What do we know about instruction from large-scale national surveys?

Author(s): Camburn, Eric M.; Han, Seong Won

Date: 2008

Pages: 37 p.


Given the vitally important role of instruction in student learning, valid, generalizable evidence is needed by policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. Surveys are commonly used to measure instruction in education research, and surveys administered to probability samples can directly yield generalizable evidence. This paper reports on the first study to systematically document generalizable evidence on instruction that comes from large-scale national surveys administered to probability samples. In particular, we summarize research from the last 20 years that utilized data from four surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics: the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. The paper first describes the scientific quality of the body of research and examine how comprehensively the studies cover grade levels, subject areas, and dimensions of instruction. It then provides a narrative summary of the results of a subset of 27 studies that used inferential statistics to examine instruction. The review identified critical gaps in the research. Specifically, there is very little research on instruction at key transition Grades 5, 6 and 9; there is a relative paucity of research on instruction in English/language arts and social studies; and there is a marked lack of empirical evidence on instruction in the first 3 years of high school. The review also showed that high-income students are more likely to receive certain kinds of desirable learning opportunities than low-income students. The implications of these results for future research on instruction are discussed.

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