blog posts and news stories

Empirical Education to Design a Multi-Year Evaluation of New GreatSchools Initiative

GreatSchools, a nonprofit provider of web-based resources for parents, has contracted with Empirical Education to design a multi-year evaluation of its initiative to empower parents to participate in their children’s development and educational success.

The initiative is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Bill Jackson, Founder and President of GreatSchools, wrote in his blog:

“More than a year ago, we began to consider: What more could we at GreatSchools do to improve education? How could we do more for our large audience of parents? And what could we do for low-income parents whose children face the steepest climb to college? Our answer: We should leverage the technology of our times to create a comprehensive parent-training program and support group that inspires and guides parents—especially low-income parents—to raise children who are ready for college.”


Welcome On Board, John Easton!

The Obama administration has named John Q. Easton, executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, as the new director of the Institute of Education Sciences. The choice will bring a new perspective to IES. The Consortium provides research support for local reforms and improvements in the Chicago Public Schools. While Dr. Easton is quoted in Education Week as saying he will retain the rigor that IES has made a priority, the Consortium’s work points to the importance of building local capacity for research to support reform. In a paper published online, Roderick, Easton, & Sebring (2009), he and his colleagues provide a clear and detailed rationale for their approach that includes the need for combining high quality research with the ability to cut through technical details to communicate both good and bad news to decision-makers. Empirical Education congratulates John Easton, and we look forward to working with him to replicate this model for research in school districts throughout the country.

Consortium on Chicago School Research: A New Model for the Role of Research in Supporting Urban School Reform, 22009. Melissa Roderick, John Q. Easton, and Penny Bender Sebring.


American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

In response to the recent announcements of education stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Empirical Education is now offering assistance to state and local education agencies in building local capacity for rigorous evaluations. Our MeasureResults system helps state and district planners answer questions about the effectiveness of schools and of locally implemented programs. The enhanced analytic capabilities built into the MeasureResults system enables school districts to conduct their own rigorous research with findings relevant to their localized setting, using their existing datasets. Read more about how Empirical Education can work with state and local education agencies to take full advantage of ARRA funding. Also see how we partner with publishers to provide research packages along with their product offerings.


Empirical Education Partners with NWEA to Research Virtual Control Groups

Northwest Evaluation Association, the leading provider of computer adaptive testing for schools, is partnering with Empirical Education to analyze the properties of its virtual control group (VCG) technologies. Empirical has already conducted a large number of randomized experiments in which NWEA’s “Measures of Academic Progress” (MAP) served both as pretest and posttest. The characteristics of a randomly assigned control group provide a yardstick in evaluating the characteristics of the VCG. The proposed research builds on extensive theoretical work on approaches to forming comparison groups for obtaining unbiased impact estimates from quasi-experiments.

In parallel to this theoretical analysis, NWEA and Empirical Education are cooperating in a nationwide comparison group (“quasi-”) experiment to estimate the impact of a basal reading program in wide use nationally. Taking advantage of the fact that MAP is in use in thousands of schools, Empirical will identify a group of schools currently using this reading program and testing their students’ reading using MAP and then select a well matched comparison group from non-users who also test with MAP. Characteristics of the schools such as SES, percent English learner, urbanicity, ethnicity, and geographic region, as well as prior reading achievement, will be used in identifying the comparison group.


Presentation at the Society for Research in Educational Effectiveness (SREE) Explores Methods for Studying Achievement Gaps

Frequently in Empirical Education’s experimental evaluations for school districts, the question of local concern is an achievement gap identified between two student groups. The analysis of these experiments also often finds significant differences between these subgroups in how effective the intervention was (that is, if it increased or decreased the gap) while not finding a significant overall difference. In his 2005 book, Howard Bloom suggested why there may be more statistical power to detect subgroup differences than to detect the average effect. The exploration presented at SREE, which was held in Washington March 1-3, examined the statistical characteristics of eight experiments conducted over the last three years to find out whether a critical assumption of Bloom’s approach held. His assumption is that the average performance gap does not vary across the units that are randomized. The work, led by Andrew P. Jaciw, Empirical Education’s Director of Experimental Design and Analysis, found that the assumption held. This finding is important because it suggests that local experiments focusing on achievement gaps may be less expensive than experiments addressing only the overall average effect of an intervention. (Click here for a copy of the poster and handout.)

Bloom, H. S., (2005). Randomizing groups to evaluate place-based programs. In H. S. Bloom (Ed). Learning More From Social Experiments. New York, NY: Sage.


Methods for Local Experimental Evaluation of STEM Initiatives Presented to State Legislators

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) presented a seminar for education committee chairs January 9-11 in Huntsville, Alabama, home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The topic was “Linking Research and Policy to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education.” Empirical Education‘s president, Denis Newman, presented the company‘s research on the Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative, an 80-school randomized experiment being conducted as part of its contract with the Regional Education Laboratory for the Southeast. The presentation also drew on findings from experiments the company has conducted to evaluate STEM initiatives elsewhere in the country to illustrate the importance of local research goals and characteristics in evaluation design. The seminar was part of a series on research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. (Click here for a copy of the presentation.)


New MeasureResults® Webpage

Empirical Education clients and partners can now keep track of the latest MeasureResults developments on our new webpage. The webpage features video clips that explain how MeasureResults’ online interface can be used to set up and conduct school level studies, as well as details about the design and development of program features. Updates and announcements will be posted on a regular basis. In addition to serving our existing MeasureResults subscribers, Empirical Education is currently developing a custom-designed MeasureResults tool for use in more than ten school districts for a high-school math effectiveness study. For more information about MeasureResults, email Robert Smith.


Empirical Education Focuses on Local Characteristics at the 14th Annual CREATE Conference

Empirical Education staff presented at the National Evaluation Institute’s (NEI) 14th annual CREATE conference in Wilmington, North Carolina. Both presentations focused on the local characteristics of the evaluations. Dr. Denis Newman, president of Empirical Education, and Jenna Zacamy, research manager, presented a randomized experiment which evaluated the impact of a pre-algebra curriculum (Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor Bridge to Algebra) being introduced in a pilot program in the Maui School District. The district adopted the program based in part on previous research showing substantial positive results in Oklahoma (Morgan & Ritter 2002). Given the unique locale and ethnic makeup in Maui, a local evaluation was warranted. District educators were concerned in particular with their less experienced teachers and with ethnic groups considered at risk. Unlike in prior research, we found no overall impact although for the algebraic operations subscale, low scoring students benefited from being in the Cognitive Tutor classes indicating that the new program could help to reduce the achievement gaps of concern. We also found for the overall math scale that uncertified teachers were more successful with their Cognitive Tutor classes than their conventional classes. Dr. Newman also presented work co-authored with Marco Muñoz and Andrew Jaciw on a quasi-experimental comparison, conducted by Empirical Education and Jefferson County (KY) schools, of an activity-based middle-school science program (Premier Science) to more traditional textbook programs. All the data were supplied by the district including a rating of quality of implementation. The primary pretest and outcome measures were tests of science and reading achievement. While there was no discernible difference overall, poor readers gained more from the non-textbook approach, helping to diminish an achievement gap of concern to the district.


Reports Released on the Effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor

The Maui School District has released results from a study of the effect of Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor (CT) on long-term course selections and grade performance. Building upon two previous randomized experiments on the impact of CT on student achievement in Algebra I and Pre–algebra, the study followed the same groups of students in the year following their exposure to CT. The research did not find evidence of an impact of CT on either course selection or course grade performance for students in the following school year. The study also found no evidence that variation among ethnicities in both the difficulty of course taken and course grade received depended on exposure to CT.

A concurrent study was conducted on the successes and challenges of program implementation with the teachers involved in the previous CT studies. The study took into account teachers’ levels of use and length of exposure to CT; the descriptive data comprised surveys, classroom observations, and interviews. The major challenges to implementation included a lack of access to resources, limited support for technology, and other technological difficulties. After 3 years of implementation, teachers reported that these initial barriers had been resolved; however teachers have yet to establish a fully collaborative classroom environment, as described in the Carnegie Learning implementation model.

Maui School District is the company’s first MeasureResults subscriber. A similar research initiative is being conducted at the community college level with The Maui Educational Consortium. The report for this study will be announced later this year.


Five Presentations Accepted for AERA 2009

Empirical Education will be heading to sunny San Diego next April! Once again, Empirical will have a strong showing at the 2009 American Educational Research Association conference, which will be held in downtown San Diego on April 13-17, 2009. Our presentations will span several divisions, including Learning & Instruction, Measurement & Research Methodology, and Research, Evaluation, & Assessment in Schools. Research topics will include:

As a follow-up to our successful 2008 AERA New York reception at Henri Bendel’s Chocolate Room, Empirical Education plans to host another “meet and greet” at this year’s conference as well. Details about the reception will be announced on our website soon.