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A qualitative study of best practice strategies used to prevent student grade retention prior to third grade

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Cynthia Larkin-Williams
Abstract:
This dissertation was a qualitative study of best practice strategies used to prevent student grade retention prior to third grade. The study examined two demographically similar schools in an economically disadvantaged area of Miami, Florida. This study focused on the ability of these two schools to meet state standards. The objectives included reviewing a variety of research-based supplemental instructional materials and examining best practice teaching strategies at each school, one with a grade of B or better and another with a grade of C or less on the state accountability scale. Failure to improve scores would lead to a negative evaluation of the school, possible penalties for the teacher, and the retention of low performing students. To gather the necessary data, the researcher surveyed 20 teachers, ten from each school. The researcher used a qualitative study methodology to examine similarities and differences in the implementation of supplemental instruction and best practices in the respective educational programs. Through the teachers' responses, instructional testing, and interim data provided by the schools' principals, the researcher sought to determine what factors lead to successful interventions. The researcher found that despite their different grades, both schools employed similar supplemental instructional programs that included computer assisted learning and targeted tutoring. The teachers in both schools strongly believe that retention decisions should include both test results and teacher observations. Equally important, the research concluded that the teachers were justified in their belief that retention is not a sound remedy for improving student performance compared to implementing best practices.

Table of Contents Chapter I: Introduction 1 Purpose of Study 3 Definition of Terms 4 Problem Statement 7 Significance of Study 7 Limitations of Study 8 Intended Audience 9 Organization of Study 10 Chapter II: Literature Review 12 Retention 14 Pro-Retention Advocates 15 Anti-Retention Advocates 15 Alternatives to Retention 25 Supplemental Instruction 26 Engaging the Literature 27 Summary and Need for Research 28 Chapter III: Method 30 Name of Method 30 Definition of Method 30 Research Subjects 32 Instruments 32 Data Gathering Procedures 34 vii

Data Analysis 36 Small Samples 36 Informed Consent 37 Human Subject Protection 37 Summary of Procedures 37 Chapter IV: Results 38 The setting 38 School A 39 School B 41 Data collection 44 Data analysis 46 Questions 51 Triangulation 57 Chapter V: Discussion 61 Implications 65 Limitations of the study 66 Recommendations 67 References 68 Appendices 73 Appendix A: Summary of Study 73 Appendix B: Informed Consent 77 Appendix C: Survey Questions 78 viii

Best Practices 1 Chapter I: Introduction This was a qualitative study of best practice strategies used to prevent student grade retention prior to third grade. The advent of No Child Left Behind (2001) and its progeny - school accountability and statewide testing - fostered a surge in research-based instructional practices and penalties aimed at low performing students (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007;). The core idea of No Child Left Behind is a questionable concept—that all children can be brought up to grade level or proficiency through the implementation of proper practices; this ignores the variables inherent in working with people, such as: disparities in instruction, wide variations in student abilities, and student readiness based on exposure to emergent literacy upon entering school (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). Still, to satisfy the public, federal and state mandates were issued and states and school districts have implemented a host of practices aimed at reducing the number of students who perform poorly on standardized tests and require retention in early grades (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). When students perform poorly, No Child Left Behind mandates that they be retained (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). States like Florida and Texas and school districts in Miami, New York City and Chicago have adopted this "perform or be retained" policy to counteract public and legislative criticisms and to eliminate the old standard of social promotion (Greene & Winters, 2006). There is some real question as to whether retention is the best means of ensuring that low performing students get the assistance they need (Bowman, 2005). Greene and Winters (2006, p. 2) argue for retention showing that students who received social

Best Practices 2 promotion only fell farther behind while retained students who receive supplemental instruction "appear to be able to catch up on the skills they are lacking." Conversely, Lazarus and Ortega (2007) argue that retention is a practice that is deleterious to students and suggests that educators should seek out viable alternatives such as universal pre- kindergarten for dealing with students who fall behind their peers academically because they do not have the fundamentals. This is to suggest that children are not receiving a strong foundation prior to kindergarten and would benefit from participating in a pre- kindergarten classroom. Using a longitudinal approach, Jimerson and Ferguson (2007) found that retention was not effective and had the side effect of increased aggression in retained students. Guevremont, Roos, and Brownell (2007) indicated that retention leads to dropping out in later grades and only 25% of retained students in third grade improve their scores. These disparate points of view raised the question of whether viable alternatives are needed to state mandated retention (Bowman, 2005; Jimerson & Ferguson, 2007; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). The question then is: what alternatives to retention are worth pursuing? Numerous research-based programs have come about since the onset of mandatory testing and retention; however, one of the most practical approaches is universal pre- kindergarten because it allows for early intervention and formative assessments to guide future instructional designs within a school (Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). Wilson and Hughes (2006) found that Latino students scored better when they were enrolled in early literacy programs. Nancy Protheroe (2007) found a multiplicity of approaches that help to varying degrees including: aligning instruction with state and local educational standards; utilizing formative assessments; offering more professional development for

Best Practices 3 teachers; extending learning days, and implementing early intervention with pre-school students. One of the most common best practices is supplemental instruction (e.g., tutoring, extended learning, or other forms of extra-classroom assistance) for low performing students who are in danger of being retained (Campbell, Helf & Cook, 2008; Ketterlin-Geller, Chard, & Fien, 2008; Musti-Rao & Cartledge, 2007). Purpose of the Study The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the best practices of two schools and how these practices enable these schools to meet state guidelines. Schools in Florida and Miami use grade retention rather than instruction as the first option for children already at risk of failure. This research study explored the ability of these schools to meet state guidelines using supplemental instructional materials. Teachers in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade were asked about teaching strategies and best practice methods used to build higher achievement for students at risk of retention. Florida, which encompasses the Miami-Dade County Public School System, requires retention when students do not score at Level 2 or higher on its standardized test by third grade (Greene & Winters, 2006). Criteria for grades A, B, C, D, and F are as follows: These points are added together and converted into a school grading scale shown below in Table 1. Table 1 2007 School Grading Scale Grade A B C D F Total points 525 and above 495-524 435-494 395-434 Less than 395

Best Practices 4 Florida grades its schools with a grade of A or B being considered successful and C or less as in need of improvement (Greene & Winters, 2006). Definition of Terms The following terms were commonly used in this study. In order to keep focus, the researcher described how the terms were to be interpreted in the context of this study because they have a wider use elsewhere. For the purposes of this study, the researcher will rely upon the following definitions: High performing refers to a school which earns a grade of A or B on its state testing and accountability system. Instructional strategies refer to classroom instruction and additional supplemental academic support such as tutoring, computer assisted learning, research-based programs, and work stations used to assist students who have trouble learning solely during regular instruction. Best practices refer to specific instructional or non-instructional techniques, tools, and methods used to provide educational re-enforcement to students scoring within the lowest 25% of interim testing. Low performing school refers to a school which earned a grade of C or less on its state testing and accountability system. Regular instruction refers to classroom instruction during normal school hours. Retention refers to the administrative decision to hold a student in his/her present grade because of inadequate academic progress that may result from poor test results, poor class work, absenteeism, and similar problems.

Best Practices 5 School refers to elementary school where students attend grades K-5 as defined by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Supplemental instruction refers to before, during, after school and Saturday tutoring, extended learning days or school years, computer assisted instruction, research-based programs or other strategies to assist low performing students in test preparation and classroom learning. This term also includes materials used for students placed in remedial intervention strategies. Teachers refer to classroom instructors in grades K-3 who teach foundational principles of education that are vital for students' future academic success. Research-based programs refer to commercial or university produced reading and mathematics programs designed to assist low performing students in reading, mathematics, and other core subjects. Effectiveness refers to the ability of these schools to meet state standards. Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is a part of Florida's overall plan to increase student achievement by implementing higher standards. The FCAT, administered to students in Grades 3-11, consists of criterion-referenced tests (CRT) in mathematics, reading, science, and writing. The FCAT measures student progress toward meeting the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) benchmarks. School Improvement Plan (SIP) refers to the District Strategic Plan which list prioritized goals and objectives of the District and describes the process for moving toward their attainment through the use of data driven information. The plan also assists the school district in the development of the District Strategic Plan, which aligns with the District's mission of providing the highest quality education to all students.

Best Practices 6 Pupil Progression Plan or Student Progression Plan (PPP or SPP) refers to a plan used by Miami Dade County Public School System which establishes and requires procedures for student progression within Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M- DCPS). The Student Progression Plan presents the "Student Progression Requirements and Procedures for K-12 and Adult Education Students," including the "Student Progression Requirements and Procedures for Exceptional Education Students." The document is divided into six parts: I. General Procedures for Student Progression, Grades K-12 and Adult II. Promotion and Placement in the Elementary School III. Promotion and Placement in the Middle School IV. Promotion and Placement in the Senior High School and Adult Education V. Appendices VI. Summaries of State and Local Requirements related to Student Progression Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) refers to the web-based data base that schools and districts can use to enter student performance results and create reports based on scores from DIBELS and literacy measures for native Spanish speakers called IDEL. The data system tracks and measures progress at the student, class, school, and district levels. Reports can be created immediately after scores are entered, providing immediate feedback and allowing for timely decision making. The DIBELS data system is operated by the Center on Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of Oregon and has been serving schools across the U.S. and internationally since 2001. Voyager Passport refers to a comprehensive reading intervention program that meets the needs of all struggling readers. It targets the priority skills and strategies that the

Best Practices 7 students' regular textbooks only mention. Research-based daily lessons, frequent progress monitoring, and Ticket to Read technology practice make Voyager Passport a very helpful tool for students trying to improve reading comprehension. Problem Statement The study attempts to address the problem of student grade retention prior to third grade. The research questions in this study were: 1) What similarities have been discovered between research-based supplemental instructional materials and promotion/ retention of remedial students? 2) Should academic success and retention/promotion practices be judged solely on grades received in class or should student promotion/ retention be based on assessment exams? 3) What types of best practices are schools providing for students who need extra academic assistance to qualify for promotion? 4) Is additional instruction considered a best practice response to low performance more than the punitive measure of retention? To answer these questions, the researcher surveyed and interviewed 20 teachers, ten from each school, to evaluate the educational models being used to address students who were at risk of retention and to evaluate best practices utilized in the classroom. Significance of the Study The necessity of the study emanated from the wrongful and sometimes excessive use of retention as a motivation for improvement when research clearly demonstrates that additional instruction is really the proper response (Guevremont et al., 2007; Jimerson and Ferguson, 2007; Noguera, 2003). The study compared the best practice strategies at two public elementary schools, one high achieving and one low achieving. The objective was to examine the teaching practices at the two schools to determine how each tried to

Best Practices 8 prevent student retention prior to third grade. Given the advent of statewide testing for school accountability, teachers are under duress to have students show progress. Unfortunately, students bare the brunt of failure in the student-teacher relationship because it is the student that gets retained. A review of the literature demonstrated that retention at the level of third grade is considered a vital tool in providing students with needed remediation. As stakes have risen with accountability testing, so have the number of children impacted by retention; however, this has raised serious questions about whether the practice is beneficial to children whose learning is deficient. Many scholars feel that the negative effects of retention may outweigh the benefits students received from remediation. The researcher believed that implementing and monitoring these best practices rather than retention was a better remedy. The researcher used a qualitative case study methodology to closely examine each school to see how they assisted children at risk of retention by implementing best practices. The researcher chose two schools: one considered high performing (i.e., a grade of A or B) and another considered low performing (i.e., a grade of C or less). The comparative model allowed the researcher to look for similarities and differences in how the respective educational programs were implemented. Through the teachers' responses, the researcher sought to determine what factors might lead to a successful intervention. Limitations of the Study The researcher here acknowledged that the results of this study must be considered in light of several limitations. First, the researcher has used a small sample. Small samples are justifiable in qualitative studies because the goal of such a study is to

Best Practices 9 examine the depth of experience of the participants (Creswell, 2006; Gay & Airasian, 2003; Patton, 2002). The converse is that this same examination of the experiences of teachers could be done on a larger scale, even using all teachers in a single school or using K-3 teachers at multiple schools. So to that degree, the use of these results must be tempered. Second, the researcher used only two schools. This same study could be expanded to all schools in a school district or elementary schools in multiple cities. Intended A udience This research was designed to benefit current educators, pre-service teachers, aspiring administrators, and practicing educational supervisors. The hope is that this research will provide guidance to practicing and pre-service teachers and to administrators and pre-service administrators to help improve the mindset of educators about how to deal with children who are in danger of retention by providing them with these best practices. Retention should be a last alternative, not a panacea to hide the fact that students are not receiving sufficient instruction in the classroom. This study shed light on a hidden problem within schools, namely the attitude that retention helps students or motivates them to perform at a higher level. The researcher holds the position that students respond to quality teachers, not the punishment and humiliation of being left behind. The researcher hoped to find a workable formula for assisting low performing students in low performing schools. Organization of Study The researcher again used a qualitative study methodology to look at two demographically similar schools to evaluate their best practice methods. Believing that teachers could provide responses to questions about students' ability or inability to

Best Practices 10 achieve, the researcher elicited data from classroom teachers in grades K-3. The researcher organized a group of researchers to conduct an initial pilot study, which included a principal and two teachers to assist with developing the survey questions. This research group developed a series of questions for the survey that would provide information about best practices in their schools, and more importantly, information about what teaching practices they used in their classrooms to help students at risk of retention. The data collection instrument consisted often questions seeking a variety of responses (i.e., short answers, multiple choice options, and slightly extended responses) as a way of getting a broad picture of how the two schools responded to their low performing populations. The researcher then conducted a sample survey in order to receive feedback on the wording and reception of the questions. The responses were positive and after reviewing the results with the group it was agreed that the questionnaire was a valid tool and would assess the research questions appropriately. The researcher gathered data from teachers. Therefore, it was necessary to gain permission through their respective administrators as well as the consent of the teachers themselves. The researcher met with the principals first to explain the nature of the project and solicit their help in recruiting teachers. The principals were provided with copies of the informed consent (see Appendix B) and were given additional information about the project. With their consent, the researcher attended faculty meetings and explained the scope of the research to potential candidates. Participants were asked about their willingness to take part in the study. Upon agreement, participants were given information about the program and had the opportunity to ask questions. Upon going forward, they were given copies of the informed consent and copies of the survey

Best Practices 11 questions. Participating teachers were directed to respond to the questions, sign the consent form, and return all materials in a sealed envelope provided to the principals' secretary from whom the researcher retrieved the data. Data analysis consisted of consolidating responses from each school, question by question and then comparing the responses to see if patterns emerged as to how similar or different their approaches were. Both schools had significant populations of economically disadvantaged children and subpopulations that continually performed at less than acceptable rates on state wide tests. The researcher hoped that the data would show how these schools sought to prevent retention through providing best practices for targeted students. Finally, the researcher sought to turn the data into a narrative that explained the findings-good or bad. The researcher hoped that patterns would emerge that might shed some light on the effectiveness of best practice strategies used to prevent student retention prior to third grade. Patterns were observed in the responses from most of the questions. These patterns were noted in Chapter 4 where the data was analyzed.

Best Practices 12 Chapter II: Literature Review No Child Left Behind (2001), the sweeping millennial education initiative, spawned a plethora of changes in the field of public education (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007). Perhaps the most important change was the legislation that required schools and school districts to address the problems plaguing its most troubled students—low performers, usually minorities—who had been allowed to languish in traditionally poor performing schools (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Noguera, 2003). No Child Left Behind required schools to disaggregate data to identify researchers by race and ethnicity; this turned the spotlight on children whose academic outlook had been bleak because of benign neglect (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Noguera, 2003). This legislation also spawned the accountability and statewide testing movement (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Noguera, 2003). States developed grade level standards, administered standardized tests to all students and schools began to receive grades, a feature that brought the attention of the public squarely on low performing schools - schools that had traditionally had low graduation rates and poor academic results for years (Greene & Winters, 2006; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Noguera, 2003). These changes were sweeping and reconfigured the face of public education and marked the beginning of a bottom-line approach to assessing schools and students (Campbell et al., 2008; Greene & Winters, 2006; Guevremont et al., 2007; Ketterlin- Geller et al., 2008; Jimerson & Ferguson, 2007; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Musti-Rao & Cartledge, 2007; Protheroe, 2007; Wilson & Hughes, 2006).

Best Practices 13 This law created a broad statewide assessment approach to student achievement that has caused each state to adopt standardized tests for evaluating students and developing performance standards which could lead to some form of school site evaluation—in most cases school grades (Cambron-McCabe, 2002). This trend in education has forced educational leaders to adopt a mindset in which results, accountability, and outcomes control nearly every aspect of school planning and curriculum development (Jimerson, 2001; Jimerson, 2005). Nearly all states have adopted some form of testing, creating the high stakes outcomes, teacher anxiety and a school environment in which testing has overwhelmed the regular curriculum of most schools (Noguera, 2003). In some cases, this has led to the mass, almost unseemly, retention of students in grades as low as the third grade (Swain, 2004). Retention is a bi-product of educational reform (Campbell et al., 2008; Greene & Winters, 2006; Guevremont et al., 2007; Jimerson & Ferguson, 2007; Ketterlin-Geller et al., 2008; Lazarus & Ortega, 2007; Musti-Rao & Cartledge, 2007; Protheroe, 2007; Wilson & Hughes, 2006). Social promotion has become unacceptable in the climate of increasing demand that teachers, administrators, and school officials to make better use of funds provided from public coffers (Mawson, 2002). This has become the mantra of federal and state officials who continue to put pressure on local school officials in response to public pressure that schools are constantly seeking more funds while providing low quality education to some children (Jimerson, 2001; Mawson, 2002). Again social promotion is an anathema; therefore, most school systems avoid the practice (Mawson, 2002). The idea behind retention is that students who are promoted without

Full document contains 90 pages
Abstract: This dissertation was a qualitative study of best practice strategies used to prevent student grade retention prior to third grade. The study examined two demographically similar schools in an economically disadvantaged area of Miami, Florida. This study focused on the ability of these two schools to meet state standards. The objectives included reviewing a variety of research-based supplemental instructional materials and examining best practice teaching strategies at each school, one with a grade of B or better and another with a grade of C or less on the state accountability scale. Failure to improve scores would lead to a negative evaluation of the school, possible penalties for the teacher, and the retention of low performing students. To gather the necessary data, the researcher surveyed 20 teachers, ten from each school. The researcher used a qualitative study methodology to examine similarities and differences in the implementation of supplemental instruction and best practices in the respective educational programs. Through the teachers' responses, instructional testing, and interim data provided by the schools' principals, the researcher sought to determine what factors lead to successful interventions. The researcher found that despite their different grades, both schools employed similar supplemental instructional programs that included computer assisted learning and targeted tutoring. The teachers in both schools strongly believe that retention decisions should include both test results and teacher observations. Equally important, the research concluded that the teachers were justified in their belief that retention is not a sound remedy for improving student performance compared to implementing best practices.