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Developing the Conditions for Research Use in Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Education Research Institute–University of California, Los Angeles–Los Angeles Unified School District Partnership

Fri, April 28, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


Our research-practice partnership aims to conduct disciplined inquiry that is useful to practitioners and leads to improvement. This particular project focuses on identifying elementary and middle school “on track” benchmarks that are strongly predictive of college readiness measures in high school; schools in which students perform better academically than would be predicted based on initial academic and behavioral skills; and promising strategies and practices that may contribute to students’ academic improvement at those schools, such as academic, socio-emotional, and college access supports. By design, the goals of this research are closely tied to elements in the district’s college and career readiness plan, which includes incorporating elementary and middle school benchmarks of college readiness, and assisting schools in developing effective strategies for helping students meet those benchmarks. This research is intended to inform the district’s selection of benchmarks supported by empirical evidence, and to identify promising strategies and practices that could be examined further for the potential to be scaled.

Theoretical Framework
Our partnership draws on the existing scholarship on research use, both from the perspective of barriers that typically exist to use, as well as how research is used when it does get used (Caplan, 1979; Honig and Coburn, 2008; Kennedy, 1984; Lindblom & Cohen, 1979; Weiss, 1978). We also incorporate additional literature on the importance of early academic skills and skill disparities; early-warning indicators; and school effectiveness (e.g., Bruce, Bridgeland, Fox, & Balfanz, 2011; Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Leppescu, & Easton, 2010; Duncan & Magnuson, 2011).

Because research is often filtered through intermediaries, or interpreted through a social process, we engage practitioners in dialogue at multiple stages of the research, including framing the questions and sharing preliminary results. Weaving together a community of practitioners and researchers (and often other stakeholders) in conversations about research facilitates the development of relationships built on trust and credibility; ensures that the research focuses on specific problems of practice or research needs; and supports the development of relevant and accessible research products.

Methods and Data Sources
We use student-level, longitudinal data from LAUSD, in conjunction with school climate measures from the district’s annual staff and student surveys, to estimate multilevel models that can identify and characterize schools in which students perform better on important 5th or 8th grade benchmarks than would be expected based on earlier academic skills and behavior. We also interview local sub-district leaders and conduct focus groups with school administrators to gather information about promising strategies in schools and to inform the development of survey questions to be added to district surveys.

Results and Significance
The partnership has been developing capacity, momentum, and credibility, which have helped sustain a cumulative and co-constructed research agenda. The involvement of both central office leaders and school staff has helped maintain a focus on making the research useful. Preliminary analyses have contributed to a district dialogue about college readiness indicators and benchmarks. Ultimately, we hope this research can help to disrupt struggling students’ academic trajectories, to set students on a more successful path.