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Build student success with practical research

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
June 16, 2020

Gain solid data for your school’s response to students’ learning needs

In changing times, school leaders need tailored information to know exactly what strategies are most effective for their students’ learning and success.

Kui Xie, the Ted and Lois Cyphert Distinguished Professor and an expert in student learning motivation, spent the last five years serving 16 Ohio schools and districts, providing reliable information to ensure students are prepared for college. Xie’s efforts with one of the schools was via contract. All the others were funded originally by two grants from the Ohio Department of Education: College Ready Ohio and EDCITE - Evaluating Digital Content for Instructional and Teaching Excellence. He and his team of researchers have gathered and interpreted data from more than 2,000 teachers and 15,000 students.

One district had started an innovative teaching approach last autumn and wanted to hear from students and teachers what worked and what did not. Another district had given all students iPads and wanted to assess teachers’ professional development needs, then how students were doing with the technology.

Metro Early College High School in Columbus gained deep knowledge about its students that helped improve learning outcomes, said Cory Neugebauer, dean of students at the school. “They did a fabulous job of really listening to what we wanted to know about ourselves,” he said. “It’s not theoretical research for research’s sake. They’re very customer oriented. They want to help your kids, now.”

Xie calls the services he and his team of researchers provide highly interactive. “We don’t go into a school proposing to ask certain questions,” he said. “We gather questions from school leaders, counselors, teachers and help focus them. Then we create survey tools specific to their needs.” Schools control administration of the surveys, then send the results to Xie for analysis. He and his team create reports that are easy to understand and show trends over time.

Metro Early College Middle and High Schools continue to conduct student surveys under a contract with Xie’s team in preparation for autumn. “In a small school like Metro with about 1,000 students, you get to know individual kids. You can rely more on anecdotal evidence,” Neugebauer said. But Metro prefers to let facts and data drive its decision making. “For large school districts, I think Dr. Xie’s research and this method would be even more critical,” he said.

Understanding student academic motivation during COVID-19

The schools that Xie worked with before COVID-19 reaped benefits, but after the coronavirus arrived, their need for his services increased.

With everyone online, knowing how students were doing became harder. Neugebauer described how Vanessa Vongkulluksn, a postdoctoral researcher on Xie’s team, approached them in March, offering to assess student socioemotional well-being and learning motivation.

“We started with asking if kids were getting food and felt physically safe,” Neugebauer said. “You have to worry about that before you worry about doing your algebra work.”

Weekly reports were provided to Metro. Neugebauer and counselors reached out to any students expressing difficulty -- with food, safety or technology issues. Metro also was able to address other aspects of student response to learning online.

When Xie works with a school, he focuses not just on students’ grades, but on the factors documented by research to underlie academic performance – academic motivation, cognitive engagement, social engagement and school facilitative environment.

Four factors of academic performance

Academic motivation

Do students feel motivated to do their school work? Do they feel competent to do the work? Do they believe in the value of their education? How much are they experiencing positive or negative emotions?

Cognitive engagement

What study strategies do students use for their school work? How do students monitor their understanding of learning concepts? Are they managing their learning time and tasks effectively? Are they procrastinating?

Social engagement

Do students feel they belong at their school or do they feel like outsiders? Are they interacting online with teachers and peers about course content? Are they asking for help when needed?

School facilitative environment

Which aspects of online learning technology work well and which do not? Are parents engaged with their students and the school to support learning? Are teachers or counselors available?

Each time Metro received a weekly report, the staff used it to support decision-making.

“Dr. Xie’s information was definitely a validation in concrete form of what kids were experiencing,” Neugebauer said. “It wasn’t just what we imagined kids were going through; this is what kids were saying.”

“This information is good in any environment, but in a virtual environment, I don’t know how any school can operate without this type of information about students,” he said.

Let our experts solve your school’s practical problems with research

Consider what information your school needs from students and teachers to make timely, well-informed decisions.

Do you have an autumn restart committee and want solid data points about what was effective online and what was not, so you can plan for school reopening in autumn?

Whatever your scenario, here are the basic steps for working with Professor Xie:

  1. Describe your challenges and the questions you have about your school’s students.
  2. Review survey questions formulated by Professor Xie’s team and discuss adjustments if appropriate for your school’s needs.
  3. Receive the survey from the team for deployment to students and deliver responses to them.
  4. Receive survey results from the team, with opportunity to discuss how to interpret them.

Learn how practical research can help your students succeed

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