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Gina Biancarosa

This article reports on a 4-year longitudinal study of

  

the effects of Literacy Collaborative (LC), a schoolwide reform model that relies primarily on the oneAnthony S. Bryk on-one coaching of teachers as a lever for improving   student literacy learning. Kindergarten through second   grade students in 17 schools were assessed twice annu-    ally with DIBELS and Terra Nova. Scores from the study’s first year, before coaching began, offered a baseline for assessing the value added to student learning Emily R. Dexter   over the following 3 years. A hierarchical, crossed-level, value-added-effects model compared student literacy learning over 3 years of LC program implementation against observed growth under baseline conditions.

Results demonstrated increasing improvements in student literacy learning during LC implementation (standard effect sizes of.22,.37, and.43 in years 1, 2, and 3, respectively), and the benefits persisted through subsequent summers. Findings warrant a claim of substantial effects on student learning for the LC coaching model.

     ,   © 2010 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0013-5984/2010/11101-0002 $10.00        T use of school-based literacy coaches as a professional development HE (PD) strategy has become widespread in U.S. schools. Many school districts have made large investments in initiatives to train and support literacy coaches. While an extensive literature advocates for this approach, few empirical studies of coaching and its effects on teaching practice and student achievement exist. The current article examines the value-added effects of literacy coaching on kindergarten through second-grade students’ literacy learning based on a 4-year longitudinal field trial of the effectiveness of PD in the Literacy Collaborative (LC) program, which relies heavily on one-to-one literacy coaching as a means of improving student literacy learning.


There is a growing body of educational literature on coaching and on literacy coaching in particular. Most of the publications are descriptive and prescriptive in orientation. Allen (2006), Bean and Carroll (2006), Blachowicz, Obrochta, and Fogelberg (2005), Casey (2006), Toll (2007), and Walpole and McKenna (2004), for example, offer descriptions of the literacy coach’s role as well as recommendations on how best to fulfill this role. The International Reading Association (2004, 2006) describes qualifications and ability standards for literacy coaches.

However, as Neufeld and Roper (2003) note, “No one, as yet, has proven that coaching contributes significantly to increased student achievement. Indeed, there are scant studies of this form of PD and how it influences teachers’ practice and students’ learning” (p. 1).

Literacy Coaching’s Effects on Student Learning Most of the empirical literature on literacy coaching is in the form of program evaluations and is grounded in qualitative methods (Gibson, 2006; Neufeld & Roper, 2003). Neufeld and Roper (2003), for example, used qualitative data to describe the actual work of coaches in four urban districts. Poglinco et al. (2003) conducted a descriptive study of coaching in 27 schools that implemented a comprehensive school reform model. Although they used a four-point rubric to evaluate teachers’ practices against program standards, they did not assess the effects of coaching on these practices and, most critically, they did not examine the effects of either coaching or teacher practices on student learning. In another 3-year study of Institute for Learning reform efforts, two of three districts placed fulltime English language arts (ELA) coaches in all of their schools (Marsh et al., 2005). Based on changes in the schools’ ELA proficiency percentages over multiple years, the study’s authors concluded that one district showed “substantial” improvement in district scores, while the other showed “limited” improvement (Marsh et al., 2005). However, although teachers reported benefits from coaching, both student-level outcome data and causal analyses of coaching effects on these outcomes were not examined. Several statewide evaluations of literacy coaching programs have been conducted, including evaluations in Alabama (Norton,    2007), Alaska (Barton & Lavrakas, 2006), and Idaho (Reed & Rettig, 2006), but again the impact of coaching on student outcomes was not rigorously examined.

To date, only two studies have offered empirical evidence of the effects of coaching on student literacy growth: one study focused on literacy coaching in second grade (Garet et al., 2008) and the other focused on middle school (Marsh et al., 2008). These studies showed minimal (Marsh et al., 2008) or null (Garet et al., 2008) effects on students’ learning. However, in both of these studies, the coaches were trained for a week or less before they began their coaching work in the schools. Moreover, the coaching models in the two studies were not well established; one was created for the experimental study (Garet et al., 2008) and the other was the product of a rapid, statewide scale-up of coaching over the course of a few years (Marsh et al., 2008). The coaching model studied here offers far more intensive PD for coaches prior to their coaching of teachers and is embedded in a well-established and comprehensive literacy framework.

Literacy Collaborative Established in 1993, LC is a comprehensive school reform program designed to improve elementary children’s reading, writing, and language skills primarily through school-based coaching. The program builds on 30 years of research and development grounded in the reading theories of Marie Clay (1979, 1991, 2004) and elaborated by Fountas and Pinnell (1996, 2006). LC is committed to the idea that teachers need both training in particular procedures and opportunities to analyze their teaching with a “more expert other” (i.e., the coach; NorlanderCase, 1999). Grounded in Bruner’s theory of instruction as scaffolding (Bruner, 1986, 1996) and Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development (Gallimore & Tharp, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978), such PD aims to support over time the development of the deep understandings that teachers need to continuously improve their practice.

LC trains and supports school-based literacy coaches, who are teachers selected by their schools to lead local instructional improvement efforts. Over the course of one year, the coaches attend an intensive, graduate-level training program while also teaching children. The rigorous training includes coverage of the theory and content of literacy learning, how to teach children within LC’s instructional framework, and how to develop these understandings in other teachers through site-based PD and coaching. Regarding the final goal, LC coaches learn how to lead a PD course to introduce theories and instructional practices to teachers and how to use one-on-one coaching as a mechanism to support individual professional growth and development. After their training year, coaches reduce their teaching time1 and spend approximately half of their time providing PD and coaching to their school colleagues. As part of their coaching role, they also participate with administrators and teacher leaders in a schoolwide leadership team that monitors student achievement and supports implementation of LC professional development and instructional practices.

Teachers’ entry into the LC program begins with participation in a 40-hour course led by the coach, who introduces the basic elements of the comprehensive literacy instructional framework used by LC (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, 2006; Lit       eracy Collaborative, 2009). Ongoing courses after the initial year offer 10 –12 hours of PD annually. Research has shown that while PD sessions of this sort can provide a common knowledge base and shared perspective among teachers, these meetings alone afford little guidance on what to do about particular problems of practice emerging in an individual teacher’s classroom (Kohler, Crillery, Shearer, & Good, 1997; Lieberman, 1995; Schon, 1983). To address this need, LC relies on ¨ coaches working one-on-one with teachers in their classrooms: observing, modeling, and catalyzing teachers’ development toward more expert practice. As such, the LC model relies on one-to-one coaching sessions as the coaches’ high-leverage activity by which they are able to most effectively help teachers develop their instructional practices.

LC coaching is centered on a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that focuses on engaging students at all ability levels in the reading and writing processes. Although the program was developed for students through grade 8, the K–2 program was the primary focus of this study. The LC program targets all components of reading, writing, and language development, including, but not limited to, direct and embedded instruction in phonics and phonological awareness, vocabulary and word structure, fluent reading, and literal, inferential, and critical thinking about texts.

Six core components form the LC comprehensive literacy framework for kindergarten through second grade: interactive read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, interactive writing, writing workshop, and word study. The components vary in their use of student grouping and the level of scaffolding provided, as well as in their focus on reading, writing, or word-level skills and knowledge. For example, during interactive writing the teacher and children (either as a whole class or in small groups) collaboratively compose a text by writing it out wordby-word (generally on a large chart). At several carefully selected points, the teacher invites individual children to come up to the chart and make contributions by adding letters or words that have high instructional value in helping children learn about the construction of words (phonics) and the writing process (McCarrier, Pinnell, & Fountas, 2000). In contrast, during the writing workshop, the teacher provides a mini-lesson on some aspect of writing based on student needs; the students then write independently as individuals confer with the teacher before the group reconvenes to briefly share their progress. The teacher uses the mini-lesson and sharing period to reinforce a principle of writing and uses the conferences to offer individualized support and instruction to students.

Together, the six components of K–2 reading and writing instruction constitute a repertoire of practices that teachers orchestrate based on their pedagogical knowledge and in response to their observation of children so that children are supported in acquiring new principles across multiple components and contexts (Scharer, Pinnell, & Bryk, 2008).2 Research Design

–  –  –

Figure 1. Accelerated multiple cohort design: six cohorts in four grades across 4 years with Literacy Collaborative implementation in grades K–2.

isolate the effects of the introduction of LC professional development in a diverse set of schools. During the first year of the study, literacy coaches trained for their new role, and therefore did not conduct literacy PD activities at their respective schools. Thus, the first year of this 4-year study represents a no-treatment period and affords baseline data on student achievement for each school and classroom prior to program initiation. Implementation of LC professional development in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms began during the study’s second year. The analyses reported in this article focus on the effects on student literacy learning in these grades over the following 3 years of implementation compared to the baseline year.

An Accelerated Longitudinal Cohort Design The current study utilized an accelerated multicohort, longitudinal, quasiexperimental design. We collected fall and spring student achievement data from multiple student cohorts at three grade levels (K–2) over the course of 4 years. The study involved children from six different cohorts who entered at different grades and in different years. Figure 1 depicts these cohorts and the timing of LC implementation for each. For example, Cohort 3 entered the study as kindergartners during the baseline year of the study, and attended first and second grade in the first and second years of implementation, respectively.

Student achievement data from the first three waves of data collection (fall and spring of the first year and fall of the second year) offer baseline information because they occurred prior to LC implementation. This is denoted with solid         black lines in Figure 1. Student achievement data at subsequent time points, during which LC was implemented, are compared to these baseline data. The first year of LC effects are denoted by dashed lines in Figure 1, the second year by alternating dashed-and-dotted lines, and the third year by dotted lines.

Logic of Value-Added Modeling In general, the data collected on student learning during the baseline, or notreatment, period in an accelerated multicohort, longitudinal, quasi-experimental design allow us to estimate the value-added effects of a subsequent intervention on student learning. The current application of value-added modeling is rooted in the idea that each child has an individual latent growth trajectory. This trajectory describes the expected achievement growth in grades K–2 for each child if exposed to the average instructional conditions prevalent in the school during the baseline period. We then compare the observed student growth trajectories in the 3 years of LC implementation to these expected (or latent) growth trajectories under baseline conditions. The value-added effects represent the difference between these observed and expected outcomes. In principle, each teacher and school may have a unique value-added effect during each time period. Our analyses focus on the value-added effects in the study’s second, third, and fourth years because these years include potential effects associated with LC coaching above and beyond any teacher or school effects present in the baseline year.

Participants The final study sample included 4 years of data amounting to 27,427 observations of 8,576 students in 17 schools located in eight states across the eastern United States.3 During the course of the study, students attended 287 teachers’ classrooms.

Students. During each year of the study, approximately 1,150 students were assessed in each grade level from kindergarten through second grade. This represents a student participation rate of 90% or higher at each testing occasion.

Overall, approximately 61% of the student sample has complete data. These students have test scores at every occasion for which their cohort was eligible to be assessed (see Table 1). Of the students with incomplete data, most either entered a study school after data collection began for their cohort or transferred out of a study school prior to second grade. Only 3% of children missed testing on one or more occasions for which they were eligible to be assessed (e.g., due to absences).

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