September 6, 2023
New Report Details How K-12 Systems Are Accelerating Learning and Making Gains

Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of district and state education leaders, today released Accelerating Learning: How K-12 Systems Are Moving Forward and Making Gains. The report outlines strategies for improving academic achievement at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, a time when, by and large, America’s students are far behind. It points to districts and states that are improving academic performance in key areas. Many of the initiatives featured in the report are funded with federal Covid relief aid.

The spotlights in the report include:

  • “Bold Action for Kids”: High-Leverage Strategies for Statewide Improvement in Tennessee. Former Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn developed a comprehensive strategy that helped distinguish the state as a leader in K-12 during and after the Covid pandemic and that continues to drive progress today. The strategy is focused on several key areas, including early literacy, high-dosage tutoring, and building the pipeline of talented teachers. State test results released in June show increases in academic proficiency across all subjects and grades, with an 8-percentage-point increase in student proficiency in English language arts (ELA) and math since 2020. “The challenge I offer to all of us is that we turn the possibility into the reality,” Schwinn said. “Make bold action for kids the expectation, not the exception.”
  • “Fidelity Is Critically Important”: Evidence-Based Methods for Virtual Tutoring in Ector County. Students in Ector County Independent School District who participated in virtual tutoring demonstrated up to a year and a half’s worth of growth on test scores. “Simply giving a tutoring session and hoping for the best was not going to be a strategy for us,” Superintendent Scott Muri said in the report. “Implementing the program with fidelity was critically important. Our students needed to accelerate at a rapid pace, so we established a rigorous framework. . . . I am incredibly pleased with the progress that we have made. Through adversity—and this community has had a lot of adversity in just the last four years—they have risen. For the first time ever, our school system is rated a B in the state of Texas.”
  • “We All Want the Same Thing”: Community Partnerships for Learning in Beaufort County. A major element of the pandemic-recovery work in Beaufort County School District in South Carolina is a formal partnership that established extended learning sites, after school, at area churches and other community organizations. “We hire retired educators, and even some of our own educators who want to work additional time,” Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said. “We train them and look very closely at what our data is telling us about student needs in reading and math, and then we provide that information about what the general and collective needs are to the individual sites so they can plan and be purposeful about the work that takes place through the program.” Beaufort County surpassed pre-pandemic results in ELA on the 2022 state assessment, with children earning the highest ELA scores in the district’s history. In addition, the district projects—based on its analysis of spring 2023 state tests—that there will be significant gains when the official results are released.
  • “Schools Can’t Do This Work Alone”: State Resources for Local Impact in Indiana. The Indiana Department of Education, under the leadership of Secretary Katie Jenner, implemented a plan to improve student achievement that involves tracking data on longitudinal outcomes after high school, ensuring districts use curriculum grounded in the science of reading, training teachers to use evidence-based instructional methods, and supporting intensive summer learning and enrichment opportunities. Students who participated in Indy Summer Learning Labs in 2022 showed statistically significant academic growth, exceeding pre-pandemic learning rates and outperforming children who did not take part. Based on program-specific pre- and post-assessments, after one summer, kids in the program saw an average score increase of 25 percentage points in ELA and 24 percentage points in math. “We have to acknowledge that schools can’t do this work alone,” Jenner said. “I often ask myself how I can take the state’s resources and strategically deploy them locally, understanding that the greatest impact always happens at the local level.”
  • “It Can Be Done”: High-Quality Curricula for Boosting Achievement in Indianapolis. Research has shown that one of the best ways to improve student learning is to give teachers high-quality instructional materials and the support they need to use those resources well. In math and ELA, children in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) performed higher on state tests than before the pandemic. Among large districts in the state, IPS had the highest growth on ELA. The gains, while modest, reflect the district’s steadfast commitment to students. “This is what we have to stay focused on, to prove what is possible for our students, prove what is possible to our teachers when they have really strong instructional practices combined with the grade-level, content-rich curriculum our kids deserve,” said Superintendent Aleesia Johnson.

The report is a resource for leaders who want to know about strategies that are leading to measurable academic gains.

“Systems are using these approaches in a variety of contexts,” said Chiefs for Change CEO Robert Runcie. “They are showing that it is possible to accelerate learning, and they explain how they are doing it. These are examples that others can consider for their own systems. While the Nation’s Report Card reflected alarming declines, the gains featured in our report represent bright spots. With what we know from research and these stories from our network, we hope to help catalyze academic progress across the nation this school year.”

Chiefs for Change engaged the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in early 2023 to review published research studies and to identify evidence-based approaches that improve student learning. Members discussed this body of research at their Annual Meeting and described ways in which their systems were implementing sound strategies. Some of the strategies in the report released today reflect established research on what works; others seem to yield notable achievement gains despite not yet having been studied. Chiefs for Change has included examples from both categories to show how systems are adopting promising programs that could make a difference elsewhere.

The strategies contained in Accelerating Learning contribute to success stories documented by Chiefs for Change in previous publications, including its June 2023 report, A Work in Progress: How Covid Aid Is Helping Schools Recover and the Need for Sustained Federal Support.

As a network, Chiefs for Change operates the largest community of practice for education system leaders in the nation. The network is committed to working with respected partners to disseminate high-quality research and share impactful practices from members’ systems.