Research News

Insights and findings from the Nashville Partnership for Education Equity Research Symposium

In May, the Nashville Partnership for Education Equity Research—a collaboration between Metro Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development—hosted its inaugural research symposium at the MNPS Martin Center for Professional Development. The symposium included poster presentations on research projects to improve equity outcomes across MNPS and panel discussions on research processes, practices, and lessons learned from PEER collaborations. The symposium provided opportunities for MNPS school board members, Vanderbilt University researchers, and MNPS leadership to engage and learn from one another.

Working Group Poster Presentations

Four working groups presented posters:

  • Leveraging the Educational Equity Ecosystem seeks to leverage collaborations with city and state agencies as well as other community stakeholders to foster citywide accountability for the well-being and success of Nashville children. They plan to identify key levers—including prenatal-to-3 supports, afterschool programs, and housing stability—through which they can better understand how inequity operates and how to develop joint accountability between MNPS and city and state agencies.
    • Working group members:
      • Vanderbilt: Maury Nation, Sarah Suiter
      • MNPS: Elisa Norris, Allison D’Aurora, Sean Braisted, Ashford Hughes, Renita Perry
  • Strengthening Pathways to Postsecondary Readiness shared findings on why Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs) matter. EPSOs are courses that expose high school students to college coursework and foundational career skills and typically offer college credit. Students who completed an EPSO were more likely to score a 21 or higher on the ACT and enroll in a 4-year college. This working group also shared progress from three high school co-design teams seeking to improve access, participation, and success in EPSOs. Potential strategies they plan to implement next year include increasing student and family understanding of EPSOs, targeting outreach to students underrepresented in EPSOs, and developing a high school road map with an EPSOs tracker.
    • Working group members:
      • Vanderbilt: Sean Corcoran, Erin Henrick, Changhee Lee, Mary Smith, Melody Suite, Richard Welsh
      • MNPS: Sanjana Ballal-Link, Peter Busienei, Kevin Edwards, Meri Kock, Emily Munn, Matt Nelson, Kwame Nti, David Williams
  • Understanding and Reducing Student Absenteeism seeks to understand the factors in students’ lives that affect their school attendance, and the actions schools can take to promote student attendance. The working group has identified five MNPS high schools where attendance rates for marginalized students have improved, but there are still high rates of chronic absenteeism. The team will conduct interviews and focus groups with students, caregivers, and school staff to learn more about the factors that contribute to attendance and absenteeism.
    • Working group members:
      • Vanderbilt: Richard Welsh, Jamie Klinenberg, Changhee Lee, Kayla Fike, David Diehl, Joanne Golann
      • MNPS: Carol Brown, Taylor Biondi, Catherine Knowles
  • Supporting Educators to Provide High-Quality Instruction examines the use of monthly classroom walkthroughs by school leaders and specialists as well as monthly cross-school reflection meetings at four of MNPS’ largest high schools to support the district’s vision for high-quality math instruction and application of new curricula. Early implementation of the walkthroughs and meetings have occurred routinely and engaged school and district personnel with diverse expertise. The research team plans to identify ways to improve walkthroughs and scale the routine.
    • Working group members:
      • Vanderbilt: Jennifer Russell, Tom Smith, Meghan Riling, Kathryn McGraw
      • MNPS: Jill Petty, Jessica Slayton, David Williams, Stephanie Wyka

Rapid Response Teams Poster Presentations

Rapid response teams engage in short research projects of six months or less to provide quick, actionable evidence on pressing questions for MNPS. Three rapid response teams presented posters:

  • MNPS Navigators Rapid Response seeks to connect every MNPS student to an adult mentor, or “navigator.” The study found success in the Navigator Program’s ability to build strong relationships between adults and students but also the need to streamline processes and clarify the program’s purpose. The district used these findings to combine online weekly and monthly adult-student check-ins into one platform, design metrics to monitor progress, improve meetings between the district and platform teams to monitor and understand implementation data by school, and improve messaging on the programs purpose.
    • Team members:
      • Vanderbilt: Maury Nation and Megan McCormick
      • MNPS: Caroline Marks, Peter Busienei, Krista Davis, Nécole Elizer
  • Understanding How MNPS’ Five-Tiered Intervention Platforms are Working to Improve Students’ Literacy and Numeracy analyzed the effects of literacy and math interventions on the growth of elementary school students’ skills and knowledge. Interventions were related to positive trends in knowledge growth, with the largest gains in the early grades. The team is interested in further investigating how schools with the highest growth rates implement interventions.
    • Team members:
      • Vanderbilt: Kelley Durkin, Luke Rainey, Marcia Barnes, Bethany Rittle-Johnson, Rebecca Adler
      • MNPS: Katie Pattullo, Casey Souders, Peter Busienei
  • Navigating the “Summer Melt” Across the University MNPS Program examined the factors that cause summer melt, the phenomenon of high school graduates failing to matriculate to college in the fall despite having been accepted and receiving a University MNPS scholarship to attend a participating college or university. The study found that social barriers—such as family obligations and absence of college role models—financial barriers, and lack of familial college experience (e.g. first-generation student) contribute to summer melt. The team recommends higher education partners and MNPS collaborate to clarify communication during the transition from high school to college, establish stronger bridge programming to help students prepare, collaborate to move up the application and acceptance timeline, and collect data via student surveys to track “summer melt” status.
    • Team members:
      • Vanderbilt: Claire Smrekar, Amanda Alibrandi, Brittany Baker
      • MNPS: Sanjana Ballal-Link, Sarah Chin, Kevin Edwards

Panel Discussions

Panel 1: What We’re Learning About Creating Shared Research Plans

PEER working group members discussed how their teams create and share actionable research plans relevant to the needs of MNPS and other districts and contribute to understandings in research literature. The panelists emphasized the importance of stakeholder engagement, literature reviews, and balancing practical needs with research contributions.

  • Panelists: Kayla Fike, assistant professor of human organizational development; Jennifer Russell, professor of leadership, policy, and organizations; Taylor Biondi, MNPS RTI-behavior coordinator; and Meri Kock, MNPS ACT coordinator
  • Moderator: Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Education and Leadership and vice dean of Peabody College

Panel 2: All About Rapid Response Projects

The panelists discussed the importance of amplifying student voices, developing specific research questions, and building close partnerships between Vanderbilt and MNPS colleagues to ensure projects deliver concrete and actionable recommendations.

  • Panelists: Brittany Baker, assistant director of equity and immersion Vanderbilt; Kelley Durkin, research assistant professor; and Sanjana Ballal-Link, MNPS director of partnerships for postsecondary readiness
  • Moderator: Adrienne Battle, MNPS director of schools

Panel 3: What we’re Learning about Equity-Centered Research

PEER working group members discussed how equity informs partnership practices, their attention to power dynamics between researchers and practitioners, and the design and implementation of research plans to ensure that designs are equitable. They also highlighted the importance of listening to students, families, and community members when making decisions about policies, programs, and initiatives.

  • Panelists: Sean Corcoran, associate professor of public policy and education; Ashford Hughes, MNPS executive officer for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and Stephanie Wyka, MNPS director of professional learning and growth
  • Moderator: Erin O’Hara Block, MNPS School Board Member, District 8