Evaluation of the UC Irvine Writing Project’s Pathway to Academic Success Program 

SRI evaluation shows the UC Irvine Writing Project’s Pathway to Academic Success project improves academic writing for secondary students through teacher professional development.  

The University of California, Irvine Writing Project’s (UCI Writing Project’s) Pathway to Academic Success project (Pathway) aims to improve students’ academic writing through professional development for secondary English language arts (ELA) and advanced English language development (ELD) teachers. Based on evidence of Pathway’s previous success in improving student achievement, in 2018 the UCI Writing Project received a federal Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant to expand its capacity to deliver Pathway professional development to new sites and in new contexts. In support of this grant, SRI International (SRI) conducted a random assignment evaluation of Pathway in grades 7–11, over the course of three school years (2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22). Despite disruptions to program implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that Pathway led to positive, statistically significant impacts on students’ writing. 

The University of California, Irvine’s Writing Project’s (UCI Writing Project) Pathway to Academic Success project (Pathway) provides professional development for secondary English language arts (ELA) and advanced English language development (ELD) teachers to improve students’ academic reading and writing skills. Pathway focuses on how to explicitly teach, model, and scaffold instruction in the cognitive strategies (thinking tools) that experienced readers and writers access when they analyze, interpret, and respond to complex texts.  

The subject of multiple prior evaluations that demonstrated impacts on student academic outcomes (see, for example, Kim et al., 2011; Olson et al., 2012), Pathway was awarded an Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant in 2014 to support three other California Writing Project sites to provide Pathway professional development in their services areas. The i3 grant supported an independent evaluation, conducted by SRI, to examine both program implementation and the impact of the program on teachers’ instructional practices and student learning.  

Based on additional evidence of effectiveness, in 2018, UCI Writing Project received a federal Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Expansion grant to expand capacity to deliver Pathway professional development to new Writing Project sites and in new contexts. Leveraging the National Writing Project network, the UCI Writing Project began working with seven Writing Project sites: Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, Oklahoma State University, Texas State University-San Marcos, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In support of EIR grant, SRI International (SRI) conducted a random assignment evaluation in 46 schools in 8 districts across 7 states, over the course of three school years (2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22). Randomized designs are considered the “gold standard” for measuring program impact in education research. For this study, an RCT ensures that, on average, receiving Pathway professional development is the only difference between the Pathway schools and the comparison schools. At the start of the study, we randomly assigned the 46 schools to either the Pathway (treatment) condition or to the business-as-usual (comparison) condition. In the 23 schools assigned to Pathway, the UCI Writing Project or the expansion sites provided grade 7–11 ELA and advanced ELD teachers with Pathway professional development. 

Despite disruptions to program implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found positive and statistically significant effects of the program on students’ writing. 

Associated team members


Read more from SRI