Zhu is an economist in MDRC’s K-12 Education Policy Area whose current work focuses on experimental and quasi-experimental impact analyses, evaluation design, and related methodological issues. She is leading the student achievement impact analysis for several projects, including the evaluation of academic language interventions, the evaluation of a school-wide system of support for behavior in elementary schools, the evaluation of the Response to Intervention program for struggling readers in early elementary grades, the evaluation of Power Teaching in middle schools, and the evaluation of the Success for All program for struggling readers in elementary schools. In addition, she has worked on evaluations of professional development programs for second-grade reading teachers and seventh-grade math teachers, the impact analysis of student outcomes in the National Reading First Impact Study, the evaluation of Ninth Grade Academies in Broward County Public Schools and the State of Florida, and the Evaluation of Enhanced Academic Instruction in After-School Programs for second- through fifth-graders. Her work at MDRC also includes several methodological studies on empirical issues related to impact variation, mediator analysis, quasi-experimental designs, group randomized experiments, and reliability of measurements for group settings. She received her PhD in economics from Princeton University.
MDRC PublicationsReportAugust, 2022
Academic language skills are critical for reading and understanding content for all students, and particularly for English learners and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This study investigated WordGen Elementary, a program designed to improve fourth- and fifth-grade students’ ability to understand and communicate academic language and their general reading skill.Report
Impacts on Elementary School Students’ OutcomesJuly, 2022
Disruptive behaviors in school can hinder students’ learning and long-term success. This study evaluated a “multi-tiered systems of support for behavior” program, which reinforces good behavior and provides supplemental support to students in need. Overall student outcomes did not improve but students who struggled the most saw some short-term benefits.Report
An Independent Evaluation of the National Study of Learning MindsetsNovember, 2019
One type of intervention to help students navigate the tricky transition to ninth grade communicates to them that their brains can grow “stronger.” This evaluation of one such intervention finds that it changed students’ beliefs and attitudes and produced impacts on their average academic performance.MethodologyMay, 2019
As an alternative to random assignment, a regression discontinuity design takes advantage of situations where program eligibility is determined by whether a score exceeds a threshold. With careful attention to assumptions, analysis, and interpretation, this quasi-experimental design can provide rigorous estimates of program effects. Reflections on Methodology outlines some considerations.Issue FocusApril, 2019
This evaluation examines a “growth mindset” intervention for ninth-graders as they make the transition to high school. It aims to boost students’ ability to meet challenges and persist in school by demonstrating that academic setbacks do not indicate poor intelligence ― with the goal of enhancing academic resilience and, ultimately, performance.Issue Focus
Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is a data-driven professional support system that helps teachers tailor instruction for each child. When delivered with intensive in-person training, it is effective at improving students’ reading ability. This Issue Focus introduces the evaluation of a delivery model that uses technology to make the system more affordable.Report
A Report from the Investing in Innovation (i3) EvaluationJune, 2017
PowerTeaching emphasizes cooperative learning to instruct middle school math and has shown strong evidence of effectiveness. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education funded an effort to scale up the program, and in 2012 MDRC began a multiyear evaluation of it. This report describes the evaluation and presents its findings.ReportNovember, 2015
This report describes the adoption of RtI practices in a large, multistate sample of schools, examines the implementation of tiered intervention services for students at risk of reading difficulty, and finds that assignment to receive intervention did not improve reading outcomes among students scoring just below the eligibility point.Report
Final Report from the Investing in Innovation (i3) EvaluationSeptember, 2015
This final report on the scale-up of Success for All, funded by a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, examines the implementation, impact, costs, and expansion of this whole-school reading reform. It finds that second-graders in schools using the program outperformed their control-group counterparts on a measure of phonics skills.Report
The Success for All Model of School ReformJuly, 2014
Success for All, a whole-school reading reform, received a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant in 2010 to expand to additional elementary schools. This report examines the program’s implementation and the impacts in 2012-2013, the second year of operation, on early reading skills.Report
Early Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Scale-UpOctober, 2013
Success for All, a whole-school reading reform, received a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant in 2010 to expand to additional elementary schools. This report examines the program’s implementation and its impact in 2011-2012, the first year of operation, on kindergartners’ early reading.Methodology
The Validity and Precision of the Comparative Interrupted Time Series Design and the Difference-in-Difference Design in Educational EvaluationSeptember, 2013
This paper examines the properties of two nonexperimental study designs that can be used in educational evaluation: the comparative interrupted time series (CITS) design and the difference-in-difference (DD) design. The paper looks at the internal validity and precision of these two designs, using the example of the federal Reading First program as implemented in a midwestern state.Methodology
Bias and Bias Correction in Multisite Instrumental Variables Analysis of Heterogeneous Mediator EffectsOctober, 2012
This paper explores the use of instrumental variables analysis with a multisite randomized trial to estimate the effect of a mediating variable on an outcome.MethodologyAugust, 2012
Despite the growing popularity of the use of regression discontinuity analysis, there is only a limited amount of accessible information to guide researchers in the implementation of this research design. This paper provides an overview of the approach and, in easy-to-understand language, offers best practices and general guidance for practitioners.Methodology
Whether and How to Use State Tests to Measure Student Achievement in a Multi-State Randomized Experiment
An Empirical Assessment Based on Four Recent EvaluationsOctober, 2011
This reference report, prepared for the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), uses data from four recent IES-funded experimental design studies that measured student achievement using both state tests and a study-administered test.ReportMay, 2011
In a study sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, intensive professional development programs for seventh-grade math teachers were implemented as intended, but teacher turnover limited the average dosage received. The programs had no impact on teacher knowledge or student achievement.Methodology
Designing and Analyzing Studies That Randomize Schools to Estimate Intervention Effects on Student Academic Outcomes Without Classroom-Level InformationApril, 2011
This paper provides practical guidance for researchers who are designing and analyzing studies that randomize schools — which comprise three levels of clustering (students in classrooms in schools) — to measure intervention effects on student academic outcomes when information on the middle level (classrooms) is missing.MethodologyAugust, 2010
This paper is the first step in a study of instrumental variables analysis with randomized trials to estimate the effects of settings on individuals. The goal of the study is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the approach and present them in ways that are broadly accessible to applied quantitative social scientists.ReportApril, 2010
This report presents first-year results from the Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. The professional development programs for seventh-grade math teachers had an impact on one measure of teacher practice but no effects on teachers’ knowledge or student achievement.MethodologyDecember, 2009
This paper provides practical guidance for researchers who are designing studies that randomize groups to measure the impacts of educational interventions.Brief
What We Know, What We Don’t, and What’s NextJune, 2009
Studies of Reading First released in 2008 found no overall effect on student reading comprehension, and the program was eliminated in 2009. However, the research findings were more nuanced than was widely reported, and they offer lessons for policymakers making critical choices today about how the federal government can best support the teaching of reading to young children.Report
The Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and AchievementSeptember, 2008
This report presents findings on the effectiveness of two specific professional development strategies on improving the knowledge and practice of second-grade teachers in high-poverty schools and on the reading achievement of their students.Methodology
Empirical Issues in the Design of Group-Randomized Studies to Measure the Effects of Interventions for ChildrenJuly, 2008
This MDRC working paper on research methodology provides practical guidance for researchers who are designing studies that randomize groups to measure the impacts of interventions on children.Report
Findings After the First Year of ImplementationJune, 2008
This report presents one-year implementation and impact findings on two supplemental academic instruction approaches developed for after-school settings — one for math and one for reading. Compared with regular after-school programming, the supplemental math program had impacts on student SAT 10 test scores and the supplemental reading program did not — although the reading program had some effect on reading fluency.
Reardon, Sean, Fatih Unlu, Pei Zhu, and Howard Bloom. 2014. “Bias and Bias Correction in Multisite Instrumental Variables Analysis of Heterogeneous Mediator Effects.” Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics 39, 1: 53-86.
Zhu, Pei, Robin Jacob, Howard Bloom, and Zeyu Xu. 2012. “Designing and Analyzing Studies that Randomize Schools to Estimate Intervention Effects on Student Academic Outcomes Without Classroom-Level Information.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 34: 145-168.
Somers, Marie-Andrée, Pei Zhu, and Edmond Wong. 2011. “Whether and How to Use State Tests to Measure Student Achievement in a Multi-State Randomized Experiment: An Empirical Assessment Based on Four Recent Evaluations.” NCEE Reference Report 2012-4015. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
Jacob, Robin, Pei Zhu, and Howard Bloom. 2010. “New Empirical Evidence for the Design of Group Randomized Trials in Education.” Journal for Research on Education Effectiveness 3, 2: 157-198.
Wayne, Andrew, Kwang Suk Yoon, Pei Zhu, Stephanie Cronen, and Michael Garet. 2008. “Experimenting with Teacher Professional Development: Motives and Methods.” Educational Researcher 37, 8: 469-479.
Krueger, Alan, and Pei Zhu. 2004. “Another Look at the New York City School Voucher Experiment.” American Behavioral Scientist 47, 5: 658-698.
With support from the $100 million Google Career Certificates Fund, Social Finance aims to empower more than 20,000 learners to realize over $1 billion in aggregate wage gains over the next decade. Google Career Certificates are industry-recognized credentials that prepare people for in-demand, entry-level jobs in the fields of data analytics, IT...
Many high-need students do not learn to read well because they do not receive effective personalized literacy instruction during the early elementary grades. To address this, the data-driven A2i Professional Support System was designed by and for teachers, and it has shown strong evidence of effectiveness. A2i...
The transition into high school is a volatile time for adolescents and a precarious point in the course of their education. Students who successfully navigate this transition and pass their ninth-grade classes are far more likely to graduate from high school with their peers and attend college than those who fail courses in the ninth grade.
The growing awareness...
While English language learners and disadvantaged native English speakers may have sufficient skills to engage in everyday conversation, many struggle with academic language, the more formal language typically used in school. In recent years, educators have linked lack of proficiency in academic language to concerns about students’ literacy and have hypothesized that...
Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior: Helping School Staff Support Appropriate Student BehaviorFred Doolittle, Mark van Dok, Pei Zhu, Barbara Condliffe, Sonia Drohojowska, Emma Alterman, Osvaldo Avila, Jedediah J. Teres, Hannah Power
Too often, elementary school students lack the behavioral and social skills necessary to focus on academics and achieve in school. Without proper support, teachers inevitably spend far too much time managing their students’ behavior and too little time actually teaching. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior (MTSS-B) is not a specific...
Middle school is a crucial stage for math instruction because students must master the context needed for more advanced high school math. But middle school math achievement has been difficult to improve. While the mathematics performance of American students has improved in recent years it still remains unimpressive by international standards, and the steep decline in...
The Success for All Reading and Whole-School Reform Model: An Evaluation of the Investing in Innovation Replication
Improving the reading performance of at-risk elementary students is one of the greatest challenges confronting American education. Success for All, a program aimed at ensuring that every child learns to read throughout the elementary grades, was one of the most carefully evaluated approaches to improving reading among high-poverty elementary school students at the time...
A solid understanding of rational numbers — fractions, decimals, ratios, and proportions and percents — is necessary for student success in algebra and beyond. Yet, decades of research on student achievement show that students struggle with these concepts. Seventh grade is one of the last chances for students to receive formal instruction in rational numbers. While it...
Students with learning difficulties are more likely to demonstrate low academic achievement despite recent advances in curriculum design, assessments to inform instructional decisions, and research-based intervention strategies. To better serve these students — and to avoid unnecessary referrals for special education services — researchers and practitioners have...
The transition into high school is a volatile time for adolescents and a precarious point in the educational pipeline. Evidence shows ninth grade to be one of the leakiest junctures in this pipeline. MDRC’s research in urban districts suggests that as many as 40 percent of students fail to get promoted from ninth to tenth grade on time, and...
The Reading First Program, established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, represents one of the most direct and intensive efforts by the federal government to influence instructional practice and student achievement in low-performing schools. Reading First is predicated on research findings that high-quality reading instruction in the primary grades...
Many low-income children in the early grades need after-school care. And many of these children score well below their more advantaged peers on standardized tests of reading and math. The confluence of these circumstances suggests that it may be possible to strengthen the academic component of after-school programs (now often confined to providing help with homework)...
It is important that children who are learning to read be exposed to high-quality, research-based curricula, but it is also essential that teachers be well versed in the instructional practices that promote early literacy (see the description of Reading First for more on this topic). Many educators and...