Evaluation of an Expansion Strategy for the Assessment-to-Instruction Professional Support System

By Pei Zhu, Emma Alterman, Nicholas Commins, Peyton Nash

During the early elementary grades, many students do not achieve literacy proficiency because they do not receive effective personalized literacy instruction that addresses their needs. With strong evidence of effectiveness, the Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) Professional Support System aims to meet these needs by combining data-driven technology with professional development activities to help teachers use differentiated small-group instruction to improve literacy achievement among students in Kindergarten through Grade 3. In 2017, the United2Read team was awarded a five-year expansion grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Innovation and Research (EIR) program to study how to efficiently bring A2i and its evidence-driven literacy instructional practices to elementary school classrooms across the nation.

This report from the independent evaluation of this EIR expansion project examines the relative effectiveness of two support models—a mixed-mode professional development delivery model that aims to reduce costs through a combination of in-person and virtual teacher coaching, and the tested, resource-intensive, face-to-face delivery model—in creating robust implementations of the A2i Professional Support System and improvements in student literacy achievement. Fifty-nine schools in 20 school districts were randomly assigned either to a group of 30 schools that received the mixed-mode model or to a group of 29 schools that received the face-to-face model for three school years (2018–2019 to 2020–2021). Comparing student and teacher experiences in the two sets of schools measures the relative effectiveness of the two models. If both models are implemented adequately, a finding of no difference in the effects of the two models would indicate that they are equally effective approaches to implementing A2i. This report describes the evaluation and presents its findings, key among which are the following:

  • The two professional development (PD) models had been in place for less than two school years when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. During the pre-pandemic period, teachers in mixed-mode and face-to-face schools received training and support that differed in amounts and delivery modes as intended. However, in both groups of schools, teachers did not fully utilize the A2i technology and had difficulty differentiating instruction based on A2i-generated recommendations.
  • In the second half of the implementation period, in-person coaching was not possible due to COVID 19–related school disruptions, which in turn muted the contrast in the amount and types of PD support received by teachers in mixed-mode and face-to-face schools. Teachers in both groups of schools also reduced their use of A2i components and differentiated small-group instruction.
  • Across all three study years, student achievement in reading was similar in mixed-mode and face-to-face schools, and about 50 percent of the third-graders in the study were reading at or above proficiency level as defined by state or district standards at the end of the evaluation. However, because A2i was not fully implemented over the study period, these results do not reflect the actual relative effectiveness of the two PD models.
  • The cost differential between the two PD models was small because a large proportion of the cost was made up of fixed expenses that were equally distributed across students in both groups, and the COVID 19–related changes in PD delivery muted the difference in variable costs in later implementation years.
  • The program reached schools beyond the study sample in the first two years, but adjustments had to be made to the expansion strategy during the pandemic to address the expansion goals.

Document Details

Publication Type
June 2023
Zhu, Pei, Emma Alterman, Nicholas Commins, and Peyton Nash. 2023. Evaluation of an Expansion Strategy for the Assessment-to-Instruction Professional Support System. New York: MDRC.