MEP both engages in and supports research

The MEP co-Directors (Katie Eklund, Eric Grodsky and Beth Vaade) collaboratively direct research projects with MMSD, as well as support Sponsored Researchers as they undertake complementary, shorter-term research projects.

MEP-Directed research—including the studies listed here—emphasizes issues of interest to MMSD and aligns with national education research trends. The co-directors consult with the MEP Steering Committee to set priorities each year.

From 2016-2018 MEP focused on MMSD’s four-year-old Kindergarten (4K) program, using an equity lens.  MEP also investigated elementary students’ attendance, and critical factors influencing attendance.

The following research projects are ongoing or have been completed.

Ongoing Research (2018 through 2020)

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MMSD Students

Student Attendance, Grades 5-9

Research Team: Katie Eklund, Jaymes Pyne, Jake Wertz, Eric Grodsky, and Beth Vaade

This research study brings together researchers, MMSD central office staff, and school leaders to investigate middle school attendance issues and, in addition, foster co-ownership of the research, solution formulation, and policy/practice recommendations. Driving questions include:

  • How is school climate related to student attendance -- and what is the relationship between school attendance, school climate, and academic achievement?
  • To what extent do attendance patterns in grades 6-9 reflect attendance patterns in elementary school? What predicts which students experience increases in attendance, and which students experience declines in attendance, in middle school?
  • What is the relationship between behavior metrics (e.g., discipline referrals, suspension/expulsion) and attendance?

Enhancing the Quality of Instruction in 4-Year-Old Kindergarten

Research supported by $400,000 grant from the Institute of Education Sciences

Research Team: Katie Eklund, Beth Graue, Eric Grodsky, Katherine Magnuson, Beth Vaade, Culleen Witthuhn, Kathryn Boonstra, Erica Ramberg, and Kaitlyn Young

During this two-year study, researchers are conducting classroom observations to assess the quality of instruction and instructional environments in 4K. The grant runs from Fall 2018 through Summer 2020. In the school year of 2018-2019, we conducted classroom observations and held focus groups, informing the professional development plans. View our progress report from May 2019 on classroom observations.

In summer of 2019, we are convening a professional development planning team made of teachers and early childhood education directors. In school year 2019-2020, we will be piloting the professional development.

May 2019 Progress Report (PDF)
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L-R: Researchers Erica Ramberg and Leah Awkward-Rich

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POSTER: Enhancing the Quality of Instruction in 4-Year-Old Kindergarten (PDF)

Collaborating around the Transition to Kindergarten: Two Studies

Research supported by a $396,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation

Research Team: Beth Graue, Eric Grodsky, Katherine Magnuson, Beth Vaade, Culleen Witthuhn, Lauren Lauter, and Moonjoo Woo

The transition into five-year-old kindergarten (5K) can be challenging for children, even those who have experience in 4K or other high quality early learning programs.

MEP is conducting two, related studies. In the first, researchers are examining school practices to plan for the 4K-5K transition. Document review and interviews will help illuminate how school staff design structures to facilitate smooth transitions, and identify areas where schools can build on current success and address gaps. In the second study, teachers conducted home visits in the summer of 2019. Our research team has interviewed families and teachers who participated in the home visits in addition to teacher focus groups.

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L-R: Researchers Lauren Lauter, Beth Graue, Eric Grodsky, and Moonjoo Woo

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POSTER: Improving the Transition to Kindergarten for Students and Families through Home Visits (PDF)

2017- 2018 Research

In 2017-2018 MEP remains focused on student outcomes in early grades, transitioning focus to student attendance and chronic absenteeism in grades K-3:

What  Happens When Children Miss School?

What Happens When Children Miss School? Unpacking Elementary School Absences in MMSD

Research Team: Eric Camburn, Eric Grodsky, Jaymes Pyne, Beth Vaade, and Dominique Bradley

MEP researchers investigated student outcomes in early grades, including student attendance and chronic absenteeism in grades K-3. Underpinning this research is the prevailing and compelling logic of focusing on attendance: Students need to be in school to learn; if students do not come to school, teachers, administrators and support staff cannot do their jobs. We present evidence that somewhat contradicts this logic. MEP researchers looked into the following:

  • How prevalent are excused and unexcused absences in early elementary school?
  • How are student and family background characteristics related to the number and type of absences students’ experience?
  • How are excused and unexcused absences in early elementary school related to academic and socioemotional outcomes?
  • To what extent do differences in school attendance contribute to racial/ethnic and economic inequalities in academic achievement among children in Grade 3 and younger?

2016-2017 Research Questions

MEP focused on answering important, descriptive questions about the MMSD’s 4K program, including the following:

Patterns of Enrollment

Madison Metropolitan School District Four-year-old Kindergarten: Patterns of Enrollment

Research Team: Eric Camburn, Eric Grodsky, Jaymes Pyne, Beth Vaade, and Dominique Bradley

Although MMSD provides universal access to a part-day 4K-program, opting-in to enroll is not universal. MEP investigated several questions:

  • How does enrollment in 4K differ among different groups of children?
  • Are students’ background and family characteristics associated with patterns of attendance? For example, are children of color or low-income children more or less likely to attend 4K than other children? Does home language predict attendance?
  • Finally, do program elements (such as time of day or type of school) influence enrollment?

MEP research revealed several insights relevant to both policymakers and practitioners interested in improving the quality of 4K—and transitions into 5K—for students and families.

Preparing the Littlest Learners

Preparing the Littlest Learners: Four-Your-Old Kindergarten Enrollment and Kindergarten Readiness in MMSD

Research Team: Eric Camburn, Eric Grodsky, Jaymes Pyne, Beth Vaade, and Dominique Bradley

This research unpacked participation in 4K and its relationship to school readiness, as well as ways variations associated with child and family attributes.  In reality, readiness is a frequently used word, but it includes multiple factors.  MEP investigated:

  • What is the association between 4K participation and the academic and social and behavioral competencies of children entering Kindergarten?
  • How, if at all, does this association vary by race/ethnicity, parental education, or eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch?
  • How, if at all, does this association vary across 4K sites?

MEP’s descriptive research and report is useful to those seeking to improve the quality of 4K and facilitate 4K-5K transitions for students and families.