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May 7, 2004

ULM Assistant Professor Receives Accolades for Dissertation

Rebecca Watts, a recent Ed.D. graduate of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, was honored at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in San Diego. Her dissertation, entitled The Education Production Function: An Analysis of the Relationship Between Fiscal Resource Variables and Student Achievement Across Louisiana School Districts, won the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year award in an international competition. Watts is the Director of Educational Research at ULM.

Competition was international and Division L, which judges all dissertations in the competition, chose her study as the best dissertation. She received a plaque and a monetary award for her achievement.

Watts' work came to the attention of the AERA through Dr. Bob Cage, Coordinator of the Louisiana Education Consortium doctoral program at ULM. Cage nominated the dissertation for the award. From there, copies of the dissertation were submitted to three reviewers who collaboratively selected the outstanding dissertation.

Cage said, "Rebecca's dissertation was exemplary in every dimension. From the highly developed research design, through the exhausting statistical analysis to the comprehensive conclusions and recommendations, the study was the top signature piece of doctoral work that I have seen in recent years. I thought it most appropriate to submit it to the American Educational Research Association for its consideration for the top dissertation written in 2003. The study epitomizes the best productivity function analysis that I have seen, especially in the area of school finance. The state of Louisiana is richer because of this type of research conducted at ULM."

Dr. Luke Thomas, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) is proud of Watts and the recognition she has received. "This award is from the most prestigious professional organization in education, the American Educational Research Association. In addition, this accomplishment shows what we already know; our students can compete with students from any university."

To receive the award, Watts, along with Cage, traveled to San Diego to attend the Division L business meeting. Watts was asked to present the dissertation research at next year's AERA conference to be held in Montreal, Canada.

Watts' dissertation examined the relationship between student achievement at the district level and resource input variables, which include school district expenditures, teacher characteristics, and policy variables. Watts said, "We found that student achievement across Louisiana school districts was a direct function of the district's local wealth."

Also, she found that socioeconomic status of students, expenditures per pupil, certified teachers, class size, and teacher education level were all variables that related directly to student achievement. Student achievement tended to be lower in school districts with a higher proportion of students eligible for free or reduced lunches and in districts that spent more money per pupil for the operation and maintenance of plant facilities. "School districts with a higher proportion of certified teachers and a higher proportion of classes with twenty or fewer students tended to have higher student achievement," Watts said.

Watts said that receiving the award was a high point in her career, but that she could not have done it without the help of her mentors. "I must share the recognition with those ULM faculty members who taught me how to conduct quality research, as well as my dissertation chair and committee for their expertise," she said. "I think this award is a tribute to those who instructed me as much as it is personal recognition for my work."

Dr. Otis Lovette served as Watts' Committee Chair. Others on the committee were Dr. William White from Grambling State University, Dr. David Gullatt from Louisiana Tech University, and Dr. Jean Lowe from ULM. ULM's Dr. Cage also advised her on some of her statistical treatments.

Lovette says, "These people deserve special recognition for the hours they spent with the paper." He also said, "Her paper was truly outstanding and several have said it was the finest they had seen come out of the LEC. Watts is now a very important member of our CEHD staff and perhaps she will be teaching School Finance (her dissertation topic) in the near future."

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