Federal School Improvement Grant Program Had No Significant Impact on Student Achievement

Washington, D.C. – Some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools implementing a school intervention model funded by a School Improvement Grant (SIG), awarded under a 2010 $3.5 billion initiative by the U.S. Department of Education, used more practices intended to improve student achievement than similar schools that didn’t implement a SIG-funded model. However, there was no evidence that SIG directly led to greater use of practices or improved student achievement, according to a new report by Mathematica Policy Research, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) for the U.S. Department of Education.

The report, the last in a series of reports and briefs evaluating the Race to the Top and SIG programs for the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, examined persistently low-performing schools’ use of practices promoted by four school intervention models: transformation, turnaround, restart, and closure. These models were designed to stimulate improvement through dramatic school change. Practices prescribed by the models included replacing principals and staff or shutting down under-performing schools and sending students to higher-performing ones.

The report also examined whether the SIG program had an impact on student achievement and whether certain intervention models were associated with larger student achievement gains than other models.

The research examined 480 low-performing schools located in 60 districts from 22 states.

  • Schools implementing a SIG-funded model used more SIG-promoted practices than other schools (23 versus 20, out of the 35 practices examined), but there was no evidence that SIG caused schools to use more practices.
  • Implementing a SIG-funded model had no impact on math or reading test scores, high school graduation rates, or college enrollment.
  • Elementary schools had similar improvements in math and reading test scores regardless of which SIG model they implemented.
  • Secondary schools implementing the turnaround model had larger improvements in math test scores than those implementing the transformation model. In contrast, reading improvements were similar for all models. The differences in math improvements across models might be due to factors other than the model implemented, such as differences between schools that existed before they received grants.

“There are several possible reasons for why the SIG program had no impact on student achievement,” said Lisa Dragoset, a senior researcher at Mathematica and director of the evaluation. “One possible reason is that the program did not lead to a large increase in the number of SIG-promoted practices that schools used. It is also possible that the practices were ineffective or not well-implemented.”

“Although the report found no impact on student achievement, policymakers considering future approaches to turning around low-performing schools may want to consider the types of practices that schools reported using and not using under the SIG program as a starting point for further exploration,” said Cheryl Graczewski, AIR senior researcher and report co-author.

Read the full report, "School Improvement Grants: Implementation and Effectiveness,” on the IES website.

About AIR

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce development. For more information, visit www.air.org.

About Mathematica

Mathematica is a pioneering nonpartisan research organization dedicated to improving public well-being. Our 1,200+ experts conduct policy research, data collection, and data analytics that meet the highest standards of quality and objectivity, working with decision makers across the public and private sectors. For more information, visit www.mathematica-mpr.com.

About SPR

Social Policy Research Associates provides evaluation, organizational development, facilitation, and training services. Located in Oakland, CA, SPR works collaboratively with clients to bring innovative approaches to new or existing strategies, programs, and initiatives. Their staff of more than 30 have diverse backgrounds, including education, sociology, public policy, and economics. For more information, visit www.spra.com.



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