Beaver, Jessica K.
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PublicationMeasuring School Capacity, Maximizing School Improvement(2012-07-01) Beaver, Jessica K; Beaver, Jessica K; Weinbaum, Elliot HGiven the nearly ubiquitous use of the term "capacity" in education policy discourse, this policy brief offers a common framework for analyzing capacity that educators, policymakers, and researchers alike can apply and understand with consistency. Drawing data from a larger three-year CPRE study of school responses to accountability in Pennsylvania, the authors' goal is not to provide an easy, new, one-sentence definition, but rather to create a shared language that can be applied to research and improvement efforts in schools. To accomplish this, the authors break capacity down into component parts, explaining how each one builds off the next and contributes to theoverall concept. PublicationLearning From NCLB: School Responses to Accountability Pressure and Student Subgroup Performance(2012-09-01) Weinbaum, Elliot H; Beaver, Jessica K.; Beaver, Jessica K.Much has been written in the last decade about the spotlight that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) shines on schoolperformance. Proponents and opponents alike are quick to discuss the law’s rigid definitions of school performance— exemplified by the classification of schools as making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or not making AYP based largely on annual tests in reading and mathematics, disaggregating school performance by student subgroups, and requiring that all schools reach 100% proficiency. Yet for all its rigidity, the law has offered schools little guidance on how to make use of the performance data that the new systems provide or how to design improvement efforts. As policymakers discuss ways to change NCLB or design new federal education policies targeted at improving academic achievement, we present new research findings that can help to inform those discussions. In this CPRE Policy Brief, we examine the extent to which the assumptions in the law manifest themselves in the actions that school leaders take. This brief asks and answers the question: How do school leaders—administrators and teachers— respond to the results of state assessment systems and the pressure of performance-based accountability? And do those responses seem to matter to achievement outcomes? PublicationChallenging the Assumption of Rationality in Performance-Based Accountability Systems: A Comparative Case Study of School and District Decision-Making Approaches(2013-01-01) Beaver, Jessica K; Beaver, Jessica KCHALLENGING THE ASSUMPTION OF RATIONALITY IN PERFORMANCE-BASED ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEMS: A COMPARATIVE CASE STUDY OF SCHOOL AND DISTRICT DECISION-MAKING APPROACHES Jessica K. Beaver Richard M. Ingersoll Performance-based accountability systems provide schools and districts with detailed student performance data on the front end and demand that schools meet rigorous minimum proficiency thresholds on the back end or face a set of sanctions that ratchet up year after year. The process by which schools and districts make decisions for improvement in order to meet these requirements, however, is opaque at best. Each district is like an island unto itself, with its own political context, financial constraints, demographic and economic makeup, human capital, and social dynamics. Especially given the immense amount of money spent every year in improvement grants to districts, as well as the plethora of vendors touting new products, there is a clear imperative to understand how schools and districts select particular programs or strategies for improvement above other options. In this dissertation study, I apply the literature on search and decision-making in other disciplines to the field of public elementary and secondary education, paying particular attention to schools and districts under pressure to improve from performance-based accountability systems. I employ a comparative case study approach, using three consecutive years of data from a stratified random sample of eight schools (nested within their districts) in Pennsylvania. I find that schools and districts are under immense pressure to demonstrate student achievement gains, and that this pressure extends to all phases of the decision-making process, including problem identification, search, and the decision point. Despite this pressure, I find that schools do not descend into chaos when making decisions for improvement - they generally approach the decision-making process in a linear manner and let building-level administrators employ a "middle-out" approach to decision-making. But on the other hand, schools are far from purely rational organizations, as there are forces internal and external to the school or district that constrain decision-making processes. Although these constraints affect all stages of the decision-making process, they have the most severe influence on the search phase. Finally, I create a framework that advances the literature on decision-making in education by establishing four distinct typologies of decision-making approaches.