News & Resources
2022 Bright Spots: Unlocking Evidence
Posted on Thursday, February 9th, 2023 by Brittany Sullivan
Here, we highlight stories of how Overdeck Family Foundation funding has helped three grantees unlock evidence to advance field knowledge or validate program models through studies and research. To learn more about our funding efforts and read additional stories from our grantee partners, explore the 2022 Grantmaking & Impact Report.
Few educators receive adequate professional learning on grade-level standards and the curricular materials they use with students, hindering students’ access to lessons that meet their full potential. The evidence is evolving on which types of professional development models show improvements in teacher practice and student learning, with more work to be done to identify effective models.
Leading Educators works with school systems to design research-based cycles of professional learning that build teachers’ knowledge, skill, and confidence in using their curriculum effectively and equitably over the school year.
Leading Educators has participated in a series of studies that examine the model’s impact on both teachers and students, in an important contribution to learning about what works in teacher professional development. A quasi-experimental study conducted in 2022 produced emerging evidence that Leading Educators’ support for teachers and school leaders may increase the likelihood that students achieve proficiency or above on state math and ELA exams.
Also in 2022, Leading Educators conducted a randomized controlled trial focused on its Chicago, IL-based professional development program, Chicago Collaborative, to study the impact of teacher learning and coaching on student achievement. The rigorous RCT study design, which allows Leading Educators’ model to meet “Tier 1” evidence standards established by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), assessed the program’s impact on student achievement, and produced suggestive evidence of impact on students’ math scores after one year.
The commitment by Leading Educators to learn about its impact on key outcomes has also supported Leading Educators’ growth in service delivery. Over the past year, the organization has increased its educator reach by 568 percent, bringing impactful professional learning to more than 7,000 teachers and teacher leaders/coaches across the country.
Overdeck Family Foundation has funded Leading Educators’ work since 2016. Our general operating support has allowed Leading Educators to build its research and data capacity and unlocked opportunities for more scale and funding. Through our capacity-building strategy, we are also assisting Leading Educators in conducting a market assessment to identify which aspects of its model are best positioned to further scale impact.
While we know that school-family engagement contributes to better academic and socioemotional outcomes for students, research shows that minority immigrant parents are less likely to engage with schools and report more barriers to participation when compared to native-born parents.
TalkingPoints is a two-way messaging platform that helps schools and teachers communicate with families in their home languages, enabling stronger partnership to support student growth. In 2022, TalkingPoints conducted a quasi-experimental design study that sought to answer two questions:
- Did the use of TalkingPoints impact student academic outcomes and attendance?
- Did impact on student outcomes vary for different student groups, including groups disaggregated by race and ethnicity, special education status, and English language learner status?
The study, which allows TalkingPoints to meet ESSA “Tier 2” evidence standards, compared student achievement at schools that were early adopters of the TalkingPoints platform to students at schools that adopted the program model later. It reported that students at TalkingPoints schools whose families engaged with the platform had higher test scores, better grades, and lower absenteeism rates than those at schools that had not implemented TalkingPoints. This pattern was even more pronounced for traditionally underserved students, including Black students, Latino students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.
Alongside TalkingPoints’ commitment to building the evidence about its impact on family engagement and student achievement, the organization has continued to scale to meet school demand for its platform and reach more families. Between SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22, TalkingPoints increased student reach by 47 percent, reaching over two million students. Halfway through SY 2022-23, TalkingPoints is already reaching almost three million students.
Overdeck Family Foundation began funding TalkingPoints in 2020, when its impact was measured by teacher/family survey data and a modified feasibility study by WestEd conducted in 2018. Over the last two years, we have worked with the organization to build research and data capacity by growing the team and adding a Strategic Data Project Fellow, which positioned it to launch and complete this quasi-experimental study, showing emerging impacts from a low-cost, light-touch, and easily-scaled intervention.
Schools often delay access to grade-level work until all missing learning is remediated, but emerging lessons from technology-assisted learning platforms suggest that remediation may widen academic gaps.
Zearn Math, created by the nonprofit Zearn, is a top-rated math platform used by one in four elementary school students and more than one million middle school students nationwide. To identify strategies that most effectively catch up students each time they struggle in math, Zearn conducted a quasi-experimental study that examined the differences in student performance when directed to a learning “acceleration” versus remediational approach to math learning. Using internal data, Zearn examined how 600,000 individual elementary and middle school students across all 50 states responded to five million instances of learning acceleration and remediation in SY 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Zearn researchers found that when students were directed to an accelerated learning approach, they successfully completed twice the amount of grade-level lessons and struggled less in their overall math learning, compared to instances in which students were directed to a remediational approach.
As educators nationwide work collectively to help students address COVID learning loss, this research provides emerging evidence that learning acceleration may be a more effective approach than remediation—not just in educational technology platforms but perhaps in other applications, as well.
Zearn’s commitment to ongoing assessment of its Zearn Math platform, and its mission of increasing student achievement, has contributed to the organization’s growth momentum. Students have completed over 12 billion math problems on the platform to date and a recent statewide assessment of students with access to Zearn Math in Nebraska reported that students who were frequent, consistent users of Zearn had math scores 2.5 times higher than those of demographically-similar students who rarely or never used Zearn.
Overdeck Family Foundation has funded Zearn’s work since 2018. Our support for the organization has allowed it to strengthen the quality, implementation, and innovation of its digital K-8 curriculum, while increasing its ability to measure its impact at scale. Our capacity-building support has also assisted Zearn in conducting a market landscape assessment to inform its expansion goals as well as supported its engagement with Harvard’s Strategic Data Project, which will improve the organization’s capacity for data and analytics management.
Header image courtesy of PowerMyLearning