Sepanik is the principal investigator of the Next Generation California Partnership Academies study, a rigorous evaluation of career academies; an evaluation of the Oregon Early Indicator and Intervention System, a quasi-experimental study of a statewide early warning system; the long-term follow-up study of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways, a college developmental math reform; and a study of California State University’s proposal to require an additional high school quantitative reasoning course for enrollment. She has been involved in several other evaluations during her 15-year tenure at MDRC, including an impact study of Diplomas Now, the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Central Florida Collaborative evaluation, the Enhanced Reading Opportunities impact study, professional development impact studies for second-grade reading teachers and seventh-grade math teachers, the evaluation of the Formative Assessments of Student Thinking in Reading program in Boston Public Schools, the Getting Ready for Success college readiness pilot project in Tacoma, Washington, and an exploratory study of college readiness partnerships in Texas. She has been responsible for running site and student recruitment efforts, managing quantitative and qualitative data collection, designing surveys and interview protocols, analyzing program effects, and coauthoring several reports. Before joining MDRC, Sepanik worked as a research intern at Chicago Public Schools, conducting research on student access to quality teaching and supporting efforts to create a school accountability system for the district. She has also taught middle school language arts and social studies. She has an MPP from the Harris School for Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
MDRC PublicationsCommentaryMarch, 2023
California State University recently decided not to proceed with a proposal that would have required students to take an additional year of high school math, science, or other quantitative reasoning course for admissions. This commentary describes how MDRC’s analysis of the proposed policy helped inform that decision.Report
How an Additional Quantitative Reasoning Course Could Affect Student Access and SuccessNovember, 2022
This report studies a proposal to add one year of high school quantitative reasoning coursework to California State University’s admissions requirements. It analyzes how the proposal, had it been accepted, could have affected students’ access to and success at the university, particularly for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.BriefMarch, 2022
This brief prepared for the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness presents interim findings from a random assignment evaluation of the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP) program at four Texas community colleges. It also includes an exploratory analysis of the effectiveness of the program for various subgroups.BriefDecember, 2021
School-community partnerships are one strategy leaders can use to increase equity in education by building supportive environments that meet students’ social and emotional needs. A recent brief on school-community partnerships included some advice from three leaders of successful district-level partnership programs. This companion brief focuses specifically on these leaders’ suggestions.Brief
Solutions for Educational Equity Through Social and Emotional Well-BeingNovember, 2021
Schools and school districts are being asked to provide more and more services to students while being given few additional resources. This brief discusses how school districts can use partnerships with outside organizations and agencies to help provide those additional services.Brief
Solutions Through Social and Emotional Well-BeingJuly, 2021
This is the first in a series of briefs highlighting strategies to increase educational equity by addressing students’ social and emotional needs. It describes how environmental and structural factors cause disparities in social and emotional well-being that affect learning, then lays out three levels of change to address this inequity.Report
Findings from the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways Impact StudyNovember, 2019
This instructional reform diversifies math course content so that it better aligns with students’ career interests. After three semesters, the reform increased developmental math students’ rates of taking and passing college-level math and accumulating math credits. Few effects have yet emerged on overall credit accumulation, degree receipt, or transfer to a four-year college.Issue FocusMay, 2018
By studying the implementation of an initiative to improve college readiness in rural schools, researchers were able to identify obstacles and help program leaders improve the process. The Implementation Research Incubator explains.Report
Implementation and Outcome Findings for the AVID Central Florida Collaborative StudyMarch, 2018
Implemented in eight secondary schools and a local college, this program was designed to build students’ college preparedness by training instructors in shared teaching strategies and best practices, strengthening academic rigor in the classroom, and promoting collaboration and consistency in teaching and study strategies across grades and schools.Report
Interim Impact Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Evaluation of Diplomas NowJune, 2016
The Diplomas Now whole-school reform model, including targeted interventions for students at risk of dropping out, had an impact on the percentage of students with no early warning indicators related to attendance, behavior, or course performance, and had more encouraging results in middle schools than high schools.Report
Changing School Practices During the Second Year of Diplomas NowMay, 2015
Diplomas Now, a partnership of three national organizations, aims to increase graduation rates in high-risk schools, targeting support to students who need it most. This second report finds that Diplomas Now schools are differentiating themselves from comparable schools in their implementation of structural and instructional reforms.Report
The First Year of Implementing Diplomas NowAugust, 2014
Three national organizations formed Diplomas Now in an effort to transform urban secondary schools so fewer students drop out. This report introduces Diplomas Now and the associated evaluation, shares first-year implementation fidelity findings, and discusses collaboration among the Diplomas Now partners and between those partners and schools.Report
Bridging the Gap between High School and College in Tacoma, WashingtonJune, 2012
Getting Ready for Success provides low-income students in Tacoma with academic and social supports and monetary incentives during the late high school and early college years to increase their motivation and ability to succeed in college.Report
An Exploratory Study of College Readiness Partnership Programs in TexasMay, 2012
College readiness partnership programs bring together colleges and K-12 institutions to reduce the number of students who need remedial courses when they get to college. This report examines 37 partnerships in Texas to identify key characteristics of the programs, as well as benefits and challenges associated with their implementation and sustainability.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.Report
The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade ReadersJuly, 2010
Over the course of ninth grade, two supplemental literacy courses modestly improved students’ reading comprehension skills and helped them perform better academically in their course work. However, these benefits did not persist in the following school year, when students were no longer receiving the supplemental support.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.Report
Findings from an Evaluation of the Formative Assessments of Student Thinking in Reading (FAST-R) Program in Boston Elementary SchoolsDecember, 2008
This report contains findings from an evaluation of a program in the Boston Public Schools that seeks to improve reading instruction and student learning through one type of data-driven instruction. The program provides teachers with formative assessments that they can use to measure what students do and do not know, along with professional development on how to understand and use the data generated by those assessments. The study looks at FAST-R’s effects on reading scores among third- and fourth-graders.ReportNovember, 2008
This report presents findings from the second year of the Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study, a demonstration and random assignment evaluation of two supplemental literacy programs — Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy and Xtreme Reading — that aim to improve the reading comprehension skills and school performance of struggling ninth-grade readers.
ProjectsWilliam Corrin, Barbara Condliffe, Marie-Andrée Somers, Susan Sepanik, Shelley Rappaport, Margaret Hennessy, Hannah Power, Elizabeth Ederer, Julia Walsh
MDRC, in collaboration with RAND Corporation, Digital Promise, Westat, and Public Strategies, is conducting a large-scale, national evaluation project, the ReSolve Math Study, funded by the...
The inequities of educational outcomes, which in turn lead to inequities in other long-term outcomes, have long been issues of concern for policymakers and educators. For decades, academic programs and policies have been developed to address achievement gaps, yet disparities persist. However, districts and educational policymakers have not fully appreciated how the...
The California State University (CSU) system is proposing a policy change that would require graduating high school students, beginning with the entering first-year class of 2027, to complete one additional course in quantitative reasoning to meet the minimum qualifications for first-year admission. The objectives for this proposed policy...
The transition from high school into postsecondary education and a career has become particularly challenging given today’s complex, fast-moving, and highly technological economy. Even as the national high school graduation rate has improved over the past two decades and many states have raised their graduation requirements, high school graduates without postsecondary...Evan Weissman, Alexander Mayer, Amanda Grossman, John Diamond, Susan Sepanik, Dorota Biedzio Rizik, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Elena Serna-Wallender
As community colleges try to increase graduation rates, one of the greatest challenges they face is improving the success of students in their developmental, or remedial, education programs. The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways (DCMP), formerly known as the New Mathways Project, was developed by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of...
MDRC is evaluating the AVID College Readiness System along with the establishment of a “vertical alignment collaborative” across several middle and high schools and a local community college, all located in rural Central Florida. The project is funded by the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation initiative...
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...
The available research suggests that regular use of formative assessments can be a powerful driver of student learning. However, little rigorous research has been conducted on the impacts of formative assessment and data-driven instruction on student achievement, particularly in reform-rich urban school districts.
The Boston Plan for Excellence (...
While educators and officials across the United States are struggling with how to raise student achievement and improve graduation rates, very few programs have been shown to work at scale in achieving either goal. In 2010, through the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund, the U.S. Department of Education selected several promising programs for...
Roughly half of college students and close to 60 percent of community college students do not earn a college credential within six years, leaving them with poor labor market prospects in an economy that increasingly demands a credential in order to find a job. Raising the proportion of high school students who are college-ready when they matriculate could significantly...
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...
Low-performing high schools, particularly those serving low-income communities and students of color, are often characterized by high absentee and course failure rates, substantial dropout rates, and — even for graduates — inadequate preparation for postsecondary education and the labor market. While the stage is often set for these problems in elementary and middle...