The Research base of the ALL Approach
ALL began its life as the large ARC funded collaborative problem-solving partnership, Smart Education Partnerships. From 2009-2012 the ALL researchers built and tested a research and development collaborative for literacy innovation in 12 low socio-economic, culturally diverse schools in an urban area of significant social, and economic disadvantage in South East Queensland, Australia. This work was uniquely successful. The partnership/collaboration won three State Government innovation awards for its significant impact on student learning in reading comprehension in diverse middle years classrooms. There is compelling evidence for literacy improvement over three years in SEP project schools. The main aim of the partnership and specifically the collaborative inquiry model was to shift each school’s focus to collective responsibility in addressing low educational outcomes in disadvantaged communities. We engaged in rigorous inquiry cycles around student data and current teaching. We promoted high levels of teacher learning through needs-based professional development targeted to individual teacher needs and we partnered with school leaders to support the joint improvement efforts.
Compelling evidence of impact on student learning
In order for us to judge this collaboration effective, we need evidence. We have argued that for us to claim impact for our activities, then our SEP school students needed to make larger learning gains than those normally expected or evidenced in similar types of schools that were not a part of the project activities. In order to determine if such an impact existed, the partnership team tracked student performance over multiple years and used Cohen’s d effect sizes to compare student performances with the norming sample on the diagnostic reading test [TORCH] and the state sample on the national high stakes reading test [NAPLAN]. A Cohen’s effect size standardises the difference in scores as a proportion of standard deviation and allows for meaningful comparisons to be drawn between samples and over time. Values up to +/-.20 are considered trivial, .21 to .39 are small, .40 to .59 are medium, and >.60 are large.
Tracking cohort performance on NAPLAN (Reading) from 2008-2010 and 2009 -2011 and comparing effect sizes (Cohen’s d) revealed acceleration in project schools when compared with others in the state. Learning gains across all cohorts taking NAPLAN: Reading were large, but students in project schools showed greater gains than those in other schools. For example, when tracked as a cohort from 2008-2010, the students who started year three in 2008 and were year five students in 2010, demonstrated a NAPLAN Reading gain that was 27% greater than the gain made by other year five students in state schools. The gain for the 2009 cohort of year three students tracked into year five, shows a gain that was 44% greater than the gains experienced by students in state schools in general. A similar story is evident for year five to year seven cohort tracking. The year five cohort of 2008 gained 35% more than the state cohort over the same period, and the 2009 year five cohort, when tracked to year seven in 2011 demonstrated increased learning gains of 64% over their peers in state schools.
On the second “in school” measure of student performance, TORCH (Test of Reading Comprehension, ACER 2006), analysis revealed consistent accelerated growth patterns year on year (See Table 2). Compared with the expected rates of progress calculated from the norming sample, project schools demonstrated growth that consistently outstripped that expected from the norming sample predictions. Only two year levels in two project years (Cluster 2’s year eights in 2010, Cluster 2’s year nines in 2012) failed to meet adequate yearly progress. In other project years and cohorts, the rate of progress was routinely double that expected and often more.
Taken together, these analyses of student data suggest significant effects for the intervention in schools that extends beyond teacher and leadership learning to impact the reading proficiency of students in project classrooms. There was also some evidence of wider impact outside the specific classes and teachers involved in the project, with students in early years showing high scores on standardised literacy test data and deeper engagement in reading. We attribute these effects to the development of a school-wide culture of high expectations, extensive professional collaboration for achieving shared goals, and a renewed rigour in approaches to teaching and learning.
ALL Teachers: More skilled, more effective and more confident
In addition to the gains students made, there is convincing evidence that overall teachers found the ALL process engaging and empowering. At the final audit point in the project (March, 2012), there were 121 teachers involved in the project. Of those, 98 completed a reflective survey administered on iPod devices. Their responses indicated increases in skill, knowledge and self-efficacy. The project teachers reported increases in: (1) capacity for working with evidence to enhance classroom literacy instruction (92%); (2) knowledge about how children learn to read and think (93%); and (3) confidence as teachers of literacy (89%). Specifically, teachers reported that they were (1) more skilled in interpreting and using data from the assessment of reading comprehension (92%); (2) more effective in selecting teaching and learning strategies to match the needs of students (94%); and (3) more capable of making clearer links between teaching goals and classroom activities (94%). Most importantly, teachers surveyed said that increases in students’ reading comprehension levels were a result of changes that they had made to literacy instruction in their classrooms (85%).