SRI Conducts Evaluation of National Writing Project Professional Development and Its Effect on Student Writing Achievement
Date: June 29, 2011
Summary: SRI International has been commissioned by the NWP to conduct an independent five-year study to examine changes in students' writing performance, students' writing practices, teachers' instructional practices, and teachers' professional communities in middle schools that have formed partnerships with local National Writing Project sites. The study was launched in November 2006.
SRI Research Study
This evaluation employs a randomized control trial design to examine changes in students' writing performance, students' writing practices, teachers' instructional practices, and teachers' professional communities in middle schools that have formed partnerships with local National Writing Project sites.
During the 2007-08 school year, SRI drew a random sample of eligible local NWP sites and schools and collected baseline data on them. The baseline data—and data to be collected throughout the study—come from on-demand writing samples; artifacts of instruction, including teacher assignments, instructional logs, and student work; annual teacher surveys; interviews and focus groups; and school records from 40 schools.
During the initial year of participation in the study, half of the schools were randomly chosen to form "partnerships" (i.e., to begin receiving services from a local NWP site). The other half remained in the study as controls ("delayed partnership" schools) and will receive NWP services after the study is completed. Data collection will continue through the 2010-2011 school year in both treatment, or "partnership" schools and control, or "delayed partnership" schools.
Comprehensive case studies are being conducted in a subset of these schools to help reveal how partnerships respond to local conditions and needs and to track the complexities of implementation, as well as to triangulate findings and trace patterns of influence among various factors. Integrating the randomized trial data with in-depth case studies will increase the validity of conclusions about the effects of the intervention.
The sample for the study comprises 39 schools located in the service areas of 15 local NWP sites across nine of the ten geographic regions formally established by the US Department of Education. The schools in the study are comparable (treatment compared with control schools) with respect to their size, demographics, and student achievement levels. The sites represent different regions across the United States and reflect the diversity of sites in the NWP network with respect to experience and capacity.
SRI Reports, Years 1 Through 6
SRI produces annual progress reports and presentations for the NWP. The Year 1 Report (PDF) documents an initial survey of the 15 NWP sites and describes the data collection design. The Year 2 Report (PDF) serves two broad purposes: 1) to describe the sample of participating schools, testing whether treatment and delayed treatment groups are equivalent at baseline and describing their key characteristics, and 2) to describe the planning process that each partnership engaged in from the time they joined the partnership group through the conclusion of the 2007-08 school year.
The Year 3 Report (PDF) serves three purposes: 1) to describe the first year of partnership implementation; 2) to explore how the randomized control trial may have affected the nature of partnerships in the study; and 3) to compare staff participation in writing professional development and teachers' practices for teaching writing in the treatment and delayed treatment groups for the first year of partnership implementation (2008-2009). Similarly, the Year 4 Report (PDF) addresses three purposes: 1) to describe Writing Project sites and schools' capacity for partnership implementation; 2) to describe the nature of and participation in writing professional development in treatment and delayed treatment schools; and 3) to provide preliminary analysis on a range of teacher outcomes.
The final report, to be written in 2012, will provide a comprehensive description of the evaluation questions, methodology, and findings.
NWP Research Studies
The National Writing Project conducts many research studies of its professional development programs; some of these are done by the NWP Research Unit, some are done at local sites, and some, like this national evaluation, are conducted by outside independent firms.
Local site–based research conducted in twelve states shows significantly greater gains in writing achievement for students of teachers who have participated in NWP programs in comparison to students whose teachers have not. All of the previous national evaluations and other research studies have also found similarly positive results. Because of its broad scope and rigorous methodology, this study promises to provide the most conclusive evidence to date on the effectiveness of NWP professional development.