Monday, September 12, 2016

Chapter IV. Research Findings


In the following section, I present my research findings through the lens of identified themes in the literature review. The purpose of this research was to study practices for recruiting and engaging students of color in STEM curricula, as well as established structures for creating a culturally relevant school culture (e.g.: an effective learning organizations). Throughout the discussion of my findings, I address my research questions: (a) What elementary school structures support students in STEM curricular areas? (b) Do these supports differ for underperforming subgroups of students? and (c) What are the components of elementary STEM opportunities to learn that foster interest, participation, and academic success in STEM content areas, especially for these subgroups of students? First, I describe the demographics of each participating elementary school of our partner urban school district. Next, I outline the predominant findings from our survey analysis. Based the review of literature, students who participate in STEM instructional activities collaboratively engage in (a) critical thinking; (b) scientific inquiry; (c) applying specific content knowledge to real world contexts; (d) the engineering design process; (e) evidence-based reasoning and argumentation; and (f) effective written and oral communication. I end by discussing the quantitative and qualitative data (as organized by my original research questions) while discussing the terms for STEM foundational thinking and instructional activates defined in the first chapter. I describe these findings in relation to our modified conceptual framework.

Partner School District Demographic

The elementary schools that participated in this mixed-methods, multi-site comparative case study with the Center for Practice Engaged Education Research (C-PEER) are located within a large urban district in Colorado. The partner district serves approximately 80,000 students in 162 schools and has a graduation rate of 52.7%. Enrollment, by race/ethnicity for the school district is 58.4% Hispanic, 19.8% White, 14.6% African-American, 3.3% Asian, 0.7% American Indian, and 3.1% other. Additional demographic groupings of students within the district include 72.49% of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch and 31% of the students who are identified as English Language Learners.

School Profiles

Our primary objective for this overarching “Schools as effective learning organizations” mixed-methods multi-site, comparative case study was to focus on understanding what constitutes an effective learning community through the lens of STEM-foundational thinking. By analyzing effective school learning communities through surveying multiple elementary schools, we were able to craft a narrative of what is occurring both inside and outside the classroom and what supports or hinders a STEM mindset in students, especially students of color. Therefore, I begin by presenting a snapshot of each participating elementary school (using pseudonyms), discussing student body demographics, student academic achievement, student growth, and any other relevant factors to STEM-foundational thinking. I then present my formal findings overall (both quantitative and qualitative) in relation to our modified activity system framework from Yamagata-lynch and Smaldino (2007). My discussion is meant to begin a conversation about both students of color as STEM learners and teachers as STEM-foundational thinking facilitators that will increase the participation of racially marginalized students in STEM instructional activities.

          Annie easley elementary. Annie Easley Elementary is located in an urban area of Colorado surrounded by residential housing, a neighborhood community center, and other community organizations and businesses. A diverse, student population of 460 students with a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds exists at Annie Easley (97.8% Free and Reduced Lunch, 63.2% English Language Learners, 9.2% Special Education, and 84.3% Students of color). Annie Easley’s “Caring Community of Learners” promotes a safe, caring and respectful learning environment. The children attending Annie Easley Elementary are from a wide variety of multicultural families. These are Latin, White, Asian, Native American, African American, and African. Students at Annie Easley Elementary scored proficient and advanced on TCAP Reading between the years of 2009-2014 (37%, 34%, 32%, 41%, 49%, and 45%), resulting in a slightly upward trend that is 27% below the State expectation of 72%. In Writing students at Annie Easley scored proficient and advanced on TCAP Writing between the years of 2009-2014 has been 24%, 18%, 24%, 23%, 31%, and 34%, resulting in a slightly upward trend that is 21% below the State expectation of 55%. In Math, students scored proficient and advanced on TCAP Math between the years of 2009-2014 has been 36%, 36%, 38%, 38%, 49%, and 57%, resulting in an upward trend that is 13% below the State expectation of 70%. Students overall at Annie Easley Elementary scoring proficient and advanced in all TCAP content areas are significantly below the state expectation. Reading is 27% below the State expectation of 72%. Writing is 21% below the State expectation of 55%. Math is 13% below the State expectation of 70%.
Figure 17. Annie Easley elementary demographic information

          Benjamin banneker elementary. Benjamin Banneker School is located in an urban Colorado school district and serves a diverse community of learners. They serve students ECE (Preschool) through 8th grade. Due to the small setting of two classrooms per grade level, Benjamin Banneker offers a small community feel that supports students learning through. Teachers are able to make personal connections with students and build relationships that support students creating the college and career readiness mindset. Benjamin Banneker Elementary has 484 enrolled students with a demographic of 75.2% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), 22.3% English Language Learners (ELL), 9.5% Special Education (SPED), and 59.3% Students of Color. The percentage of our students scoring proficient and advanced on the reading standardized tests (TCAP/CSAP) has remained stable from 2009 to 2014 (52, 58, 55, 58, 58, 52) and is 30 points below the state’s expectation of 72 percentile. The median growth percentile (MGP) for students on the reading TCAP/CSAP has decreased from 2012-2014 (63 percentile, 59 percentile, 43 percentile) and is seven points below the state’s median of 50 percentile. The MGPs for males on the reading TCAP/CSAP have decreased from 2012-2014 (63 percentile, 50 percentile, 44 percentile for elementary students (PreK-5) and 60 percentile, 54 percentile, 36 percentile for Middle School students Grades 6-8). These are below the state’s median of 50 percentile.

Figure 18. Benjamin Banneker elementary demographic information

          Richard spikes elementary. Richard Spikes Elementary school is a traditional neighborhood school in Northwest Colorado currently serving 550 students, grades Preschool through fifth grade. Richard Spikes Elementary houses a magnet program for students identified as Highly Gifted and Talented (GT), as well as, a special education center program for students with Autism. Richard Spikes’s population consists of 40% of students who receive Free/Reduced Lunch and 38% of student who are Hispanic and 59% of students who are White. Additionally, 5% of Richard Spikes’s students speak a language other than English at home, 7% receive special education support and 20% receive gifted and talented services.

Figure 19. Richard Spikes elementary demographic information

Based on an analysis of the school performance data, Richard Spikes teachers have high levels of achievement in the school, as compared to the other participating schools in this study. Richard Spikes earned the “Meets Expectations” rating on the school district’s School Performance Framework (LEAP), which includes being rated “Meets Expectations” for Achievement Status and “Approaching Expectations” for Achievement Growth. Additionally, they met expectations for state requirements for Academic Achievement in reading, writing and math; Academic Growth was “Meets Expectations” for reading and writing and “Approaching” for math; and they are rated “Approaching” for Growth Gaps. In 2014, 76% of 3-5th graders are proficient/advanced in reading with 11% advanced in reading. 67% of 3rd-5th graders are proficient/advanced in mathematics with 36% being advanced in math. The number of students scoring in the unsatisfactory range on the 2014 standardized testing (TCAP) was 8% in reading, 9% in math, and 6% in writing for all 3rd-5th grade students. Standardized test achievement growth, Median Growth Percentile (MGP) improved from 2013 to 2014 in reading from 50.5 percentile to 54 percentile and increased in math from 45 percentile to 46.5 percentile. Though Richard Spikes has consistently demonstrated comparatively high levels of achievement within the district, especially in reading and mathematics, there are concerns about the low percentage of students who are Hispanic who score proficient/advanced in reading, writing and math. The percent of students who are White who score proficient/advanced in reading was 91%, in writing was 72% and math was 84% while the percentage of students who are Hispanic who score proficient/advanced in reading was 57%, in writing was 31% and in math was 45%. Therefore, the teachers at Richard Spikes have prioritized achievement of students who are Hispanic. Teachers at Richard Spikes are concerned about the low achievement growth in math (MGP). School-wide writing growth is increasing and above 50 percentile (44 percentile in 2009 to 49 percentile in 2010, 59 percentile in 2011, 54 percentile in 2012, 61 percentile in 2013, and 55 percentile in 2014 ). School-wide reading growth is slowly increasing and above 50 percentile (47 percentile in 2009, 53.5 percentile in 2010, 54 percentile in 2011, 54 percentile in 2012, 50.5 percentile in 2013, 54 percentile in 2014). However, the math MGP is at 46.5 percentile (42 percentile in 2009, 43 percentile in 2010, 40 percentile in 2011, 49 percentile in 2012, 45 percentile in 2013 46.5 percentile in 2014), which is below the minimum goal of 50. Therefore, teachers at Richard Spikes prioritized math achievement growth as a priority need.

          Elijah mccoy elementary. Students overall at Elijah McCoy Elementary have had persistent low achievement across all content areas that has resulted in a downward trend over the last 6 years, and are well below the state expectations in all subject areas. They have not made adequate growth in any content area as determined by the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Figure 20. Elijah McCoy elementary demographic information

          Aprille Ericsson Elementary. Aprille Ericsson Elementary student demographics are: 94% Students of color, 95% Free and Reduced Lunch, 35% ELL's and 13% Special Education. The school went through the Turnaround process beginning in 2010, with new leadership and new staff (28% of previous staff remained). The staff has remained constant throughout the last three years, with the exception reductions of staff due to decreased enrollment. The school has enrollment rate has fluctuated in the last three years due to redevelopment of the Mariposa Housing Project. Families have been relocated during this process, and enrollment has dropped from 461 in the school year 2011-12 to 395 in school year 2012-2013 to 379 in the 2013-2014 school year. However, the 2014-2015 academic school year enrollment has increased to 410 as families have returned after the relocation.
Figure 21. Aprille Ericsson elementary demographic information

          Mae jemisson elementary. Mae Jemisson Elementary is an Expanded Learning Opportunities neighborhood school in the Southwest Network of an urban school district area. Johnson’s enrollment in 2014-15 is 444 students: 97.1% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), 91.1% Minority, 63.9% English Language Learners (ELL), and 8.2% Special Education (SPED). Johnson is part of the district’s extended learning program, increasing instructional time for students by 70 minutes a day and doubling the required amount of planning time for teachers. Community partners and citywide organizations offer enrichments during the extended day, expanding the knowledge and experiences of Johnson students. Mae Jemisson Elementary is currently a “Meets Expectations” or green school on the School Performance Framework (LEAP) with the majority of students not yet proficient and at acceptable levels of academic growth for the next highest category. Over the past three years, the school has changed accreditation categories moving from “Accredited” on Probation red in 2012 to our current rating as “Meets Expectation” green in 2014. Johnson meets expectations in growth, but does not meet expectations in status. The school is approaching expectations on student engagement and satisfaction at 33.3%. They meet expectations for reenrollment at 75.0% and meet expectations for parent satisfaction and engagement at 62.5%. Similarly, Mae Jemisson Elementary met its UIP performance targets in academic growth and growth gaps, but did not meet its performance targets in academic achievement. The magnitude of the performance challenges for Mae Jemisson Elementary is great. In order to meet state expectations for proficiency, Johnson is trying to increase achievement levels in reading by 30.95%, in writing by 30.8%, in math by 33.8%, and in science by 45%, substantially increasing the number of students who currently score proficient or advanced.

Figure 22. Mae Jemisson Elementary demographic information

          Quantitative data trends. Jemisson’s three greatest successes, as indicated by quantitative data trends, include: (a) Upward growth trends for the last 2 years in Access scores with an increase in Median Growth Percentile (MGP) up to 75.5; (b) Student Performance Framework (SPF) over the past 3 years from “Accredited” on Probation red in 2012 to “Accredited” on Watch yellow in 2013, to their current rating as “Meets Expectations” green in 2014 (LEAP, 2015); (c) Reading, writing, and math all averaging an MGP of 55 percentile. The two key concerns in terms of quantitative data trends include: (a) The percentage of students overall at Johnson scoring proficient or advanced on TCAP Reading, Writing, Math and Science are significantly below the state expectations: Reading 40.7% (71.65%), Math 37.06% (70.89%), Writing 22.73% (53.52%), and Science 3% (47.53%); (b) Johnson’s MGPs are below the Median Adequate Growth Percentiles (MAGP) necessary for students to reach proficiency within three years: Reading MGP 49 (MAGP 57), Math MGP 53 (MAGP 74), and Writing MGP 59 (MAGP 68).

          Qualitative data trends. Mae Jemisson Elementary has leveraged its expanded learning time to restructure and increase instructional time and teacher planning time. The three things that accomplished during the 2014-2015 academic school year were: (a): Longer teaching (192 hours) and more direct instruction (35% increase); (b) Supplemental instruction including targeted 45 minutes of daily enrichment and academic language support and 45 minutes per day of best practice flooding model for reading intervention; and (c) 80 minutes twice a week for professional learning communities which consist of collaborative teacher data analysis. The school’s three greatest achievements, as indicated by qualitative data, include: (a) Positive, values-based school culture, students and staff (see Technical report); (b) Student learning is maximized through expanded learning, intervention and enrichment; and (c) Academic and behavioral interventions and supports are in place for struggling students. When asked to describe the school environment, 43% of teacher respondents indicated the overall culture was positive. 25% associated the environment with terminology linked to school value statements (see Technical report). Three concerns that emerged from the qualitative data analysis include: (a) Instruction is not always intentional, engaging, or effectively aligned to Common Core state standards or with the LEAP framework in mind (38% of teacher respondents); (b) Assessment results are not used in a timely manner to systematically make responsive adjustments to instruction (42% of teacher respondents); and (c) Students know and act with school values when it comes to behavior, but fail to transition them in relation to their academic performance (44% of teacher respondents) (see Technical report for more details).

          Shirley jackson elementary. Shirley Jackson Elementary is a small school in an urban CO school district, serving students Preschool through the fifth grade. They have three classrooms for students with significant special education needs. Students who qualify for free/reduced lunch over the past 4 years have increased from 76% to 81%. The current demographic of Shirley Jackson is 66% Hispanic, 24% White, and 10% “other” (Vietnamese, African American, Native American and multiple). Approximately 16% of Shirley Jackson’s students receive services through an ELA pull-out model with a qualified ESL resource teacher and all teachers are ELA-E certified. Approximately 20% of the school’s students have an IEP. The percentage of Proficient and Advanced students overall at Shirley Jackson Elementary on TCAP reading between the years of 2009-2013 has been 56%, 51%, 47%, 53% & 61% resulting in stability until 2012 where upon there was an increase of 8%, which is less than the state expectation of 72%. The percentage of Proficient and Advanced students overall at Shirley Jackson on TCAP math between the years 2009-2013 has been 45%, 58%, 56%, 47% & 55% resulting in a slight increase that is 16% below the state expectation of 71%. The percentage of Proficient & Advanced students overall at Shirley Jackson Elementary on TCAP writing between the years of 2009-2013 has been 36%, 41%, 41%, 40% and 44% resulting in a very slight upward trend that is an 8% increase but 10% below the state expectation of 54%. The percentage of Proficient & Advanced students in our ELL/non-ELL group at Shirley Jackson Elementary on TCAP math between the years 2009-2013 has been 38, 52, 36, 33 & 32 resulting in a downward trend of a 28% gap.
Figure 23. Shirley Jackson elementary demographic information

Each participating elementary school is ranked in terms of performance levels as determined by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) School Performance Framework (see Table 2). “Performance Plan” schools are meeting or exceeding statewide expectations on the four performance indicators, which include academic achievement, academic growth, academic growth gaps, and postsecondary/workforce readiness. The CDE determines that “Improvement Plan” schools are just below statewide expectations on the four performance indicators. “Priority Improvement Plan” level schools score moderately below the statewide expectations on the four performance indicators, while “Turnaround Plan” level schools perform significantly below the statewide expectations on the four performance indicators. If a school remains on a “Priority Improvement” or “Turnaround” status for five consecutive school years, the Colorado Board of Education will direct the district to either restructure, or close the school.

Elementary School
CDE Performance Rating
Richard Spikes
Performance (66.3%)
Shirley Jackson
Performance (64%)
Annie Easley
Performance (54.7%)
Benjamin Banneker
Improvement (61.5%)
Mae Jemison
Improvement (53.5%)
Elijah McCoy
Priority Improvement (48.2%)
Aprille Ericsson
Turnaround- Year 4 (40%)

Table 2. Participating school performance ratings (from Colorado Department of Education)