Investigator: Mark Warschauer
Funding: Haynes Foundation
In the upper-elementary grades, when U.S. students transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," achievement levels start to drop off. This drop off is especially precipitous among students such as Latinos, English language learners, and those of low-socioeconomic status who may lack the academic language proficiency that is needed for making this transition. Such students are disproportionately likely to experience a "fourth grade slump" in reading, writing, and language arts from which they never fully recover, leading to decreased performance in middle school and a high dropout rate in high school. However, there is some evidence that a focus on informative writing, frequent assessment of writing, and effective deployment of new technologies can all help students to successfully manage this transition and thus avoid the fourth grade slump.
Recently, L.A. County's Saugus Union School District implemented in all its fourth grade classes an education reform that was distinguished by three features:
After one year of the program, student scores on the English Language Arts California Standards Test increased by 24 percentage points, which, according to the district, represents the highest level of year-to-year student improvement since standardized testing began in California. Initial analysis of data suggests that the Hispanic and low-socioeconomic status groups demonstrated the highest gains in test score outcomes.
A one-year mixed methods case study is investigating the impact of the Saugus program on the literacy practices and outcomes of the district's ethnically and linguistically diverse students. Specifically, the study is examining the following:
Sources of Data
Study findings are expected to illuminate whether and in what ways an educational reform focused on writing, assessment, and sustainable technology can help diverse students avoid the fourth grade slump and successfully transition from learning to read to reading to learn. L.A. and Orange County Departments of Education will help publicize the findings to schools and districts in their areas, and the results will also be incorporated into a book the principal investigator is authoring for Teachers College Press on netbooks and open source software in K-12 education.