Study Suggests Link Between Achievement and Curriculum Choice in High-Poverty Elementary Schools


MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—Does a school’s performance on California’s Academic Performance Index (API) relate to the use of a particular curriculum program? An analysis released today by EdSource from a large-scale survey of elementary schools serving similarly-challenged students suggests an answer.

School APIs are based on student test scores on the California Standards Tests, which measure how well students at the school are mastering grade level academic standards. According to many experts, California’s K-12 academic standards, adopted in the late 1990s, are among the most challenging in the nation.

The new analysis found that for English language arts, using the Open Court curriculum program school-wide did appear to make a difference in a school’s API score. Open Court appeared to be most effective when it was:

  • used intensively—i.e., all teachers in the school reported using Open Court daily;
  • combined with a coherent, school-wide, standards-based instructional program; and
  • combined with the frequent use of student assessment data to improve instruction.

Open Court is one of two main English language arts curriculum packages currently approved by the State Board of Education in California. The new findings are the result of an extended regression analysis of survey data collected last spring from 5,500 K-5 classroom teachers in 257 schools from 145 different districts.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

4 thoughts on “Study Suggests Link Between Achievement and Curriculum Choice in High-Poverty Elementary Schools”

  1. According to the Open Court Web site:
    “Open Court Reading is a research-based curriculum grounded in systematic, explicit instruction of phonemic awareness, phonics and word knowledge, comprehension skills and strategies, inquiry skills and strategies, and writing and language arts skills and strategies.”
    Open Court is exactly the kind of reading curriculum that the MMSD refuses to use, prefering instead balanced literacy, which is primarily a new name for the discredited whole language approach to teaching reading.
    Open Court:

  2. Reading through the entire report was interesting. In the study, Open Court was associated with higher California API’s than Houghton Mifflin Reading, the other state endorsed reading series in California. 94% of schools in the study used one or the other. This is really a performance comparison between two series with similar philosophies and objectives than a “phonics vs. balanced literacy” comparison.
    An important factor in the performance differences seems to be that schools using Open Court were more likely to use the series intensively, report greater consistency within grade levels, report greater alignment between grade levels, and report greater use of data-based decision making.
    There is a story about Open Court here, to be sure. But the bigger story is the professional learning community angle, in my opinion.

  3. Tim,
    Good thoughts, as always.
    However, I might argue that a well-written, well-sequenced, well-research curriculum, like Open Court, stimulates a professional learning community, because all of the teachers can compare notes, support each other, compare kids, and gain a sense of direction. That community is hard to build, I’d think, when balanced literacy leaves each teacher to invent her own curriculum day after day.

  4. Implementing a new curriculum can be a focus for beginning to work more collaboratively and with more unity of practice. And different curricula by their design may promote collaboration and common assessments, where others may make it easier to go your own way. It could also be that stronger professional learning communities are more likely to select curricula that are effective for the student population they serve and then implement well.
    I’d agree with Michael Kirst that there are some very provocative results in this study.

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