Academic Optimism

Breaking the Cycle of Underperformance
Developing academic optimism
Drexel University Noyce Program
Sheila R. Vaidya, Ph.D.
Cynthia Paul( Doctoral Student)
Ryan Batkie (Noyce Teacher)
High Need Schools & Teacher
-As I visited the high need schools where Noyce teachers
were placed, I wanted to know how we were making a
difference in high need schools.
-High-poverty, low-performing schools fight a
constant uphill battle to recruit and retain
teachers and principals.
-They have more trouble attracting enough
experienced applicants, lose staff at a much higher
rate (over one in five teachers every year), and
must fill vacancies again and again with lessqualified candidates.
Data from the Education Trust
-Data from the Education trust conveyed that in high
need schools- high poverty, low performing schools,
teachers are twice as likely to have less experience,
lack certification and about 70% typically would be
teaching out-of field.
Kati Haycock
- Closing the Teacher Quality gap- the poorer the student,
the less qualified the teacher; one often sees “dreadful
teaching” in the highest poverty schools.
Teacher Performance differences
 I visited several classrooms, obtained Achievement test data,
talked to Principals and I could see that some of our teachers
were turning around the cycle of underperformance while
others were doing what was needed.
 But it took leadership and strong beliefs to do more Overhaul the curriculum
 Transforming the school’s self-image: 2006-2010
 Design and create a Physics lab
 Master teaching
The differences
 I began to wonder what it is about the teachers that
was making a difference?
 All of them had the content knowledge, the pedagogical
knowledge, technology knowledge- so I began to look
into the literature and came across a concept that was
being developed by Anita Wolfolk, Wayne Hoy (2006,
2009) at Ohio State University- they called this
characteristic “Teacher’s academic Optimism”
Academic Optimism
 They said that they too found that teacher’s academic
optimism was a construct that they had studied and
developed a theoretical measure of It challenged the findings of the Coleman report about
the socioeconomic status continuing to impede student
learning and that teacher beliefs were having an
Teachers who find purpose in their work
• Believe all students can learn
• we need to find ways to teach them
• Teachers are high in self-efficacy
• Demonstrate academic optimism
• Teachers who stay
• Talk to their students
What is Teacher Academic Optimism?
 Teacher Academic Optimism is a set of beliefs held by
individual teachers that:
 I can teach effectively.
 I trust my students to learn and their parents will
support me.
 Thus I can set the bar high and emphasize academics.
 Researchers Hoy et al. – Academic Optimism is esp. attractive
because it emphasizes the potential of schools to overcome the
power of socioeconomic factors that impair student achievement.
Evolution of the concept
 The construct is emerging from research on positive
psychology, optimism, social capital and collective school
properties that make a difference in the achievement for all
 Theoretical foundations of academic optimism are Bandura’s
social cognitive and self-efficacy theories
 Coleman’s social capital theory
 Hoy et al. –their work on school culture and climate
 Seligman’s study of learned optimism
Academic Optimism of Schools
 Collective efficacy- perception of teachers in a school
that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a
positive effect on students.
 Collective efficacy is a belief or expectation; it is
 Collective faculty trust in students and parents is an
affective response.
Individual sense of academic optimismcritical for high need schools
 Sense of teacher efficacy-a judgment of his or her capability to
bring about desired outcomes of student engagement and
learning, even among those students who may be difficult or
unmotivated (Wolfolk Hoy, 1998).
 Teacher’s sense of efficacy- a belief that they can affect student
learning- thus resulting in teachers setting high expectations,
exerting greater effort and are more resilient when things are
 Teacher trust in parents & students- leads to high teacher
 Teacher sense of academic emphasis: active student engagement
in worthwhile learning activities that make sure student progress
Academic Optimism Scale
 Academic Optimism- a teacher’s belief that she can
make a difference in the academic performance of
students by emphasizing academics and learning, by
trusting parents and students to cooperate in the
process and by believing in her ability to overcome
difficulties and react to failure with resilience and
 Noyce Teachers grouped as effective based on our
observation, school data, principal perception which
also included parental input.
Test Items
1. I encourage my students to really think through their answers.
2. I trust the parents of my students.
3. I can count on parents for help.
4. I have confidence in my students.
5. I press my students to achieve academically.
6. I believe what parents tell me.
7. I believe what students tell me.
8. I give my students challenging work.
Test Items
1. How much can you establish a classroom management
system with each group of students?
2. How much can you do to control disruptive behavior
in the classroom?
3. How much can you do to get students to believe they
can do well in school work?
4. How much can you do to motivate students who show
low interest in school work?
5. How much can you do to help your students value
Sonia Nieto- What keeps teachers
going? (2003)
 Providing a counter narrative to the prevailing view that
the way to improve education is to “fix” teachers or
“fill them up” with best practices- arguing for an
alternative view point-teaching is relational and is
fundamentally about forming connections that scaffold
 Cultivate academic optimism?
Critical Pedagogy as a theoretical framework for
urban education
 Advocates educators to become classroom researchers;
by becoming researchers of their own classrooms,
educators can reflect on their practice and influence
discussions about effective pedagogy.
 Commitment to justice, a central tenet of critical
 Teachers as agents of change; teaching students to
question and engage in critical thinking- need to believe
in a strong goal/mission.
2006 – Low Math Achievement
 Urban Charter School, grades K-8
 Northeastern United States
 Very high staff turnover (about 40%)
 Stable student population
 50% to 80% free and reduced lunch
 Teachers young, inexperienced, first year teaching
 Math not a strength
 Math program in 2006  Grades K-6 : popular reform math curriculum
 Grades 7-8 : transition math and algebra books
After three years using a new program…
Math Achievement from 2006 - 2009
Information Processing
Theory (Miller)
•Working memory is
•Seven plus or minus two
“chunks” at one time
Constructivist Theory
• Learning is an active process
• Students construct their own
• Based on prior knowledge
Literature Review
Math fact automaticity
Royer (1999) - Math fact retrieval speed correlated with math achievement
Careful use of calculators
Prior knowledge matters
Hembree (1986) Meta-analysis of calculator use
U.S. Department of Education (2008) Foundations for Success: The National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report.
Significance of curriculum
grade is key year
Foundation of basic skills critical (computation, fractions)
Rittle-Johnson (2008) Generate vs Read answers
Whitehurst (2009) effect size of curriculum = .30
Synthesis of empirical research on teaching math to low achieving students
Baker, Gersten, Lee (2002)
1). Specific feedback; 3). Regular and frequent parent feedback;
2). Peer tutoring;
4). Direct or explicit instruction when needed
• Supplemental
Curriculum that
emphasized basic skills
with explicit instruction
• Easily implemented by
new and inexperienced
teachers & substitutes
• Progress Monitoring for
Math Facts
• Problem Solving
• Test Analysis
• Vertical Integration
• Pacing
• Benchmarks
• Specific class and
student feedback to
• PSSA Checklist
• Math Notebook
• Responsible for all math
• Troubleshooting
• Academic Leadership
• Overall Guidance
• Weekly Contests
• Monthly Contests
Research 2010
Determine Fidelity to Original
On Site Feb – June
 School now has total 34
classrooms (not evenly
distributed through grades)
 Observed in 16 classrooms
 Interviewed 12 teachers
 Interviewed 4 administrators
(new math support team and
Chief of Staff)
 Program remains in place
 Significant additional
resources allocated to math
 3 support personnel
(up from 1.5)
 Additional 180 minutes per
week devoted to math
 Continued student success
One Year Later –
Math Program Remains in Place
Higher Student
More resources
 Math
program. School
reputation as
math school
Students are
more confident
Cycle of Optimism
School is
energized Teacher &
optimism &
Teachers are
more confident
Teachers &
students have
 Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Lee, D.-S. (2002). A synthesis of empirical
research on teaching mathematics to low-achieving students. The
Elementary School Journal, 103(1), 52-73.
 Hembree, R., & Dessart, D. J. (1986). Effects of hand-held calculators in
precollege mathematics education: A meta-analysis. Journal for Research
in Mathematics Education, 17(2), 83-99.
 Rittle-Johnson, B., & Kmicikewycz, A. O. (2008). When generating answers
benefits arithmetic skill: The importance of prior knowledge. Journal of
Experimental Child Psychology, 101, 75-81.
 Royer, J. M., Tronsky, L. N., Chan, Y., Jackson, S. J., & Marchant, H.
(1999). Math fact retrieval as the cognitive mechanism underlying gender
differences in math test performance. Contemporary Educational
Psychology, 24, 86-267.
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