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Monique Daviss, Executive Director, El Sol Science and Arts Academy of Santa Ana: Evidence Tier 4 & Tier 3

In our interview with Monique Daviss, Executive Director of El Sol Science and Arts Academy of Santa Ana, she reflects on El Sol’s evidence-building practices in response to our prompt, “Please share an example of El Sol’s partnership work with universities and community organizations to support evidence-based practices.”

Monique Daviss spoke with us about how El Sol Academy, an English-Spanish dual language immersion public charter school in Santa Ana, California, is partnering with universities and community organizations to support evidence-based practices. In describing these partnerships, Daviss shared:

El Sol and the University of California, Irvine have worked together to establish the more foundational types of evidence which would be, for example, Tier 4 and Tier 3. The small and agile nature of El Sol allows us to get research partnership projects up to scale quickly with less delays for district-wide approval.

From the school perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic both upended and accelerated El Sol’s attention to technology use within its classrooms. As El Sol became accustomed to remote learning and the use of a variety of different digital tools, they began working in a space that was new for many teachers, students, families, and caregivers.

At the same time, El Sol had to be prepared for a return to school. This included making decisions about how to incorporate and support newfound tech expertise and practices that developed during the pandemic into the return to in-person learning.

With a newfound interest in exploring technology-enabled educational best practices, El Sol cultivated an evidence-building partnership with University of California, Irvine (UCI) to participate in their Elementary Computing For All (ECforALL) project during the 2021-2022 school year.

ECforALL seeks to develop computer science (CS) curriculum targeting the needs of emerging multilingual children, particularly those from lower-income multilingual communities.

ECforALL is developing and evaluating a CS instructional intervention, consisting of a curriculum and professional development, for multilingual students in fourth grade combining three innovations: (1) an English language arts-oriented computational thinking curriculum developed by the San Francisco Unified School District; (2) linguistic scaffolding developed by UCI; and (3) CS learning scaffolding developed by the University of Chicago.

​With a five-year Education and Innovation Research award from the U.S. Department of Education, the partnership developed the intervention in Year 1 (2019-2020) and iteratively piloted and improved it at El Sol and other participating schools in Years 2 (2020-2021), 3 (2021-2022), and 4 (2022-2023). Future plans include conducting a randomized controlled trial in Year 5 (2023-2024) and analyzing the data, improving the intervention, and disseminating project results in Year 6 (2024-2025).

During Years 3 and 4, El Sol piloted the curriculum, provided UCI with feedback from teachers and students, and made data on student outcomes available to UCI for correlational analysis. Though none of these activities provide a causal link between the CS intervention and student outcomes, the data from piloted assessments was key to establishing the promise of the CS intervention and to developing and refining outcome measures and curricula for later stages of the grant.

The Tier 4 and Tier 3 evidence-gathering activities conducted during these formative years of the project support future plans for Years 5 and 6 of the project to implement and evaluate the curriculum at a broader scale across larger school districts to establish Tier 1 evidence.

Monique concluded our conversation with a reflection on why early adopter districts and schools, such as El Sol, engage in research-practice partnerships:

At El Sol, the reason we’re engaged in this process is because we want to demonstrate leadership around building evidence and understanding the research process. And we really want to have agency over our own big questions so that we are active participants in understanding what we want to know, how we want to know it, and how it works in our context.

El Sol’s strong partnership with its teachers, coupled with shared values with their UCI partner, resulted in development of an innovative CS curriculum targeting the needs of multilingual students. Daviss hopes that with time, this partnership will also become a leading example of how school leadership can partner with external organizations to contribute to future development and refinement of CS practices and resources for schools.