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Case Study The McKnight Foundation

Creating a coherent and high-quality pathway of literacy instruction to help more students become proficient readers

Becoming a proficient reader by third grade is crucial for future academic success, yet many students do not

Challenge

Third grade literacy proficiency is a critical milestone and predictor of later academic achievement and later life success, yet many students are not proficient readers by third grade, especially in high-need schools.

The McKnight Foundation created the Pathway Schools Initiative (PSI) to improve literacy achievement of students in high-need schools in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota) through improved coherence and quality of literacy standards, assessment and instruction in PreK through third grade.

The initiative also supported the development of effective leaders and the use of data for instructional decision making.

Solution

The Foundation commissioned an independent evaluation to assess initiative effectiveness and share lessons learned with stakeholders and the field. SRI provided formative feedback on progress and implementation that promoted continuous improvement of practices, programs and policies used by the initiative’s leadership and the participating schools.

This work resulted in a case study and series of practice briefs with critical insights for ways funders, district and school leaders can create more aligned and effective PreK through third grade literacy pathways.

SRI produced a research-based case study using interview, observation and student assessment data that describes the progress, facilitators and barriers experienced with building coherent education pathways. Further, the case study distilled these findings into lessons to help Pathway and other funders and education leaders better support the schools, teachers and students.

SRI also mapped the initiative’s progress against specific indicators including continuity in the PreK through third grade pipeline, use of good instructional practices and teaching quality, effective school leadership and student achievement. To measure progress, the study team gathered data on student enrollment, administered teacher surveys, conducted classroom observations and examined achievement data.

While the initiative did not achieve its ultimate goal of improving third grade reading proficiency, it did succeed in the expansion of PreK, increased connections between PreK and K–third grade, the adoption of high-quality assessments, improved teacher capacity to analyze and apply data to their literacy instruction, increased teacher language modeling practices and expanded teacher involvement as leaders at the school level.

While the initiative did not achieve its ultimate goal of improving third grade reading proficiency, it did succeed in the expansion of PreK, increased connections between PreK and K–third grade, the adoption of high-quality assessments, improved teacher capacity to analyze and apply data to their literacy instruction, increased teacher language modeling practices and expanded teacher involvement as leaders at the school level.

Findings included that over half of the teachers reported the initiative greatly increased their knowledge, expectations and practices around literacy instruction, and it had a great impact on their small group instruction and assessment practices. Also, students who attended PSI PreK were almost twice as likely to meet grade level literacy goals in subsequent grade levels than peers who did not.

SRI also conducted a developmental evaluation to support leaders from each Pathway school and district, the Foundation and the professional development provider to identify high-priority questions of practical interest, and then engage in continuous improvement by gathering data and offering rapid, relevant feedback. SRI produced learning briefs for each cycle of developmental evaluation: briefs 123 and 4.

Overall, the evaluation of the Initiative produced compelling insights for funders and education leaders to better understand the conditions and strategies needed to support schools, teachers, and students to improve literacy proficiency.

For more details about the evaluation findings, see the Summary of the Fundamental Evaluation.

August 2019

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