This report is the first in a series of five publications focused on the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006. The series draws on data from an ongoing, independent evaluation of QEIA conducted by Vital Research, LLC and funded by the California Teachers Association (CTA). The first report in the series focuses specifically on how QEIA was implemented in participating schools and addresses the following four questions:
➊ What key strategies, initiatives and programs do schools implement as part of their participation in QEIA?
➋ How and to what extent did participating schools meet QEIA program requirements?
➌ What challenges did school stakeholders face in their implementation of QEIA?
➍ What are the perceived impacts of QEIA on school practices? What factors facilitated change at school sites?
Findings suggest that many schools have used QEIA to cultivate positive changes in teaching and learning.
By far, the most common goal cited by stakeholders in QEIA schools was to improve student learning. Often noted was the goal of improving test scoreseither school wide or for specific subgroups and/or content areas (i.e., grade-levels, English Language Arts vs. Math, English Learners). Beyond test scores, several schools were also focused on improving the longer-term academic success of students via college awareness and readiness programs and developing smoother grade-level and school-level transitions. Finally, many schools sought to “develop the whole child” and build lifelong learners with strong character and good citizenship.
With the goal of fostering teacher growth, school stakeholders often reported a focus on strengthening teacher collaboration and enhancing professional development. Schools also commonly had professional development plans that were designed to provide more relevant, cohesive professional development focused on newly adopted interventions and curriculum rather than individual interests.
In order to improve teaching and learning, school stakeholders often cited the goals of becoming more data-driven to improve student learning, implementing more consistent instruction by developing common assessments and common lessons, and adopting new curriculum or instructional frameworks to guide the work of teachers.
INITIATIVES & STRATEGIES
In order to meet the QEIA accountability targets, schools often needed new and/or additional staff and teachers. Consistent with the reform’s regulations, many schools capitalized on the opportunity to hire new staff and teachers, with sufficient experience, that were focused on continued improvement and open to change.
In alignment with QEIA provisions regarding professional development, a large amount of professional development noted by teachers in case study schools was focused on core content areas such as ELA and math as well as English language development. Many professional development plans at schools were also focused on gathering and interpreting student assessment data more effectively.
Many stakeholders identified the importance of effective professional development and meaningful
collaboration to support change efforts. Professional development that was chosen by teachers and tightly
aligned to school goals was viewed as both influential and relevant. Moreover, teachers were grateful for professional development that was actionable and offered immediate results in the classroom. Ongoing support, collaboration, and feedback were considered by teachers to be essential for professional development to lead to lasting change.
In case study schools, collaboration was often cited as a core component of the professional development
plans adopted by schools. In fact, all schools engaged in some form of collaboration; however, the nature of
collaboration – frequency, purpose, activities – varied considerably. In some schools, stakeholders relied heavily on collaboration to guide change in teaching and learning school wide, meeting regularly and often. In other schools, collaboration happened incidentally, as needed, and infrequently. Stakeholders commonly noted that collaboration was particularly fruitful when it began with certain foundational prerequisites and was nurtured through key supportive structures.
According to QEIA stakeholders, successful collaboration required adequate commitment, willingness to innovate, sufficient trust and respect among participants, and supportive leadership. When these foundational prerequisites were combined with a clear vision for the collaboration and sufficient time and resources, schools were able to cultivate stronger professional communities, greater collective accountability, increased cohesion among teachers, and
more effective data use.
REDUCING CLASS SIZES
According to school stakeholders, the implementation of class size reduction, across grades K-12, resulted in better learning environments for students, more instructional time, and decreased workload for teachers. At a minimum, these results of class size reduction led to increased teacher morale and increased student engagement (see Figure 1). However, many teachers at QEIA schools reported that they leveraged the additional time afforded by class size reduction to vary their instructional methods, experiment with new strategies, and adopt new, more effective pedagogy. Moreover, several teachers reported using their increased time to assess students and review data more frequently. In these cases, when class size reduction encouraged changes in practice, teachers reported stronger relationships with students, greater awareness of student needs, and higher quality instruction.
In school visits, it was common for stakeholders to discuss additional instructional time for struggling students, such as after school interventions, Saturday classes, new summer programs, and lunchtime tutoring sessions. School also sought to maximize the time that struggling students could spend in core subject areas: ELA and math. Several schools also mentioned adjusting their master schedules to ensure teachers provided additional instructional time for math and ELA.
Many schools used QEIA funding to upgrade existing and adopt new technology. Stakeholders commonly mentioned that schools purchased SMART Boards, additional classroom computers and handhelds to supplement instruction. Another common upgrade reported was student responders, or polling systems. In addition to strengthening instruction, technology upgrades enhanced the school climate and boosted morale.
Finally, several schools focused on bringing in enrichment programs focused on college awareness and readiness, character building, civic engagement, or art.
As part of QEIA, districts are required to define criteria for and ensure that exemplary administrators are in place at QEIA schools. This evaluation uncovered that the Exemplary Administrator requirement has not been fully realized in QEIA schools. The requirement was not part of the formal monitoring process for QEIA schools. Not surprisingly, findings suggest that there are very few instances of QEIAspecific district-created criteria for exemplary administrators.
While not much evidence was found in support of QEIA-specific criteria for exemplary administrators, data revealed several characteristics that teachers and parents identified as necessary for administrators to be exemplary (see Table 1). In interviews, school stakeholders overwhelmingly agreed that principals were critical to change processes: an effective principal was an essential ingredient for school success.
▼ Table 1 - Top 20 Characteristics of Exemplary Administrators
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION
Findings from the evaluation indicate that overall, about half of QEIA schools have been able to meet the implementation requirements of the program each of the last five years. According to county monitoring reports, when schools struggled to meet requirements, it tended to be in the areas of class size reduction or staffing (highly qualified teachers and the teacher experience index). Additionally, several QEIA schools were unable to meet API targets.
Consistent with the county monitoring results, in interviews, stakeholders commonly noted that the areas of greatest challenge for schools and districts were class size reduction and staff turnover – both due primarily to the ongoing financial crisis in California. Annual budget cuts at the state level have resulted in decreasing general funds for districts – leading to increases in class sizes that QEIA funds are simply too few to mitigate. In many cases, schools have used more of their funds to support decreasing classes than originally intended when the program began. Furthermore, annual reductions in the teaching force due to budget cuts have made it difficult for schools and districts to retain consistent staff and sustain momentum.
In order to combat challenges and secure funding, numerous schools and districts have submitted waiver applications to the State Board of Education to alter their individual accountability requirements in the areas of class size and staffing. As of March 2013, about 28% of schools had received a waiver from either the Class Size, Highly Qualified Teachers, Teacher Experience Index, and/or Williams Act requirements. Thus, 28% of QEIA schools have implemented a modified version of the reform.
Despite the challenges to implementation, many staff reported that QEIA afforded an opportunity to make essential changes to school structures, professional development, programs, pedagogy, and curriculum. These changes resulted in several positive impacts including improved school performance, school reputation, school climate, and parent involvement.
An examination of the API scores of QEIA schools remaining in the program (as of March 2013) reveals that schools, on average, have made gains in API. Prior to QEIA funding, current QEIA schools (N=355), were, on average, 26 points from the median API of their similar schools. By 2011/12, QEIA schools had reached and slightly surpassed the median API of similar schools by 1 point. The gains have been greatest for elementary schools: prior to QEIA, elementary schools were about 31 points from the median API of their similar schools. At the end of Year 5, elementary schools had surpassed the median API of their similar schools by 5 points. Moreover, all QEIA schools qualified for the program because they were in the bottom two deciles on the state’s API index. On average, over the five years of implementation, current QEIA schools (as of March 2013) moved up two deciles in the state rankings and one decile on the similar schools rank.
REPUTAT ION OF SCHOOLS
Many stakeholders indicated that their school’s reputation had improved largely due to the smaller class sizes, having extra resources, and making strides in student achievement. Overall, stakeholders commented on the improved opinions of colleagues, parents, and the greater community. Several schools reported being model schools in their districts due to prominent gains in student achievement.
Through QEIA, many stakeholders witnessed an improvement in morale, greater sense of community and teamwork, and deeper personal relationships with students due to CSR. QEIA also helped to facilitate closer relationships among faculty as well as an enhanced commitment and dedication to helping students achieve and be successful.
Several stakeholders commented on overall increases in parent involvement since QEIA began. A deeper level of commitment was described in some schools, as parents developed a greater understanding of how a school functions, how to apply their knowledge, and ask the right questions to best support their children academically and overall.