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McREL, USC, and partners awarded i3 grant to create digital game that boosts student motivation

December 7, 2015

DENVER—McREL International, the University of Southern California (USC), and a coalition of partner agencies have won a five-year, $2,669,593 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a digital game that will improve the “identity-based motivation” (IBM) of middle and high school students to be successful, engaged learners.

McREL and USC’s partners on the project, titled “Identity-Based Motivation Journey to Academic Success,” include Filament Games, South Central Colorado BOCES (SCBOCES), and the University of Illinois.

Co-directed by McREL researcher Katie Andersen and USC Dean’s Professor Daphna Oyserman, the project will focus on the key elements of IBM theory: making the future feel relevant and connected to the present, making difficulty feel like evidence that schoolwork is important, and creating a sense that effective learning strategies “fit” with one’s identity.

“We are excited about figuring out how to harness student motivation to improve success not through good intentions alone but by taking the time to carefully test the conditions in which an innovation works,” said Oyserman. “Our short-term goal is to improve academic outcomes; in the long run, the project should create a larger cohort of students ready for the next step—college and beyond.”

The i3 grant competition supports the development and expansion of research-based programs that can transform the academic trajectory of students, educators, and their schools. Grants are awarded based on the rigor of research shown to support projects across three categories: Development, Validation, and Scale-up. In addition, the i3 grant requires awardees to secure matching funds or in-kind contributions of 15 percent from the private sector within 90 days of receiving the award.

The game will be developed with Filament Games, a production studio based in Madison, Wisconsin, that exclusively creates learning games, combining best practices in commercial game development with key concepts from the learning sciences. CEO Dan White said, “We couldn’t be more excited to explore the intersection of games and identity for this project, particularly because research shows that identity immersion is one of the greatest strengths of game-based learning.”

The game will be piloted and tested with Colorado students and educators, through a partnership with SCBOCES, with the goal of helping students develop “those non-cognitive skills that are often overlooked in the K‒12 classroom,” said Executive Director Henry Roman, such as the development of academic perseverance, positive mindsets, and self-directed learning strategies.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign associate professor Kristen Bub will conduct the external evaluation of the project, ensuring fidelity of implementation and rigorously testing the impact of the project on student outcomes. Bub looks forward to working on a project that “innovatively combines what we know from multiple disciplines, including education, psychology, and computer science, about learning and development to improve school engagement and achievement among a diverse sample of middle and high school students.”

About McREL

McREL International is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving education for all students through applied research, product development, and professional service to teachers and education leaders.

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White Paper | Re-Balancing Formative Assessment: Placing Formative Assessment at the Heart of Learning and Accountability (2015)

In response to high-stakes testing and top-down accountability, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and co-authors from Measured Progress propose in this white paper a new, more balanced formula for assessment based on curriculum-embedded performance assessments (CEPAs), which better support the deeper learning expected of students today. They also outline how states can use CEPAs in accountability systems and reduce the emphasis on end-of-year summative assessments.

Hofman, P., Goodwin, B., & Kahl, S. (2015). Re-balancing assessment: Placing formative and performance assessment at the heart of learning and accountability. Denver, CO: McREL International.

Download the white paper.

Wyoming superintendent cites McREL’s Balanced Leadership as key factor in district’s improvement

In this guest post for Education Week’s Leadership 360 blog, Superintendent Jay Harnack from Sublette County School District #1 (SCSD1) shares how he, his board of education, and his principals and teachers improved student achievement through an integrated district improvement approach that included McREL’s Balanced Leadership research-based leadership framework.

“All of our administrators were trained in the leadership framework, and this created a common language and understanding of leadership practices, which we could then align to any given improvement initiative,” writes Superintendent Harnack. He adds that the greatest benefit came when teachers were also trained in Balanced Leadership, leading to “significant improvements in teacher engagement, leadership, and collaboration with principals.”

SCSD1 was recently reviewed by AdvancED and earned an Index of Educational Quality Score (IEQ) that was the highest in the state of Wyoming and among the top 10% internationally. In addition, the district’s elementary school and high school received an “exceeding standards” ranking on the Wyoming State Accountability model.

Classroom Instruction That Works, Second Edition: Research Report (2010)

This study updates and extends McREL’s original 1998 research synthesis of effective instructional strategies, providing further clarity on each of the nine strategies and their uses, and generating updated effect estimates using literature published after 1998. The report synthesizes only primary studies, rather than prior meta-analyses, in order to enhance control over the data and provide more accurate effect estimates.

Beesley, A., & Apthorp, H. (Eds.). (2010). Classroom instruction that works, second edition: Research report. Denver, CO: McREL International.

Download the full report.

White Paper | School District Leadership that Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement (2006)

This working paper analyzes the influence of district superintendents on student achievement and the characteristics of effective superintendents. Through a meta-analysis of research findings, the paper identifies five district-level leadership responsibilities that have statistically significant correlations with average student academic achievement. All five of these responsibilities relate to setting and keeping districts focused on teaching and learning goals.

Waters, J.T. & Marzano, R. (2006). School district leadership that works: the effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: McREL International.

Download the full report.