home Language

Male n = 42 (54.5%)

Female n = 35 (45.5%)

White, non-Latinx n = 28 (36.4%)

Latinx n = 42 (54.5%)

Other n = 7 (9.1%)

English n = 48 (62.3%)

Spanish n = 21 (27.3%)

Mixtec n = 6 (7.8%)

Other n = 2 (2.6%)

We were especially interested in comparing measures of achievement across two demographic groups in the current Grade 5 class: male (n = 42) versus female (n = 35) and White (n = 28) versus Latinx (n = 42). In 2012, both boys and Hispanic/Latino students were performing below levels compared with girls and White students.

Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys

When we ran comparisons between the two genders in our grade-level focus group, we discovered that there is no statistical difference in male and female mean scores in 2015 or 2016 in either English language arts or math. In 2015, females had a slightly higher mean score in both English language arts and math, but males had a slightly higher mean in both areas in 2016. These findings are consistent with the data presented in Table 4, where the percentages of third- to fifth-grade students meeting standard on the Smarter Balanced Assessment are presented, and a significant change from the situation in 2012, when our schooluniversity partnership project began. In 2012, our analysis of state-required standardized test scores from 2007 to 2012 showed a persistent gender gap, particularly in reading, for the boys.

Reading. From 2007 to 2012, in third grade, the percentage of girls meeting standard rose from a little less than 60% to more than 90%, whereas the boys remained at about 42% (with a slight rise in 2010 and 2011). The gender gap thus increased over this five-year period, from about 18% to 48%. In fourth grade, the percentage of boys meeting standard remained fairly constant, at about 50% from 2007 to 2012; the girls, by comparison, remained at about 72% during that period, which means there was a gap of 22%. The percentage of fifth-grade girls meeting standard increased from about 48% in 2007 to 60% in 2012, while the boys remained fairly constant at about 50%, the same as the fourth-grade boys. So, while there was no gap for the boys in 2007, there was a 10% gap in 2012. (Note: These were two different standardized assessments.)

Math. From 2007 to 2012, in math, there was more variation over the years, with the boys matching or exceeding the girls in some grades in some years; however, there was still an overall trend toward the boys performing below the girls in math and reading. In 2012, the gap in math between boys and girls was almost 20% in Grades 3 and 5, and about 10% in Grade 4 (CEE, 2012).

Thus, the current situation is quite different from what we reported in 2012: Smarter Balanced Assessment data from 2015 and 2016 show that the troubling trends from 2012 have been reversed, and Riverview Elementary has closed the gender gap for boys in both literacy and math.

Closing the Achievement Gap for Hispanic/Latinx Students

In this district, with its high numbers of Latinx students, achieving the partnership goal of closing the achievement gap meant narrowing the difference in performance between White and Latinx students. For this reason, the second stage of our analysis involved comparison of the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores of White and Latinx students currently in Grade 5.

Independent samples t tests were done on Smarter Balanced Assessment English language arts scale scores, and results showed that White students differed from Latinx students in both 2015 (p = .001) and 2016 (p = .001). In the 2015 English language arts assessment, there were significant differences between White students (M = 2454.24) and Latinx students (M=2382.91), with an effect size d of .93, which is considered large. The two group mean scores for the 2016 assessment indicate that the average score for White students (M = 2503.12) is significantly higher than the score (M = 2438.94) for Latinx students. The effect size d is approximately .9.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment scores in math tell a different and more positive story, however. Independent samples t tests of the 2015 and 2016 math scores of White and Latinx students indicate no significant difference between the two groups (p = .109 for 2015; p = .114 for 2016). That there is no statistical difference between these two groups means that the achievement gap has been essentially closed in math for the Latinx students currently in Grade 5.

Analysis for Higher vs. Lower Impact

We have noted the challenge in tracking student achievement over the duration of the grant, given that state standardized assessments changed three times. There is also an additional challenge in ascertaining project impact: Riverview Elementary has a high percentage of students whose families are migrant agricultural workers (19.6% in 20152016) and poverty-impacted (77.2); both of these factors result in higher than average mobility. Although our analysis had indicated positive impact in closing the achievement gap among the Riverview students currently in Grade 5, in actuality, only a relatively small number of those students have been at the school since the beginning of the schooluniversity partnership project in 2012.

Given that the majority of the student population has not been continuous, we wondered if there might be a difference in achievement between the students who have been at Riverview for the duration of the partnership project and those who may have entered the school later. Our theory was that to better see the effects of our project, we ought to look at the students who have been most highly impacted by our initiatives, simply because they have remained at the school for the duration of the grant. Thus, we engaged in one additional analysis of test data: We identified students who have been at Riverview since 2012, which we called the longer duration group, and compared their Smarter Balanced Assessment results with those who enrolled in the school more recently, which we designated the shorter duration group.

The previously displayed Table 6 shows the demographics of students in Grade 5; 23 of them (30%) are in the longer duration group, and 54 (70%) are in the shorter duration group, who entered the school at some point after Grade 2. We deduced that the students in this shorter duration group would have experienced somewhat less project impact.

Are there differences in achievement between these groups? We found that students in the longer duration group scored higher than shorter duration students on the 2015 and 2016 tests in English language arts and math, but not to the level of statistical significance. The results were approaching significance for the math scores in both 2015 and 2016, however.

We subsequently drilled down further among the longer duration students, wondering whether our partnership initiatives, many of which were focused on Latinx students and their families, might have resulted in differing impact on that demographic group. When we did analysis among just the Latinx students, comparing those in the longer duration group to the those in the shorter-duration group, we did indeed find a significant difference.

Independent samples t tests indicated that Latinx students in the longer duration group were significantly different from Latinx students in the shorter duration group on the 2015 math assessment (p = .008). Comparison of group means for the 2016 math assessment indicates that the average score for the longer duration students (M = 2469.75) is significantly higher than the score (M = 2393.05) for the shorter duration students. The effect size d is approximately 1.04, which is considered large. The difference between these groups of students was approaching significance for the 2016 math scores (p = .086). The longer and shorter duration Latinx groups did not differ on the Smarter Balanced Assessment English language arts scores in 2015 or 2016.

These data thus indicate that Latinx students who had attended Riverview since Grade 2 scored significantly higher in math than those who entered the school later. While we are pleased that a longer period of attendance at Riverview was beneficial for Latinx students, we realize that there may be other factors involvedfor example, that their families relative lack of mobility may be reflective of somewhat greater housing and economic stability.

Summary: Student Achievement Data Analysis

In summary, what do these Smarter Balanced Assessment data on the percentage of Riverview students in Grades 35 who are achieving standard, as well as the deeper analysis of score data, tell us? The most important result is that the data reveal a closing of the achievement gap in two demographics: between White and Latinx students in math, and between males and females in both the math and the English language arts assessment. Despite that very positive improvement, however, a gap persists between Latinx and White students on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in English language arts in both 2015 and 2016. White students continue to outperform Latinx students. Given the number of ELLs among the Latinx students at Riverview, the gap in English language arts may take more time to close, but it remains a focus for the staff at Riverview and for the partnership team.

Closing the Gap in Math: Synergy From Multiple Initiatives

What might account for the gains that have essentially closed the achievement gaps in math? We would argue that multiple, overlapping initiatives may have resulted in a synergy that contributed to this improvement. Those initiatives include (1) an extended-day program, (2) new math curriculum, (3) multiple forms of professional development, (4) professional learning community goals focused on math, and (5) large numbers of interns available to support remediation efforts. Each of these initiatives is described briefly next.

Extended day (early bird) focused on math. Since 2014, an hour-long early bird session has been offered before the school day, generally 4 days per week for 16 weeks. These classes have been taught by classroom teachers, who were paid from partnership grant funds. Students were targeted for the additional instructional time primarily in the area of mathematics based on AIMSweb progress monitoring data and other classroom-based assessments. These data informed which concepts would be the focus for particular students.

New math curriculum supported by professional development. In 2014, the district began the process of implementing a new Common Core-aligned elementary math curriculum, Bridges in Mathematics (Bridges) by the Math Learning Center. During summer 2015, Math Learning Center presenters offered intensive professional development workshops to district teachers at all elementary grade levels. The group of 21 interns who were in four district elementary schools at this time were invited to attend with their mentor teachers. Subsequent follow-up workshops were presented by district and other math specialists.

Although 2015 math scores reflect student achievement before the implementation of the new curriculum, 2016 tests were administered during the spring of the first year of Bridges implementation, meaning that the new curriculum could possibly have had an impact on student achievement during 20152016. We will need to monitor subsequent math test results to determine whether these gains persist.

Another professional development opportunity also supported the implementation of the Bridges math curriculum. From spring 2015 to January 2016, teachers and their interns were offered a six-part series of professional development in both mentoring and math, supported by an American Federation of Teachers innovation grant. Three university math-education faculty were among the presenters. These sessions, which included four full-day Saturday sessions and two after-school follow-up meetings, were attended by 18 district elementary teachers, six principals/district administrators and 20 interns. This series, occurring as it did just as teachers were grappling with the new Bridges curriculum, was an additional element contributing to the synergy in math.

Professional learning community goals focused on math. The fourth factor that we believe contributed to improvements in math achievement is a focus on math within professional learning communities. The interview sequence that follows suggests how this, combined with the presence of interns, resulted in additional math interventions:

Teacher 1: When [Teacher 2] and [Teacher 3] had interns last year, we decided in our [professional learning community] that math intervention was really important and it freed them up to pull small groups that needed extra math intervention.

Teacher 2: It was a time where we were able to intentionally focus on certain kids that were missing parts in their math instruction or their math thinking and we were able to give them a smaller group setting to fill in some holes to give them that foundation to get their math skills up to where we needed in order to be able to instruct. Having interns freed us up to be able to do that and to have certificated teachers to be able to teach a small group like that was really valuable.

Teacher 3: We were also really blessed to get highly qualified interns who were eager and who wanted to do as much full-time teaching as possible to enrich their experience. So, for us, both of our student teachers were full-time teaching for about 68 weeks, per their choice, and so that was a huge chunk of time that made this intentional math intervention meaty. It wasnt just three weeks and were done, it was a meaty time of targeted instruction where they were most needy in math and we could backfill.

The presence of highly qualified interns, who were intentionally placed in clusters on grade-level teams, enabled teachers to do meaty targeted instruction in math.

Large clusters of interns from 2014 to 2016. The final factor that may have contributed to gains in math were large numbers of interns who were available for math interventions and who were teaching carefully planned units in math for their teacher performance assessment. These interns were well prepared by their three math methods courses to teach in ways consonant with Bridges and may have provided useful assistance to their mentor teachers as teachers grappled with the new curriculum. Riverview School had a cluster of seven interns from the 20142015 cohort and eight from the 20152016 cohort. These interns participated in five grade-level professional learning communities during this interval.

To summarize, we would suggest that the five described overlapping initiatives may be contributing factors to the achievement gains in math.

Closing the Gap for English Language Learners

ELLs at Riverview were also targeted for improvement in our projects innovation and success plan. In 2014, Riverview Elementary earned a state achievement award for its improvement in English language learning. This award was based on student improvement on the states English language proficiency assessment and on ELLs performance on state assessments.

Figure 2 shows that there has been a gradual increase in the percentage of ELLs transitioning out of the program since 2011. This is significant because our 2012 needs assessment identified Level 3, when students were no longer receiving sheltered instruction outside the general education classroom, as a point where students traditionally stalled.

Figure 2. Riverview Students transitioning from English language learner support


The extensive use of Project GLAD strategies throughout the school may be a factor in this progress.

An additional sign of progress is that in 2016, students with limited English in third and fourth grades at Riverview Elementary surpassed the state average on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in math.

Behavior Referral Data

Our partnership has used attendance and discipline referral data to help assess the effectiveness of efforts to implement positive behavior strategies as staff better engage families, enhance the sense of community in the school, offer more engaging curriculum and instruction, and provide additional scaffolding for ELLs in the classroom (i.e., Project GLAD, educational technology). Figure 3 shows that a dramatic decrease in behavior referrals is correlated with these efforts.

Figure 3. Riverview behavior intervention referrals


The factors underlying this 80% reduction in behavior intervention referrals have been summarized and explained by Korsmo et al. (2015):

It is believed that these significant reductions in intervention referrals of students is due to a combination of factors, including both an increased sense of positive community within the school, and among students and their families, and an increased likelihood that teachers and staff will consider working with students in alternative, more relational means than sending them to a referral. . . . This reduction in intervention referrals transfers directly over to a reduction in negative interaction between families and school personnel, as well as time students spend removed from their learning and social, community-building environment. (p. 6)


What impact has our RiverviewUniversity partnership project had on the district itself? In an interview, the district superintendent discussed how changes sparked by the partnership have disseminated throughout the district.

Expansion of Family Engagement Activities

One thing that Riverview Elementary, through the partnership project, has helped us understand is what family engagement looks like. What Riverview was able to do was to try out a variety of different strategies regarding parent involvement that were research based and proved to be very successful in helping parents understand and learn about ways to help their children become more successful learners. For us that was the key, and so we have been able to learn from Riverview staff in that regard and those practices have been adopted across our school district.

Expansion of [Project] GLAD

The schooluniversity partnership brought us powerful instructional strategies to reach students who are limited English proficient. &We have talked the talk prior to the partnership project about what good instruction looks like for students who struggle with English proficiency but what we did was not powerful and it really was not very sustainable. So the thing that Riverview did was they latched on to the [Project] GLAD model of providing very engaging instruction for limited English proficient students&. That has spread well beyond Riverview Elementary and for each of the last three summers we have had a number of teachers . . . who are involved in [Project] GLAD training. Our summer school program, which includes 5 or 6 different programs that serve about 550 students in kindergarten through high school, has now become a lab school for [Project] GLAD.

Expansion of [Professional Learning Communities]

The professional learning community process was one that we as a district have been committed to and yet we really had not done much in providing professional development for our staff that would allow them to adopt best practices and become high-performing teams. And we were not real sure how to go about that. One of the things that Riverview Elementary was able to do, with the support of school-university partnership funding, was to access the DuFour Institutes and train their entire faculty in the DuFour Professional Learning Community model. That has spread like wildfire across our school district and we have had a number of staff from our other schools who have been able to attend DuFour. We have found that experience to simply be transformative.

Conditional hires

We know that the quality of teacher in the classroom is the single most important indicator when it comes to determining student outcomes. We need, knowing that, to be able to attract and retain the highest quality teachers available to us. . . . What we decided to do was to create a system by which we identify a number of contracts that we make available to student interns from the university after they complete their student internship in the spring in the year before they begin with us full time. And that has allowed us to latch on to those people and get commitments from them before they get snatched away by another school district.

In the areas identified by the superintendent in these excerpts, the RiverviewUniversity partnership project has had a significant impact on the school district, which suggests that those initiatives will be sustained when project funding ceases.


University faculty members have been regular contributors to partnership efforts in a wide variety of waysas members of the schools professional learning communities, as instructors for internship coursework in the school and district, as researchers and evaluators, as consultants, and as presenters for various professional development offerings. Each of those roles was an opportunity for professional development and for scholarship of application and engagement (Boyer, 1990).

The benefits of participation in the RiverviewUniversity partnership for programs in the College of Education have been significant. A number of those innovations have been referred to in earlier sections of this article (e.g., placement of students for internship and service learning, Project GLAD training for teacher educators and interns, situated professional development for faculty in a school-based professional learning community). Additional discussion of project impact on teacher education can be found in Napolitan et al. (2019, this issue).

A less direct, but still important, benefit derives from the fact that the partnership work with Riverview Elementary is a field site for cross-disciplinary collaboration among university faculty. This on-site collaborative work fosters increased mutual knowledge and deepens professional relationships, which in turn has an impact on other collaborative work within the College. For example, a professor of early childhood education and professor in human services were both involved in family engagement initiatives at Riverview. They brought distinct, yet overlapping, perspectives and resources to the work based on their particular fields of scholarship. At the same time, both were involved in a college task force that was exploring the intersections between teacher education and human services, particularly the need to prepare new teachers who understand the necessity and have the skills to work with families and the broader community if they are going to be effective with their students. That effort, now referred to as Family and Community Engaged Teaching, is resulting in new cross-departmental coursework and an ongoing series of initiatives in schools and the community.

A Pathway to Teacher Education for Diverse Candidates

Our RiverviewUniversity partnership extended and strengthened a pathway to teacher education that was being developed at the high school and college levels by a state-funded high school careers-in-education initiative, and a grow-your-own future-teacher program with multiple higher education and community partners based at the local community college. Partnership initiatives at Riverview Elementary provided a field site for high school and community college education students, many of whom were also participants in the grow-your-own organization; these aspiring Latinx teachers tutored bilingual students in Club de Lectura and participated in service learning in the Family Read literacy program. Partnership project initiatives provided important opportunities for the high school and college students to gain teachinglike experiences and to develop relationships with each other and with the elementary students in a cascading mentorship approach (Timmons-Flores, 2013).

All these efforts were focused on creating a supportive pathway for bilingual/bicultural students in the community to teacher education programs. It is hoped that those teacher candidates will later be hired in the local and regional school districts, diversifying the teaching force and enhancing both family engagement and student achievement.


The evidence presented in this article suggests that this RiverviewUniversity partnership project has made progress in achieving the outcomes identified in its logic model action plan. The programs initiated in the five areas of endeavor have been described and their impact assessed in light of partnership goals. Certainly, progress has been gradual, but the intersection of the partnerships efforts to engage and support families, coupled with more actively engaging instructional practices and ongoing professional learning community inquiry, seems to have created a synergy for change in the schoolhelping to move it toward making real the hopes and dreams of the families.

Areas of challenge remain in terms of student achievement, most notably in literacy. The longer duration student gains suggest, in a local agricultural region with high student mobility between adjacent districts, that we need to extend what we have learned to all elementary schools in this agricultural valley, which would increase the length and consistency of interventions experienced by these highly mobile students and their families.

The literature on universityschool collaborations reveals a host of challenges for partners engaged in this sort of work. In this case, partly through accidental factors and partly by means of strategic decision making, quite a number of the challenges were avoided or overcome.

In terms of organizational structure, the most important factor was that all the key members of the partnership, including the school principal, remained in place for five years. A change in leadership in a school is a major difficulty for any partnership (Trubowitz & Longo, 1997). Similarly, there was very little turnover among teachers in the school, which meant that all the professional learning could be sustained. On the higher education side, all the partners have also remained for the duration. Turnover costs time and energy for partnerships, which have to duplicate efforts and integrate new staff (Snyder & Goldman, 1997).

The personal and professional characteristics of the people involved in our partnership also worked to our advantage. Trubowitz and Longo (1997) noted that having the right mix of people is necessary for the success of a collaboration (p. 5). We believe we have had that mix. As noted earlier, the extensive experience that these university team members had in schools meant that they were especially knowledgeable, and their late-career status enabled them to spend a larger amount of time in the school than early-career faculty could. Thus, in large measure, we were able to surmount what is a major challenge for most partnershipsfaculty who are torn between the demands of the partnership and their personal goals in their home institutions (Kaimal, Barber, Schulman, & Reed, 2012; Kornfield & Leyden, 2001; Mendez & Rincones, 2013).

The crucial work of building trusting relationships and shared meaning was fostered by the amount of time faculty spent in the schoolparticipating in professional learning communities, supporting particular assessment and instructional practices, and coteaching. The university codirector of the project was able to be nearly full time in the school during two quarters of the crucial first year of implementation because she had been granted a sabbatical in the setting. University faculty becoming part of the everyday life of the school contributed to leveling the status hierarchy and diminished challenges associated with the positioning of faculty as the experts (Barnett, Anderson, Higginbotham, & Gatling, 2010; Chan, 2015; Gifford, 1986; Hattrup & Bickel, 1993; Hayes & Kelly, 2000; Teitel, 1998). While faculty certainly had areas of expertise, which we drew on, teachers had expertise of their own that was valuable for both teacher educators and interns.

Trusting relationships were fostered within the school by the principal. The needs assessment conducted during the planning year (2012) noted a high level of trust at the outset. Subsequently, during the third year of the partnership, we contracted with a university faculty member with expertise in partnership systems to do a formative assessment of our team processes. Her findings (Corbin, Chu, Carney, Donnelly, & Clancy, 2017) indicated continuing trust in the building administrator and suggested how his approach fostered partnership work: Another important process was the principals measured and methodical implementation approach, which supported gradual positive changes within a safe environment to innovate (p. 42).

One final feature of the leadership in this project that contributed to trust and more horizontal relationships was the manner in which both school and university leaders waited for indications of readiness among teachers and faculty. Instead of coming in with a set of initiatives to fix what ailed school and teacher education, leaders waited for indications of receptivity for particular actions. Knowing of particular expertise, the pump could be primed with conference attendance and other eye-opening experiences, but if no interest developed, waiting was chosen over forcing. There was a commitment to organic evolution. In her formative assessment, Corbin et al (2017) concurred, The findings also suggest clear strategies for achieving more horizontal relationships: engaging in collaborative work that was mutually negotiated, sharing of power at every level, and the willingness of leadership at both the university and the school to model openness, respect, humility, and a commitment to organic evolution (p. 42). Trubowitz and Longo (1997) have commented on how important this sort of openness and flexibility is to a universityschool partnership:

It is extremely helpful to have a long-term vision of what one intends to accomplish through the collaborative process. This should not be mistaken to mean that you start with a full set of beliefs. There is a need to leave room to grow and learn, to change direction when circumstances warrant or require it, and to respond to ones intuitive sense of what the environment may demand. (p. 5)


Our partnership used this approach in managing the intricacies of the task at hand and the challenges posed by collaboration among multiple educational and community organizations.

In conclusion, we are hopeful that this case study has shed light on the infinite complexities and potential pitfalls (Kornfield & Leyden, 2001, p. 205) in researchpractice partnerships and that some of what we did and learned will benefit other universities and school districts seeking to do the important work of improving schools and teacher education together.


1. Inquiry findings and grant initiatives related to the Elementary Education Department teacher education programs and candidates are explained in Napolitan et al. (2019, this issue).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 12, 2019, p. 1-52 ID Number: 22927, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 7:56:16 PM

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