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Item Response Theory Models for Difference-in-Difference Estimates (and Whether They Are Worth the Trouble)

When randomized control trials are not possible, quasi-experimental methods like Regression Discontinuity and Difference-in-Difference (DiD) often represent the best alternatives for high quality evaluation. Researchers using such methods frequently conduct exhaustive robustness checks to make sure the assumptions of the model are met, and that results aren’t sensitive to specific choices made in the analysis process. However, often there is less thought applied to how the outcomes for many quasi-experimental studies are created. For example, in studies that rely on survey data, scores may be created by adding up the item responses to produce total scores, or achievement tests may rely on scores produced by test vendors. In this study, several item response theory (IRT) models specific to the DiD design are presented to see if they improve on simpler scoring approaches in terms of the bias and statistical significance of impact estimates.

Why might using a simple scoring approach do harm in the quasi-experimental/DiD context?

While most researchers are aware that measurement error can impact the precision of treatment effect estimates, they may be less aware that measurement model misspecification can introduce bias into scores and, thereby, treatment effect estimates. Total/sum scores do not technically involve a measurement model, and therefore may seem almost free of assumptions. But in fact, they resemble a constrained measurement model that oftentimes makes unsupported assumptions, including that all items should be given the same weight when producing a score. For instance, on a depression survey, total scores would assume that items asking about trouble sleeping and self-harm should get the same weight in the score. Giving all items the same weight can bias scores. For example, if patterns of responses differ between treated and control groups, faulty total score assumptions could bias treatment effect estimates and mute variability in the outcome researchers wish to quantify.

What decisions involved in more sophisticated scoring approaches impact treatment estimates?

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Using a Multi-Site RCT to Predict Impacts for a Single Site: Do Better Data and Methods Yield More Accurate Predictions?

Multi-site randomized controlled trials (RCTs) produce rigorous evidence on whether educational interventions “work.” However, principals and superintendents need evidence that applies to their students and schools. This paper examines whether the average impact of an intervention in a particular site—school or district—can be accurately predicted using evidence from a multi-site RCT.

What Methods Did the Study Use to Predict Impacts?

This paper used three methods to predict the average impact in individual sites: (1) the average of the impact estimates in the other sites, (2) lasso regression, and (3) Bayesian Additive Regression Trees (BART). Lasso and BART used a variety of moderators as predictors, including characteristics of participating students, participating schools, the intervention as implemented, and the counterfactual condition.  

How Was the Accuracy of These Predictions Gauged?

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Selecting Districts and Schools for Impact Studies in Education: A Simulation Study of Different Strategies

Daniel Litwok, Austin Nichols, Azim Shivji, and Robert Olsen

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Experimental studies of educational interventions are rarely designed to produce impact evidence, justified by statistical inference, that generalizes to populations of interest to education policymakers.  This simulation study explores whether formal sampling strategies for selecting districts and schools improve the generalizability of impact evidence from experimental studies.

Which selection strategies produced samples with the greatest generalizability to the target population?

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How Do the Impacts of Healthcare Training Vary with Credential Length? Evidence from the Health Profession Opportunity Grants Program

Daniel Litwok, Laura R. Peck, and Douglas Walton

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How do the earnings impacts of healthcare training vary?

This article explores how earnings impacts vary in an experimental evaluation of a sectoral job training program. We find that over the first two years in the study, those who completed long-term credentials (defined as college degrees or certificates that require a year or more of classes to earn) had program impacts that were about $2,000 larger per year than those who did not complete long-term credentials (whether they completed a short-term credential or no credential at all). A possible explanation for this finding is that those who earned a long-term credential had different experiences in the program, including more engagement with support services, and different post-program outcomes, such as greater employment in high-wage healthcare occupations like registered nurse.

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Raising Teacher Retention in Online Courses through Personalized Support. Evidence from a Cross-national Randomized Controlled Trial

Davide Azzolini, Sonia Marzadro, Enrico Rettore, Katja Engelhardt, Benjamin Hertz, Patricia Wastiau

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Does providing teachers with personalized support help them complete online training courses?

Yes, but not for all and not everywhere. The TeachUP policy experimentation found large effects of personalized support on course completion in nine European Union Member States among professional (i.e., in-service) teachers (+10.6 percentage points), but not among student teachers. Moreover, no effects are found in Turkey. More studies are needed to investigate the contextual and learner characteristics that drive the heterogeneous effects.

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Mathematical Word-Problem-Solving Instruction for Upper Elementary and Secondary Students with Mild Disabilities and Students at Risk for Math Failure: A Research Synthesis

Jonté A. Myers, Elizabeth M. Hughes, Bradley S. Witzel, Rubia D. Anderson, and Jennifer Owens

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How are students performing on assessments of word problem solving?

Students' ability to think critically and abstractly is essential for their success in post-secondary education and career advancement. K-12 schools have increased their focus on assisting students in building these skills through word problem solving (WPS). However, students’ WPS performance on national assessments remains discouragingly low, especially among students with disabilities.

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How to measure quality of delivery: Focus on teaching practices that help students to develop proximal outcomes

Diego Catalán Molina, Tenelle Porter, Catherine Oberle, Misha Haghighat, Afiya Fredericks, Kristen Budd, Sylvia Roberts, Lisa Blackwell, and Kali H. Trzesniewski

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How much students benefit from a school intervention depends on how well the intervention is delivered

When a new curriculum is introduced at a school, the quality of its implementation will vary across teachers. Does this matter? In this study, teachers varied widely in how well they implemented a 20-lesson social and emotional blended-learning curriculum. Teachers who delivered the program at higher quality, for example, encouraged student reflection and participation and provided feedback to students on how to improve skills. Teachers who delivered the program at higher quality had students with higher levels of motivation (growth mindset, effort beliefs, and learning goals) at the end of the program compared to teachers who delivered at lower quality.

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The Meta-Analytic Rain Cloud (MARC) Plot: A New Approach to Visualizing Clearinghouse Data

Kaitlyn G. Fitzgerald & Elizabeth Tipton

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What type of data do clearinghouses communicate?

As the body of scientific evidence about what works in education grows, so does the need to effectively communicate that evidence to policy-makers and practitioners. Clearinghouses, such as the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), have emerged to facilitate the evidence-based decision-making process and have taken on the non-trivial task of distilling often complex research findings to non-researchers. Among other things, this involves reporting effect sizes, statistical uncertainty, and meta-analytic summaries. This information is often reported visually. However, existing visualizations often do not follow data visualization best practices or take the statistical cognition of the audience into consideration.

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Experimental Impacts of a Preschool Intervention in Chile on Children's Language Outcomes: Moderation by Student Absenteeism

Summary by: Hang (Heather) Do

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What was this study about?

Chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10% of school days or more in one year) negatively impacts children’s school achievement and development. Yet, little is known about how absenteeism influences the effectiveness of interventions. In this study, the authors examined whether absenteeism affected the impacts of an intensive two-year professional development (PD) intervention aiming to improve the quality of Chilean public preschool and kindergarten and enhance the language and literacy outcomes of participating children (UBC (Un Buen Comienzo/A Good Start)).

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Partially Identified Treatment Effects for Generalizability

Wendy Chan

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Will this intervention work for me?

This is one of the questions that make up the core of generalization research. Generalizations focus on the extent to which the findings of a study apply to people in a different context, in a different time period, or in a different study altogether. In education, one common type of generalization involves examining whether the results of an experiment (e.g., the estimated effect of an intervention) apply to a larger group of people, or a population.

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Using Multisite Experiments to Study Cross-Site Variation in Treatment Effects

Howard Bloom, Steve Raudenbush, Michael Weiss, & Kristin Porter

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Multisite randomized trials are experiments where individuals are randomly assigned to alternative experimental arms within each of a collection of sites (e.g., schools).  They are used to estimate impacts of educational interventions. However, little attention has been paid to using them to quantify and report cross-site impact variation. The present paper, which received the 2017 JREE Outstanding Article Award, provides a methodology that can help to fill this gap.

Why and how is knowledge about cross-site impact variation important?

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