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Office of Planning and Research

DESE Research Update, March 2021

Recent Research From OPR

The OPR research update highlights recent research from Massachusetts, generated both internally and in collaboration with external research partners. In this newsletter, we highlight findings on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on college-going, student perceptions of bullying, adult learning, and the impacts of career and technical education and advanced course taking across the Commonwealth. For other research findings drawing on data from the Commonwealth, please see the reports page on the DESE website.

Policy Briefs

A new policy brief from researchers at Brown University examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on college-going in Massachusetts. Findings indicate that the pandemic has affected students' college-going in ways that may exacerbate inequality in the Commonwealth. Specifically, findings showed that: 1) The share of 2020 high school graduates who enrolled in college fell by 7 percentage points overall, with greater declines among low-income Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students; 2) Enrollment declines were steepest in community colleges; and 3) The class of 2021 may also experience declines in college-going, as FAFSA completion is lagging for seniors compared to the class of 2020 at the same point in time last year.

In 2020, DESE released a report describing key findings of students' perceptions of bullying in Massachusetts schools. Drawing on data from students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10, findings showed that: 1) there are grade level differences in student reports of feelings of safety, types of bullying, and beliefs about adult intervention between younger and older students; 2) that students' perceptions of bullying are related to key indicators of academic and non-academic outcomes; 3) there are cross-district differences in the prevalence of bullying and its relation to student outcomes; and 4) there are important differences in the rates of bullying and perceptions of safety reported by Black and White students - and these differences in experience are related to district racial composition and overall reports of student safety.

The Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS) provides adult learners with opportunities to develop literacy, math, numeracy, and other skills needed to be productive members of the community and workforce. An evaluation from the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute reported several areas for improving adult education in the Commonwealth, including remedying disparities services for learners from different student groups, generating sufficient resources to meet student needs, and adjusting policy priorities with equity and access in mind. The report also highlights key strategies for student success, the positive impacts of professional development, and the value of developing effective communication and relationships with students.

Policy Reports

Chen, B., Goldhaber, D., Holden, K., Theobald, R., Dougherty, S., & Ecton, W. (2020). Career and Technical Education and Postsecondary Student Outcomes in Massachusetts: Career Clusters and Student Groups, Teacher Licensure, and Student Entry. American Institutes for Research.

The American Institutes for Research sought to gauge the effects of Career and Technical Education (CTE) on post-secondary outcomes for public school students in Massachusetts. They reported numerous findings to DESE. To highlight a few:

  • The difference in earnings for students who participate in CTE versus those who do not is positive across all groups. However, returns are larger for male students, students who never enroll in college, and students with disabilities.
  • CTE students who concentrate in fields such as construction and transportation earn more than their non-CTE counterparts but are less likely to go to college. On the other hand, CTE students who concentrate in fields such as healthcare and education earn more and are more likely to go to college than their non-CTE peers.
  • CTE teachers who received better scores on required subject performance tests tend to have students with higher longer-term earnings than CTE teachers who received worse scores on these tests, when controlling for other factors.

Johnson, J., Spraggon, D., & Ness, K. (2020). Advancing STEM and English AP Program Evaluation—Year 8: AP Exam Taking and Passing Rates, Analysis Report. University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute

The University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute (UMDI) sought to determine the effects of the Mass Insight administered AP STEM and English program on AP course availability, AP course participation and passing, and AP exam participation and passing in the commonwealth. UMDI used quasi-experimental analysis techniques—comparative interrupted time series (CITS) and difference-in-difference (DID)—to compare AP exam participation and passing rates of students at participating schools to those of non-participating schools.

Both the CITS and DID statistical models found that that, on average, the AP STEM and English program had a positive effect on AP exam taking and passing rates during a school's first year of participation. While positive differences are observed across subjects, it should be noted that the increase observed in AP ELA exam taking rates was higher than that observed for AP math exam taking rates. When looking at the findings by subgroup, the program had no effect on AP exam passing rates for racial minority students, English learners, or students with a disability.

What we're Reading

Gutierrez, A. S., Krachman, S. B., Scherer, E., West, M. R., & Gabrieli, J. D.E. (2019). Mindfulness in the Classroom: Learning from a School-based Mindfulness Intervention through the Boston Research Collaborative . Transforming Education.

Informed by their previous finding that self-reported mindfulness positively correlates with academic achievement and behavioral outcomes, The Boston Charter Research Collaborative (BCRC) assessed if a school-based mindfulness intervention could improve students' sustained attention and self-control. After 8 weeks of mindfulness instruction, for which participation was determined by random assignment, students showed a reduction in perceived stress and modest improvements in sustained attention, relative to peers who received computer coding training.

As part of the study, students also participated in brain imaging before and after the eight-week program. Relative to students who received computer coding training, mindfulness training recipients showed reduced response in a brain structure associated with negative emotion and stress. The authors posit that that there is potential value in providing mindfulness training to alleviate stress and enhancing sustained attention among students, based on these two findings. If a school is considering integrating mindfulness in the classroom, BCRC recommends:

  1. Focusing on building consistency through school-wide buy-in
  2. Providing teachers with dedicated time to engage in mindfulness practice themselves
  3. Making time for students to practice mindfulness
  4. Learning about how mindfulness can promote empathy among teachers and students
  5. Ensuring mindfulness is integrated with a secular approach

Last Updated: March 25, 2021

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