Action Research Proposal

Linda Heidenrich
SED 600
Academies and Student Achievement
What is a career academy? According to David Stern, a professor from UC Berkeley,
career academies share three main ideas: students will have common teachers throughout
the school day, students will be enrolled in a college prep curriculum, students will have
access to partnerships will potential future employers (Stern, 2001).
Academies, or
small learning communities, began in 1969 in Philadelphia (Stern, 2001) but developed
widespread integration into secondary schools during the 1980’s when publications were
written indicating the United States is a “Nation at Risk” of graduating illiterate, illprepared students into the workforce after high school (Cleary & English, 2005).
Researchers and policymakers evaluated this document and critically assessed the
effectiveness of the school structure for areas that could be improved and restructured to
be more effective. One restructuring solution led to the advent of academies, which
allow students to have a familial atmosphere with common teachers and a common focus
(Cleary & English, 2005). As an attempt to encourage more widespread implementation
of academies, Congress passed several bills in the 1980’s encouraging schools to create
smaller learning communities. The first of these, Assembly Bill 3104, was passed in
1985 and offered $10,000 for initial planning and $50,000 for first year implementation
to schools willing to create small learning communities.
Three years later, Senate Bill
605 was passed offering $15,000 for planning and $67,500 for implementation (Maxwell
& Rubin, 2001). The success of early academies with respect to increased grades,
increased attendance, increased enrollment in continuing education and decreased student
misbehavior was recognized in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act.
As a
component of this Act, the US Department of Education created a Small Learning
Communities Grant to help schools create smaller learning communities and increase the
effectiveness of the secondary school experience (Cleary & English, 2005). Due to this
national support, California has been able to implement more than 500 academies (Stern,
Dayton & Raby, 2000) in its public schools and “fifteen years of California studies
indicate that academy students outperform similar students in their schools on attendance,
credits earned, grades and graduation rates” (Stern, 2001, 1). Although the Law Academy
at Oxnard High School is in its inaugural year, I have noticed students in small learning
communities have higher grades in their courses and I will research if their achievement
in their academy courses is reflected in their performance on district-wide benchmarks.
The purpose of this paper was to study the Law Academy at Oxnard High School and
compare their test scores on district-wide benchmarks to my other college prep students. I
will specifically ask 1) How do academies affect student achievement on district wide
This study will be conducted to demonstrate the need for small learning communities on
more campuses in our district. Our district currently has two academies and I would like
to present data to advocate for more by demonstrating the link between academies and
student achievement.
Academies had their inception in Philadelphia in 1969 with an electrical academy to aid
in retention of students and vocational preparation. Academies have developed to be
nationwide and encourage students to attend postsecondary education as well as pursue a
specific vocation. California began to participate in the academy movement in 1981 with
2 academies in the state:
a computer academy and an electronics academy. Now
California offers academies in more than 25 different fields (Stern, 2001). Although
California requires their state-funded academies to have 50% of the academy students
categorized as at-risk, or disadvantaged, academy students still outperform their peers.
This accomplishment was evident when, in 2000, David Stern, along with Charles
Dayton and Marilyn Raby did a comprehensive analysis of all California academies.
Their overall conclusion, career academies are the most “durable and best-tested
component of high school reform” (Stern, Dayton & Raby, 2000, 1) was reinforced with
a summary of 23 different academies all of which showed some aspect of increased
attendance, grades and graduation rates and decreased misbehavior and apathy toward
school. Below is an in-depth discussion of two of these studies.
A 10-site, random assignment study conducted in 1993 by MDRC (Manpower
Demonstration Research Cooperation) determined academy students, although half are
classified at-risk, had attendance, credits earned, and extracurricular activity participation
that surpassed their peers. These students also had crime rates much lower than their
peers and their dropout rate was 11% less than the control group (Stern, 2001). Yet, the
researchers indicated an area of weakness for the academy students was the fact they
neglected to show significant gains on standardized tests. This indication prompted me to
conduct further research on the connection between academies and standardized tests.
Another view of academies was also published in 2001. This analysis entitled “Career
Academy Programs in California:
Outcomes and Implementation” was published
through CPRC (California Policy Research Center) at the University of California,
Berkeley and reinforced several of Stern’s claims as well as discussed some of the
limitations and specific needs of an academy. Maxwell and Rubin (2001) in connection
with CPRC published the results of a case study analysis of the academy programs at a
large, inner-city school district in California. The study took place over the span of nine
years and look at academies in each of the six comprehensive high schools.
academies ranged from inaugural programs the first year of the study to established
programs in place for five years. The research questions posed involved analysis of
academies with regard to both high school academic performance and post-high school
performance and career choices.
The researchers conducted high school transcript
analysis, interviews with academy staff and administration, post-high school surveys and
analysis of success for the students who attended the CSU system. Maxwell and Rubin’s
conclusions mirror Stern’s conclusions with respect to academy students having
increased academic performance, higher GPA, improved attitude toward school and
increased pursuit of postsecondary education. The CPRC study also noted academy
students required less remediation in college English. Yet, the study also suggested
several limitations to academy success. These limitations included discussion indicating
academies showed no statistically significant gains for certain subgroups, namely
African-Americans and Latinos. In addition, academies could not overcome the large
disadvantages several of the academy students had with regard to their education. The
researchers also specified several required components to attain academic success within
academies: complete and comprehensive curriculum, school-within-school design to
shelter students from a negative school environment, large amounts of start-up resources,
committed academy head and school and community support.
In an effort to further examine the effects of academies on student success, Thomas
Smith (2002), with the support of the MDRC and the CASN (Career Academy Support
Network) at UC Berkeley, conducted a field study to determine the effect of academy
participation on high-stakes testing. His article also discussed course sequencing and
counseling requirements of academies but my research focus is testing so that will be my
focus here.
His study examined seven schools in six school districts across the nation
including Seattle, San Jose, Oakland, Miami, Philadelphia and St. Louis. The schools in
Philadelphia and Miami were classified as “all-academy” where each student was
involved in an academy program, and the other schools varied in their experience and
time with academies.
Smith (2002) discovered the lack of significant gains on
standardized tests for academy students reflected an overall dissatisfaction with testing
and the corresponding schedule which detracted from the academy curriculum. Most of
these high-stakes tests, such as district and state tests, do not affect the students
personally so they do not feel as compelled to do well. In addition, several of the schools
strongly regulated extracurricular activities in the weeks before the test preventing the
academy students from taking field trips and participating in their internships the
academy curriculum provides them.
negative attitude toward the test.
This regulation caused the students to have a
This attitude combined with a lack of personal
accountability caused the students to perform like their peers. Although the district
benchmarks being examined for my study do have more personal accountability for my
students, the amount of testing required by districts detracts from the academy curriculum
so the negative attitude toward testing could be a factor in my study.
Several years later, in 2005, Cleary and English focused specifically on health academies
to see their relationship to health education and careers. Within their article, they cited
evidence that supports the claims made in the MDRC and CPRC studies. They cited
evidence by Dryfoos that academies lead to greater academic achievement, higher faculty
morale, less student misbehavior and greater family satisfaction. In addition, they cited
evidence by Raywid regarding higher achievement, higher graduation rates and fewer
alcohol and drug incidents with academy students. Cleary and English also emphasized
the benefits of an academy specifically for minority and working-class students. These
benefits included a sense of connectedness with teachers, the feeling they were
challenged by their coursework and they were treated fairly by teachers and staff.
Therefore, in analyzing a specific type of academy the conclusions were equivalent to
Stern’s several years previous. However, Cleary and English also indicated academies
often are affected negatively by high-stakes testing.
The subjects of the study are Oxnard High School sophomores, ranging in age from 1416, predominantly Hispanic, and taking college preparatory classes. Thirty-two students
within the study are in the Law Academy Biology and another college prep Biology class
of thirty-five to thirty-eight students is the control group.
All variables are the same to the extent both sections have the same textbook, same notes
and assignments, same laboratory activities and technology resources. My study covers
two units: ecology and cell organelles. For ecology, both classes have teacher-generated
notes and daily assignments which aid students in completing a cumulative “Life in a
Bottle” project (RUBRIC INCLUDED IN APPENDIX) where they must design a living
ecosystem that can survive for one week with no external support. For cell organelles,
both classes have teacher-generated notes, coloring sheets to color-code the organelles,
and a cumulative project to design a cell model (RUBRIC INCLUDED IN APPENDIX)
or cell pamphlet (RUBRIC INCLUDED IN APPENDIX). Each unit begins with a
benchmark pre-test and ends with a benchmark post-test (INCLUDED IN APPENDIX).
The tests are identical to one another, are written by biology teachers from the six major
campuses in our district and are complied by the district office. Edusoft, a computer
software program at our district, reads the benchmark answer sheets. Before each unit,
students also are given a survey determining their comfort with the topic to make me
aware of possible biases or natural inclination to a topic. The survey consists of 3
questions asking the students to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10 with comfort, previous
knowledge and like/dislike for a topic (INCLUDED IN APPENDIX). The survey also
contains 2 questions asking the students to define the overarching idea (ecology and
organelles) and list vocabulary words associated with that term. After each unit, students
complete a similar survey to see growth outside of a district-implemented test. The
survey will be identical to the pre-unit survey except two questions will be added: what
activities most helped you be successful and what activities least helped you be
The study encompasses a two to three-month time span. Pre-test and post-test scores are
determined through the Edusoft program available on our district computers. The pretest is given before each unit and the post-test follows 2-3 weeks later. Surveys will be
coded by the researcher and will be given in conjunction with the benchmark tests. The
scaled questions are coded in terms of frequency. The definition questions are coded in
terms of frequency of key words utilized in the definition. The vocabulary words are
coded in terms of usage of each word. The questions regarding activities that most
helped and least helped students are also coded in terms of usage of each activity. My
data is analyzed in a quantitative manner using tables showing students’ pre- and postscores for the district benchmarks. The table shows a side-by-side comparison between
Law Academy students and the other college prep students. Also included is a chart
showing mastery of the relevant standards for each student. Data from the survey is also
represented in a quantitative manner showing frequency of each numeric value of the
scale and frequency of each key word for the definition and vocabulary questions. Pie
charts are incorporated that are color-coded showing least helpful and most helpful
activities to help me determine if academy activities are contributing to success on
Cleary, M. & English, G. (2005). The Small Schools Movement: Implications for Health
Education. Journal of School Health, 75, 243-247.
Maxwell, N. & Rubin, V. (2001). Career Academy Programs in California: Outcomes
and Implementation. CPRC Report (Report No. EDO-CE-083-616). Washington
D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED467000)
Smith, T. (2002). Course Taking, Test Preparation, and Career Academy Programs:
Findings from a Field Study. (Report No. EDO-CE-083-260). Washington D.C.:
Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED465033)
Stern, D. (2001). Career Academies and High School Reform Before, During, and After
the School-to-Work Movement. (Report No. EDO-CE-084-610). Washington
D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED474217)
Stern, D., Dayton, C. & Raby, M. (2000). Career Academies: Building Blocks for
Reconstructing American High Schools. (Report No. EDO-CE-082-127).
Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED455445)