Knowledge in Action Research: Student Demographics

Students, teachers, and schools from a wide range of backgrounds have participated as study subjects and the controls -- and the project continues to expand its diversity.

Students, teachers, and schools from a wide range of backgrounds have participated as study subjects and the controls -- and the project continues to expand its diversity.
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Initially, in 2008-09, the Knowledge in Action (KIA) program was introduced to students in high schools in the Bellevue School District in Washington. While the research program was getting started, the school district was beginning a campaign to strongly encourage all students in grades 9-12 to take rigorous, college-level Advanced Placement classes. The district’s new push for AP for all created a suitable and interesting condition and constraint for the Knowledge in Action Project to begin its initial course implementation.

"In class, everybody's working, talking, everybody's just active. You don't even want to leave the class when you have to."
-- Richshunda, 12th grade student, North HS, Des Moines Public Schools, IA

Rischunda portrait (l); kids in class (r)

Knowledge in Action:

Richshunda, a 12th grade project-based learning (PBL) Advanced Placement (AP) student at North High School in Des Moines, IA (above); students collaborate in a PBL AP Environmental Studies class (right).

Credit: Gabriel Miller

In general, Bellevue is a fairly affluent suburb located near Seattle. At the time, Bellevue’s student population was becoming increasingly diverse, with approximately 35 percent students of color. While the district was also beginning to see a greater range in terms of students’ socioeconomic status, at the time of the initial course implementation, the district’s rate of free and reduced lunch was approximately 10-12 percent. In the third year of the study, the project expanded to schools with a wider range of diversity across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and academic levels.

Additional school districts that joined the Knowledge in Action Project in 2010 were Des Moines Public Schools in Iowa, the Envision Charter Network in San Francisco, and Seattle Public Schools. In year three (2010-11), additional support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allowed expansion to additional locations as well as the development of a second course. The expansion to include students with more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds also facilitated the inclusion of students and teachers who had little to no previous experience with AP courses. In addition, several participating teachers did not have prior subject-specific expertise. (They had taught courses in similar topics, such as history instead of government and biology or chemistry instead of environmental science.)

KIA study participants chart

Below are the numbers of study participants to date:

  • AP U.S. Government and Politics: 1,245 students and 13 teachers in 44 classrooms as compared with controls of 475 students and 7 teachers in 21 classrooms
  • AP Environmental Science: 1,563 students and 29 teachers in 72 classrooms as compared with controls of 121 students and 5 teachers in 12 classrooms

University of Washington researchers use state test scores, rates of free and reduced lunch, and the number of AP classes that students enroll in to determine the general level of school achievement for comparison. Below is a breakdown of how researchers define the school categories:

Poverty-impacted schools:
  • State test scores usually rank below the 65th percentile.
  • Students are usually first-time AP students.
  • The rate of free and reduced lunch range from 50 to 100 percent.
Moderately achieving schools:
  • State test scores range from the 65th to the 85th percentile.
  • There is a mix of AP veterans and new AP students in the classrooms.
  • The rate of free and reduced lunch ranges from 35 to 49 percent.
High-achieving schools:
  • State test scores range from the top 10th to the 15th percentile.
  • Students are usually veteran AP students (have enrolled in multiple AP classes prior to the existing class).
  • The rate of free and reduced lunch tends to be less than 30 percent.
Very high-achieving schools:
  • State test scores are in the top five to ten percent.
  • The students are usually all AP veteran students.
  • The rate of free and reduced lunch is less than seven percent.
  • Several of the control schools fall into this category.

Continue to the next section of the KIA research review, Results to Date.

This article originally published on 10/17/2013

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