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Marsh, J., McCombs, J., Lockwood, J.R., Martorell, F., Gershwin, D., Naftel, S., Le, V., Shea, M., Barney, H., & Crego, A. (2008). Supporting literacy across the sunshine state: A study of Florida middle school reading coaches. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Author: Marsh, J., McCombs, J., Lockwood, J.R., Martorell, F., Gershwin, D., Naftel, S., Le, V., Shea, M., Barney, H., & Crego, A.

Link: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9374/

Description:

This study used a mix-methods approach to evaluate the implementation and impact of Florida middle school reading coaches from eight districts in 2006-07. Survey, student, and case study data were used along with longitudinal student achievement data from all middle school grades. While the reading coaches were asked to work with all teachers in their schools, a finding is that most worked extensively with the reading teachers in the middle schools.The eight districts developed similar policies and supports for coaches with common concerns emerging about the recruitment and retention of high quality coaches. Coaches’ quality, particularly their ability to support adult learners, was positively related to several of the study’s outcomes. Coaches themselves indicated a need for specific kinds of professional development around supporting adult learners, working with special populations such as special education students and ELLs, ways to work with teachers to improve practice, and incorporating literacy across the content areas. The jobs of the reading coaches took many forms on a day-to-day basis. Administrators, coaches, and teachers identified several barriers to coaches’ opportunities to provide instructional support to teachers. More than half of the coaches cited the large amount of time needed to coordinate and administer assessments. Less than one-third of the coaches and principals thought that the ratio of teachers to reading coaches negatively affected their ability to coach, but many district coordinators and coaches noted the challenges involved in supporting many teachers at once.

The coaches identified both school and district administrators as key supports to their work. Many of the teachers and principals reported that the reading coach had a positive effect on teachers and administrators in their schools. However, the evidence was mixed regarding the impact of coaching on achievement. “Having a state-funded coach was associated with small but significan improvements in average annual gains in reading for two of the four cohorts analyzed.” (p. 183) The frequency with which coaches reviewed assessment data with teachers was associated with positive outcomes; other implementation features did not appear to be related.

The report ends with recommendations for policy and practice and for needed research. The study suggests that there is a need to support coach quality by developing a pipeline of qualified candidates for coach positions and then to provide school administrators with guidance about how to identify high-quality coach candidates. Districts need to consider offering incentives and support to attract high-quality coaches and to retain them over time. Coaches continue to need professional development especially in the area of supporting adult learners. In addition, once in the position of coach, coaches need to complete certain types of coaching activities. These include reviewing assessment data with teachers, addressing barriers to enable coaches to work more with teachers, and examining the caseload of each coach. Finally, the work of a coach must be prioritized and targeted teachers to work with identified. In terms of future research, the study suggests at least 5 types: use of experimental design, multi-year investigations, collection of data that links coaches to individual teachers and then their students, comparisons of the effects of various types of coaching programs, and examinations of the costs and benefits of coaching.

Date Added: 11/14/2008

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