Race to the Top Grant Program Associated with States’ Implementation of Particular Policies and Practices, Though Its Effect on Student Achievement Was Unclear

Washington, D.C.—States with Race to the Top (RTT) grants from a $4.35 billion Obama Administration initiative enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 used more of the RTT-promoted policies and practices designed to improve K-12 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. However, it is not clear if RTT grants directly influenced student achievement.

RTT, which awarded grants to 19 states in three rounds between March 2010 and December 2011, encouraged states to implement six sets of policies and practices affecting the entire K-12 system. These range from improving teaching and school leadership to putting in place high-quality common learning standards and assessments and improving the capacity of state education agencies and data systems.

The report found that:

  • Early RTT states (that received Round 1 or Round 2 grants in 2010) reported using more RTT-promoted policies and practices than non-RTT states (that did not receive grants) in four of six areas in spring 2013: (1) turning around low-performing schools, (2) adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace, (3) encouraging conditions in which charter schools can succeed, and (4) improving teacher and principal effectiveness. There were no differences between the two groups in the other two areas—building state data systems that measure student growth and inform instruction, and improving state capacity to support school improvement efforts.
  • Later RTT states (that received Round 3 grants in 2011) reported using more RTT-promoted policies and practices than non-RTT states in one of the six areas: improving teacher and principal effectiveness.
  • Across all six areas, early RTT states reported using more English language learner (ELL)-focused policies and practices than non-RTT states. Later RTT states did not differ from non-RTT states in their use of ELL-focused policies and practices.
  • The effect of RTT on student achievement was not clear. Different, reasonable interpretations of how student achievement was trending before RTT yield conflicting conclusions about the effects of RTT.

“In sum, it is not clear whether the RTT grants improved student achievement,” says Lisa Dragoset, a senior researcher at Mathematica and director of the evaluation. “Differences in student achievement between RTT states and other states may be due to other factors and not to the program. For example, RTT states differed from other states before receiving the grants in a number of ways. Other changes that occurred at the same time as RTT reforms may also have affected student achievement.”

Since improving student outcomes remains a top education policy priority, this report’s findings may help inform thinking about forging and implementing policies and practices. The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 gives states more flexibility to bolster school turnaround, accountability, assessment, and educator evaluation systems.

See the full report, Race to the Top: Implementation and Relationship to Student Outcomes, 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 both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.

About Mathematica

Mathematica Policy Research seeks to improve public well-being by conducting studies and assisting clients with program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data analytics and management. Its clients include foundations, federal and state governments, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, with offices in Ann Arbor, MI; Cambridge, MA; Chicago, IL; Oakland, CA; Tucson, AZ; and Washington, DC. For more information, visit www.mathematica-mpr.com.

About SPR

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


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