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National Study of Schools of Choice in NWEA

Assessment Intervention Learning Policy Training

Abstract

In this three-year study, we will compare achievement gains and growth in schools of choice with a matched comparison group of regular public schools. We will also compare the curriculum, instruction and organizational conditions in these schools that promote achievement. The study will partner Vanderbilt University with Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), and the existing partners in the NCSC (National Center on School Choice). For the schools that participate in the NWEA growth research database on student achievement, we will rely on a quasi-experimental design to compare schools of choice to a matched control group of regular public schools. In the spring of 2007 and 2008, we will administer principal and teacher surveys in about 280 schools of choice (charter, magnet, Catholic, other religious, and independent) and matched regular public schools. The data collected will allow for multi-leveling modeling strategies to estimate student achievement growth nested in students nested in teachers nested in schools--a rare quasi-experimental design across districts and school types. The research questions we will address include:

  • How do schools of choice (i.e., charters, magnets, Catholic, and other religious/independent schools) compare with matched regular public schools in terms of their achievement growth between 2005-2006 and 2007-2008?
  • How do schools of choice differ from regular public schools in terms of organizational conditions that promote achievement?
  • How do these school types differ in terms of the content and cognitive complexity of the curriculum and instruction?
  • What are the differences in alignment among instruction, curricular content standards, and assessments in schools of choice and regular public schools?
  • Are these curriculum, instruction, organizational, and alignment conditions related to achievement growth in reading, Language Arts, and mathematics? And do these relationships differ across teachers in schools of choice and regular public schools?

There have been many calls for understanding what is going on inside schools of choice. But never before has a study gathered the same measures across a wide array of conditions to examine differences among schools of choice and regular public schools. In addition, no study has been able to link measures for these conditions to student achievement growth in reading, Language Arts, and mathematics across a variety of local contexts with vertically equated test scores in the fall and spring across a number of school years. The findings from this study will advance our understanding of how and why schools of choice and regular public schools advance student achievement-critical information for policymakers, educators, and practitioners to pursue effective school choice reforms.