Involvement Not Key to Student Progress, Study Finds
Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2005
Read the study at
A new study examining why similar California schools vary widely
in student achievement produced some surprising results:
Involved parents and well-behaved youngsters do not appear to
have a major effect on how well elementary students perform on
But four other factors seemed to count a lot more, at least when
combined in schools, according to EdSource, an independent group
that studies state education issues.
The study of lower-income schools found that the strongest
elements in high-performing schools are linking lessons closely
to state academic standards, ensuring there are enough textbooks
and other teaching materials, carefully and regularly analyzing
student performance and putting a high priority on student
achievement. The study's authors say that these criteria show
that poverty and other challenges need not keep students from
"Similar Students, Different Results," to be released today, was
headed by EdSource executive director Trish Williams and
Stanford professor Michael Kirst. The study focused on 257
public schools with substantial numbers of low-income, minority
students. Typically, 40% of them were still learning English.
Yet these schools' scores on the California Academic Performance
Index varied by up to 250 points on a scale of 200 to 1000.
Researchers promised the schools in the study anonymity.
The state assigns a single API score to a school based on how
its students perform on several standardized tests. The score
measures progress toward the state's goal of 800 for each school
and is widely used as an indicator of school quality.
The study provided an unusual look at how some schools, despite
the challenges their students face, manage to improve, even
without spending additional money to lengthen the instructional
day or hire more teachers, according to one of the lead
Some of the findings seem to fly in the face of widely held
beliefs that parental involvement is among the most important
reasons for school success and that academic achievement depends
largely on a family's education and income level.
"Lots of people believe that demographics determines
achievement," Williams said. "This shows that is not true."
The study also found that enforcing high student behavior
standards did not have much of an effect.
Williams noted that some of the highest-performing schools in
the study had some of the most challenging demographics; 19 of
the 44 schools with the highest scores are in urban
neighborhoods in or near Los Angeles.
The study did not include schools serving largely middle-class
or affluent families, which generally tend to score higher,
experts say, in part because well-educated parents are better
able to help their children succeed.
Nor did the study include charters, which are public schools
independent from school districts, and the lowest-performing
Kirst, the principal investigator on the study, said it turned
up practices that schools could implement without spending extra
money, such as putting more effort into analyzing test data and
rearranging budget priorities to ensure that every student has
an up-to-date textbook.
"These are not high-spending schools … but they are doing
relatively well," Kirst said.
He said he was surprised at how much time principals in the most
successful schools spent studying test data and making sure the
teaching was closely aligned with the state standards for each
subject and grade level.
"They were really managing instructional improvement," he said.
"It indicates the state accountability system is filtering down
to the classroom in the more successful schools."
Williams cautioned that the study's findings should not be taken
as a sign that such practices as involving parents or
encouraging collaboration among teachers should be discounted.
"We are not saying that parents or professional development are
not important," Williams said, noting that the study aimed to
highlight what successful schools were doing differently. "But
that is not what is making the difference here."
A nonpartisan organization that studies education issues in
California surveyed 257 public elementary schools to see which
practices were most closely related to high student achievement.
• Tying classroom instruction to state standards in academic
• Ensuring enough textbooks and other teaching aids
• Using test data to analyze instructional strengths and
• Making student achievement a top priority
• Enforcing high student behavior standards
• Encouraging teacher collaboration and professional development
• Involved and supportive parents
A typical school in the study had students with these
• 40% were still learning English
• 78% lived in poverty
• 32% had parents who were not high school graduates
• 66% of students were Latinos; 15% white; 8% African American;
6% Asian, and the rest Native American or other
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