Comprehensive Evaluation of the Effects of District-Wide High School Curriculum Reform on Academic Achievement and Attainment in Chicago

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This study tests the effects of a series of curricular reforms aimed at increasing curricular rigor on classroom instruction in science, students’ achievement, and equity in student achievement in a high-poverty urban school district. It identifies the instructional practices associated with higher achievement in science and math classrooms, and the ways in which teacher, departmental and school capacity moderate the effects of curricular reform on changes in students’ opportunity to learn science and math and on their academic outcomes. Policies studied include: 1) eliminating remedial coursework and requiring all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum; 2) requiring students with below-average math skills to enroll in two periods of algebra in ninth grade; 3) increasing the availability of Honors, AP and IB classes; 4) implementing externally-developed curriculum plus professional development aligned with the testing system.


The research is set in Chicago Public Schools.

Research Design: 

This project collects original data using paper and pencil survey questionnaires, as well as analysis of extant data from student tests and course transcripts. This research uses quasi-experimental and statistical modeling to generate causal and associative evidence. Indicators of classroom instructional practices and classroom climate were developed from surveys of teachers and students, including interactive math pedagogy, inquiry-based science pedagogy, academic press, student engagement, student self-efficacy, student classroom behavior, teacher personalism, clarity of instruction, writing demand, assignment demand, homework requirements, and time spent on review.

This project uses an interrupted-time series/cohort design, mixed with additional comparison groups or design elements, depending on the structure of the policy. Because several of the policies affected a subset of schools, the researchers could combine the interrupted time series design with within-cohort comparisons to study most of the policies. To study some policies, they add a regression-discontinuity or an instrumental-variables analysis. The researchers use hierarchical models to separate student, teacher, classroom, department and school effects. Additionally, they use cross-nested analyses to isolate teacher effects from student effects.


Requiring three-years of college-preparatory science coursework and ending remedial science classes resulted immediately in substantial increases in taking science courses and acquiring science course credits. Many more students enrolling in Chicago public high schools completed mid-level science sequences. However, grades in science courses were very low—the typical student received Cs and Ds in their science classes; only 13 percent of students finished the science sequence with grades averaging “Bs” or better. These low grades suggest little net increase in the amount of scientific knowledge and skills acquired, particularly as test score analysis shows almost no improvements in learning among students earning less than “Bs” in their science classes. Furthermore, there were no increases in the completion of high-level science courses or physics, and no improvements in college enrollment or persistence.