Throughout the first half of the year, our Foundation’s grantees have generated exciting research and evidence across our investment areas of early childhood, K-9, and out-of-school STEM. These research projects are aligned with our previously communicated vision for research, falling into three categories:
- validation of program models
- research aligned to each portfolio’s logic model and priority outcomes, and
- research about cross-cutting topics that have implications for all portfolios
Each area of research adds valuable insights to grantees’ respective fields while bolstering our foundation’s understanding of the education landscape and best practices that can support improvement in key academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children.
Aligned with our core value of “learn better, together,” Overdeck Family Foundation is committed to promoting transparent research practices by lifting up timely findings. We hope that other organizations and funders can then use these new data points to inform strategic decision making for the future.
Below are the results of seven grantee research studies that have concluded in Q2.
Can Beast Academy improve MAP assessment scores?
In 2021, Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) began piloting the National Entry Points program, which provides elementary school students licenses to Beast Academy, an advanced comic-based math program for students ages six to 13, created by the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS).
To better understand the impact of Beast Academy in the classroom, AoPS partnered with WestEd, a nonprofit research, development, and service agency, to conduct an evaluation to learn how two years of Beast Academy programming influenced student outcomes.
The independent evaluation measured the impact of Beast Academy on 1,027 students enrolled in grades two through four over a two-year period in Mankato Area Public Schools in Mankato, MN. The study found that students who used Beast Academy an average of 30 minutes per week gained one to two grade levels on their spring 2021 National MAP Assessment Scores, as compared to those who didn’t use Beast Academy. Additionally, the more Beast Academy lessons students attempted, the greater their increase in math achievement compared to students without Beast Academy exposure.
Students also reported increased attitudes and perceptions toward math across six domains, including higher levels of motivation, perseverance, and confidence in their ability to learn, as compared to their peers who did not use Beast Academy.
We’re encouraged by these positive outcomes and the unique pairing of Beast Academy’s high-quality online platform with the robust, personalized support of BEAM’s National Entry Points program.
Can PowerMyLearning positively impact students’ SEL skills and teacher confidence?
PowerMyLearning is a national education nonprofit that advances educational equity and accelerates students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) and academic achievement. During the 2021-22 school year, PowerMyLearning set out to examine if its SEL program “Nurture Student Growth Through Social Emotional Learning” improved students’ SEL competencies. The team captured data from first through sixth grade students, teachers, and families at a partner school in San Jose, CA.
The results of this study were positive: they found that the SEL program led to better student SEL skills, teacher confidence in supporting SEL, teacher-family relationships, and school climate.
Students had significantly better self-efficacy and significantly better self-management. Additionally, teachers were significantly more confident in supporting students’ SEL, including self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and sense of safety. The study also showed significant improvements in teacher-family relationships and school climate. These findings give PowerMyLearning confidence to scale the SEL program to additional partners, and will inform future teacher professional development.
Logic model & priority outcomes research
The promise of digital museum engagement
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) strives to increase general understanding of—and engagement with—science and technology, with a mission to champion and support science and technology centers and museums.
In a newly released research paper, ASTC explored and summarized existing literature surrounding digital engagement with museums and science centers, both pre-pandemic and during the height of the pandemic, to identify current trends, future workforce/field needs, and gaps in research.
Researchers explored how Covid created a dramatic increase in the digital engagement opportunities offered by museums, science centers, and informal learning institutions.
From 2019 to 2021, museums saw a 31 percent increase in people who visited an exhibit-based organization’s website, meaning many museums now find themselves grappling with how to expand and maintain these digital programs. Particular opportunities and challenges museums and centers must address relate to accessibility, engaging visitors online, collaboration, funding, staff burden, and effective evaluation. The paper points to a recent CUSEUM webinar that identified several themes for the future of museum digital engagement including hybrid experiences, flexible programming, focusing on visitor needs, revenue from digital sources, and understanding potential technological innovations.
Understanding the impact of virtual programming on early language, literacy, and learning
University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) is a leading research center that adds to the fields of early childhood brain, language, and cognitive development, highlighting new evidence-based practices and potential avenues for family intervention. One of the studies funded by Overdeck Family Foundation at I-LABS is focused on parent coaching and the usage of parentese, a specific speaking style that has been shown to draw babies’ attention. From previous research, I-LABS found that parents can be coached to speak more to their children and that these behaviors can positively influence brain development and predict later language achievement.
In the context of pandemic-induced shutdowns, many have been concerned about young children’s ability to learn through virtual programs. To study this further, I-LABS researchers adapted an in-person reading program to be delivered virtually and studied its impact.
Preliminary findings demonstrate that young children can indeed benefit from a well-structured, evidence-based reading instruction program, even if it’s online and short-term. Eighty-three participating five-year-olds received materials by mail and were grouped into different virtual rooms with sessions lasting three hours a day, including several breaks, activities, and story time. Researchers found that children who participated in the program improved significantly on phonological awareness and lowercase letters’ names and sounds compared to children who did not receive any of the programming.
In the next phase of this work, I-LABS will connect the two studies, by providing the virtual reading program to children who were previously enrolled in the parent coaching study. The researchers hypothesize that the enriched early language input produced by parent coaching will help prepare children to better respond to reading instruction and have long-term implications for learning to read.
Exploring trends in high-quality professional learning
Earlier this year, Rivet Education, which creates tools and services to support state and local education agencies in incorporating high-quality curriculum-aligned professional learning, partnered with Benenson Strategy Group to conduct a three-month study on the professional learning marketplace. Through this work, they hoped to better understand education leaders’ professional learning decision-making process, motivations, and key messages to build awareness about the need to provide high-quality, curriculum-aligned professional learning to teachers.
As a result of this study, Rivet Education released the 2022 Trends in High-Quality Professional Learning market report this spring.
Key findings included:
- Teachers desire curriculum-aligned professional learning from experts that is responsive to needs, collaborative, and ongoing.
- Few teachers (only one in three) currently find their regular opportunities for professional learning to be useful.
- Leaders and teachers are aligned on the key characteristics of high-quality professional learning, but leaders face competing priorities that make it challenging to provide the type of professional learning that meets these definitions.
- Leaders also struggle to access reliable information about the quality of professional learning providers and services in the marketplace.
Rivet hopes to use this report to make improvements to their Professional Learning Partner Guide, a curated list of vetted organizations, designed to help education leaders provide teachers with high-quality, curriculum-aligned professional learning.
Amplifying the perspectives of young people on their school experiences
In Fall 2021, Transcend, a nonprofit that supports communities to create and spread equitable learning environments, shared a set of discussion and survey tools based on the idea that educational redesign should start by talking to those for whom school matters most—young people themselves. Since this release, communities across the country have used these resources to speak directly to young people about their experiences in school. Through focus groups, interviews, and survey responses, Transcend gathered quantitative and qualitative data from over 20,000 young people in grades three through 12.
Six key insights emerged from this nationwide effort:
- Most young people say that their experiences in school feel irrelevant and offer few opportunities for agency and choice.
- Young people report that they learn most in school when their experiences feel highly relevant, rigorous, and customized.
- Many young people report that their best experiences in school happen outside of core academics—and these experiences are inequitably distributed.
- Many young people of all backgrounds are thinking about, talking about, and taking action to address social inequities—sometimes more than adults realize.
- Adults often report that listening to young people is dramatically helpful and increased their conviction in the necessity to rethink the design of school.
- When educators and kids talk together, it’s possible to co-design experiences that make dramatic shifts in experiences.
These insights can help adults everywhere learn more about the power of speaking directly to young people about their experiences in school, which can be used to accelerate redesign and innovation work happening within communities across the country.
Cross-cutting topic research
How to build stronger partnerships between home and school
Learning Heroes, an organization that supports parents and guardians as their child’s most effective education advocate, released its seventh annual national survey of parents and educators to lift up the state of family engagement across the country. The survey, Hidden in Plain Sight: A Way Forward for Equity-Centered Family Engagement, provides a look at the desires and concerns of more than 600 public school K-12 educators and 1,400 parents.
Notably, the survey found that parents prioritize direct and truthful information about their child’s performance in school, but their perception doesn’t always align with reality. Ninety-two percent say their child is at or above grade level in reading and math, while only 59 percent of teachers think most students will show up for grade-level work next school year. Further, 84 percent of parents report their child gets all B’s or above, likely a key driver of the perception gap.
However, parent understanding shifts when they are presented with multiple pieces of information. When asked to imagine the following: their child received a B on their report card in math, their child’s year-end state test results indicate they are below grade level in math, and their child’s results on other standardized tests indicate their child is below grade level in math, 57 percent of parents say they would be extremely or very concerned, and the eight percent who initially said their child was “below grade level” rises to 51 percent.
Overall, parents agree it will be essential for families and teachers to work closely together (89 percent) and to trust each other (84 percent) to help address the pandemic’s impact on their children’s learning. To learn more, watch short videos highlighting the research insights.
Thank you to Irene Chen, Melanie Dukes, Uchenna Ezibe, Gemma Lenowitz, and Katie Lim for your contributions to this blog post.
Header image courtesy of Transcend / Concourse Village Elementary School