Student Connection Research: Final Narrative Report to the Spencer Foundation

David Osher, Kimberly T. Kendziora, and Marjorie Chinen

In this era of standards-based reform, schools are held accountable for the academic progress of all students, and are therefore implementing programs and strategies designed to help all students achieve high academic standards. This improvement process is especially critical for schools that serve traditionally disadvantaged student populations. Successful schools are able to mitigate any potentially negative impact on students due to experiences outside the school setting by creating and maintaining within the school what we refer to as effective conditions for learning.

Since 2004, AIR has been engaged in promoting the measurement of conditions for learning in schools and the use of these data for student support and school performance management. In 2005 we partnered with Chicago Public Schools to identify the three or four core indicators that schools must actively manage to support student success, and develop an instrument to assess these indicators. The result was what Chicago has called the Student Connection Survey, which was administered to all high school students in 2006 and to all students in grades 6–12 in 2007.

The purpose of this report is to begin a program of research to allow us to better understand how Student Connection constructs related to other educational quality indicators, and how they can be used for school performance management.

The research presented in this report represents a solid first step. We have already begun planning ways to extend the work that has been started with the Spencer Foundation’s generous support. For example, AIR is working with an urban school district (with approximately 55,000 students) that has already administered our survey in 2008. We have an opportunity to work with them to explore some of the research questions (such as the relationship between school observations and Student Connection scores) that we were not able to study in Chicago, due to lack of permission or lack of data.

This report begins to explore relations between Student Connection and several student and school characteristics using data from Chicago Public Schools. We learned quickly that the Student Connection constructs related to student and school covariates differently in the middle grades vs. high school. Students in the middle grades (6–8) score higher on all scale scores, but the strength of the association among the constructs and covariates is larger in high school.

We learned that each of the constructs composing our Student Connection measure—safety, academic rigor, student support, and social emotional learning skills—has established its validity by correlating significantly with relevant student- and school-level variables. Of the scales, both safety and academic rigor are strongly associated with achievement. Safety is more strongly related to standardized achievement test scores, and academic rigor is more strongly related to grade point average. In this report, we explore a variety of intriguing subgroup interactions and effects.

Next steps in our work include preparing a journal manuscript presenting our analyses for peer review as well as submitting these data for presentation at professional conferences. We hope to work with Chicago for another year to extend our database longitudinally, as well as extend our work to other districts.

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David Osher
Vice President and Institute Fellow
Managing Researcher