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Collaborative Project Impacts Writing Instruction, Special Education

TCU’s university-laboratory school partnership is unique, and evidence of that comes from a collaborative project and article published in The Reading Teacher literacy journal. The research team implemented a data-driven approach to meaningfully and regularly evaluate writing proficiency for Starpoint School students aged 6-11 with learning differences like dyslexia.

The partnership transcended its original goals, reinforcing the purpose of Starpoint. M.J. and Alice Neeley helped open the laboratory school on TCU’s campus in 1966 as a place to teach children with learning differences and prepare future educators to teach children with special needs.

Associate professor Endia J. Lindo participated in a research panel with leaders of another K-12 private school in Texas who had done an evaluation showing how much former students valued and benefitted from the writing skills they built at that school, even decades later. She knew a data-informed writing project would help Starpoint students in a similar manner to develop the skills needed as they prepare to transition to other area schools. Starpoint staff had a common goal to build writing skills and address learning barriers for their students.

“We tend to focus a lot on reading, but development of written expression is an important skillset to be successful,” Lindo said. “We need a broader sense of how we determine in a systematic way where students are and where they’re supposed to be.”

Laboratory school educators and special education professor Michael Faggella-Luby started the project with teacher professional development, which led to the design of monthly writing prompts using curriculum-based measurements. The standardized assessment has been shown to improve academic outcomes and communication with parents, showing a clear and consistent graph of each student’s growth over time. Interim school director and associate professor Jo Beth Jimerson said students and parents were encouraged to see students’ progress throughout the school year.

“We could show them student responses to the last and first prompts to see the difference in the data,” Jimerson said. “We were able to pull samples out and see a clear progression and tremendous improvement.”

TCU graduate students helped analyze the curriculum-based measures in writing, providing a real-world experience in educational research and leaving more time for Starpoint teachers’ classroom instruction. Alumna Katie Buckley said it was amazing to see each individual student’s growth throughout the school year. Another benefit from the project translated to the curriculum enhancement to meet the students’ targeted needs, said Kim Payne ’79 M.Ed. ’81, Assistant Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction.

“We could look at monthly data to see what the common mistakes were and what we needed to target or continue to practice,” Payne said. “It also tells me that the curriculum matches the learning goals for a particular child.”

The project was funded in part by an endowment from Hugh and Janet Thompson to support the research partnership between the TCU Lab Schools and the Alice Neeley Special Education Research & Service (ANSERS) Institute. The team hopes to continue the project and train Starpoint staff to administer and score prompts to continue building their students’ writing skills.

“The best thing about the assessment data is that it not only tells us about the quality of instruction and rate and level of learning and curriculum, it also helps us make decisions every day with the kids,” said professor and ANSERS Director Michael Faggella-Luby. “This isn’t a project that’s going to end; it’s an ongoing assessment of the instruction and curriculum cycle.”