Research

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Understanding and Addressing the Achievement Gap in Middle School Writing and Social Studies

Primary Investigator(s): Chauncey Monte-sano

Funding Agency: Spencer Foundation

Period: 11/1/2015 - 10/31/2016

Too many students complete middle school without attaining proficiency in writing and social studies. The tests used to measure these outcomes further reveal grave equity issues: African Americans, children who live in poverty, and English learners score far below their peers when it comes to writing and social studies. History education and literacy researchers have identified design principles that improve students’ overall historical thinking and writing. However, research has not clarified what design principles are effective with whom or why, making it difficult to support all students’ literacy and social studies learning or to narrow achievement gaps.

Dr. Monte-Sano combines five design principles tested in social studies and three principles tested in literacy within one inquiry-based curriculum project aimed at growth in historical thinking and writing for students in grades 6-8. This project is grounded in Design-Based Research and uses a multiple case study design to understand the experiences and learning of high and low-achieving students with the new curriculum in a partnership school. Rather than look broadly at all students’ scores, Dr. Monte-Sano will carefully examine how a subsample of high and low-achieving students interpret, interact with, and learn from these new materials designed to support historical thinking and writing. She will identify which design principles support or obstruct learning, who does and does not benefit from each curricular feature, and what resources students bring to this academic work. Findings will indicate whether more targeted interventions could further support low-achieving students in writing and social studies.