New NWEA Study Points to Instructional Strategies Driving Academic Growth

Findings highlight 10 specific strategies balancing meeting students’ needs and providing grade-level content

Portland, Ore. — June 7, 2023 — K-12 assessment and research organization NWEA released today a new study that takes a deeper look into instructional practices driving high academic growth. Led by Dr. Chase Nordengren, principal research lead for Effective Instructional Strategies at NWEA, the study zoomed into two schools that have historically shown high growth for diverse populations of students, including through the pandemic. The findings highlight 10 instructional strategies that utilize small changes to teaching practices leading toward growth outcomes for students.

“We wanted to understand what makes these schools tick and how, year-over-year, they were able to produce higher-than-typical student growth, across each decile of student achievement,” said Nordengren, “One of the big takeaways is the way these schools balance meeting students where they are AND providing access to grade-level content they need to succeed.”

The two schools in the study are an elementary school and middle school in Schiller Park, Illinois, which reflect similar demographics to many schools across the country. Fifty-five percent of students in that district are non-white, 62% receive free or reduced-price lunches, 25% are identified as English language learners, and the district’s per pupil spending in 2021 was below the state average. Based on classroom observation and in-depth interviews with the school staff, 10 instructional strategies were identified as effective instruction that helps students grow, and fell into three main categories:

Optimizing instructional time

1.     Provide supplemental learning time for targeted retrieval practice

2.     Mix whole group, small group, and individual activities

3.     Adjust student groups in real time

4.    Share students and strategies within a grade level

Exposing students to more content

5.     Differentiate tasks within a unit

6.     Provide targeted practice for foundational skills

7.    Teach from multiple standards at once

Empowering students

8.     Create opportunities for self-directed learning

9.     Use student discourse as formative assessment

10.  Explicitly teach academic vocabulary

This in-depth look at instructional strategies driving academic growth is a continuation of an NWEA research initiative by Dr. Andy Hegedus who in 2018 released a novel study focusing on growth as a marker of school success rather than just meeting or exceeding proficiency. His study found that schools showing high levels of growth were not necessarily those showing high levels of achievement, and that high growth schools could exist in communities with a variety of income levels and demographics. NWEA’s new study followed that research to answer the next, necessary question: what can be learned from high growth schools about teaching and learning?

Read the full study:

About NWEA

NWEA® (a division of HMH) is a mission-driven organization that supports students and educators in more than 146 countries through research, assessment solutions, policy and advocacy services, professional learning and school improvement services that fight for equity, drive classroom impact and push for systemic change in our educational communities. Visit to learn more about how we’re partnering with educators to help all kids learn.

Contact: Simona Beattie, Sr. Manager, Public Relations, or 971.361.9526