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ERIC Number: ED518090
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 48
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 16
Word Generation in Boston Public Schools: Natural History of a Literacy Intervention. The Senior Urban Education Research Fellowship Series. Volume III
Snow, Catherine E.; Lawrence, Joshua F.
Council of the Great City Schools
When the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) began working with Boston Public Schools (BPS) in 2005, the most pressing need articulated by the district was research and development in the area of middle school literacy. Thus SERP researchers undertook to specify more precisely what the middle school literacy problem in BPS was by interviewing middle school teachers and principals, by observing in classrooms, and by reviewing BPS test data. One universally noted challenge was vocabulary--students' ignorance of the meaning of the words they encountered in their texts. In response, Word Generation was designed to meet goals at three levels: 1) At the student level, the program would build knowledge of high frequency academic words, skills for spoken and written academic discourse, and knowledge about topics worthy of discussion; 2) At the teacher level, the program would assist in promoting regular use of effective strategies for teaching vocabulary, modeling comprehension, and promoting discussion usable in everyday instruction, and 3) At the school level, the program would help facilitate faculty collaboration across grades and across content areas. In 2007-2008, Word Generation was implemented in six Boston Public Schools. In addition to program design and implementation, the SERP team faced a key challenge in the area of program evaluation. In particular, they were interested in determining 1) whether the program helped students learn the target words, 2) whether gains in word knowledge were maintained over time and whether different subgroups of students showed similar patterns of gain and maintenance, and 3) if students who made gains in general purpose academic vocabulary did better on the state mandated English Language Arts (ELA) achievement test. First, to test whether the program helped students learn the target words, the team developed multiple-choice vocabulary tests with a selection of words from each week of the program, completed at the beginning and end of both the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. Section II provides a detailed discussion of the assessment challenges and limitations of the data yielded by this measurement tool. With these limitations in mind, the results demonstrate that students in Word Generation schools outperformed students in the comparison schools, although the effect sizes obtained from the second year are lower than those obtained the first year. They hypothesize that this diminished effect resulted from reduced fidelity and intensity of implementation in the second year. While each set of pre-test and post-tests were designed primarily to assess knowledge of the words covered over the course of the corresponding year, 11 items taken from the first year's test were embedded in the second pre- and post-test. This allowed the authors to pinpoint the long-term effect of program participation on student vocabulary, and disaggregate this effect for students from English Only homes (EO), students from Language Minority homes (LM), and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Finally, the authors conducted an exploratory analysis to determine whether participation in Word Generation had any relationship to performance on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Using regression analysis, they constructed a model with MCAS scores in April, 2008 as the outcome, using gender, treatment status, pre-test and post-test scores as predictors. Results indicate that improvement from Word Generation pre- to post-test did indeed predict MCAS scores for Word Generation students, but not for students in comparison schools. They think it highly plausible (though subject to further confirmation) that the discussion, deep reading, and regular writing activities incorporated into Word Generation helped students perform better, particularly on those MCAS items requiring reading comprehension and open responses. The findings of this quasi-experimental study were highly informative, both about the potential of innovative approaches to support students' academic progress and about the challenges to an optimal implementation and evaluation of a literacy program. The report concludes with a discussion of ongoing work in the development and evaluation of Word Generation and refections on working collaboratively within urban districts. (Contains 3 figures, 8 tables and 9 footnotes.) [For related reports, see Volume I (ED518095), Volume II (ED518089), and Volume IV (ED518092).]
Council of the Great City Schools. 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Suite 702, Washington, DC 20004. Tel: 202-393-2427; Fax: 202-393-2400; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Middle Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Council of the Great City Schools
Identifiers - Location: Massachusetts
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System