Examining a path to improved SEL skills

A study conducted by Neil Humphrey and colleagues, published in Public Health Research, reports on the findings of a randomised controlled trial of the social and emotional learning intervention, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS).

PATHS aims to promote children’s social skills via a taught curriculum, which is delivered by the class teacher. A total of 5,218 children in Years 3–5 (ages 7–9) from 45 primary schools in Greater Manchester participated in the trial. Schools were randomly allocated to deliver PATHS for two years or to continue as normal.

The findings of the study suggest that the impact of PATHS was modest and limited. Immediately after the intervention, there was tentative evidence that PATHS made a small improvement on children’s social skills (effect size = +0.09) as assessed by the Social Skills Improvement System. A small improvement in children’s psychological well-being (effect size = +0.07) was also found immediately after the intervention. However, there were no differences between children from PATHS and control schools for any outcomes at the 12- or 24-month post-intervention follow-ups.

Source: The PATHS curriculum for promoting social and emotional well-being among children aged 7–9 years: a cluster RCT. Public Health Research 6 (10).

Evidence supports The BSCS Inquiry Approach

With the increasing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curricula comes the need for evidence backing these programmes. One such science programme is The BSCS Inquiry Approach, a comprehensive secondary school science approach based on three key concepts: constructivism, coherence and cohesiveness. The materials are built around the 5E process (engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate). Teaching focuses on evaluating pupils’ current understanding and using inquiry methods to move them to higher understandings. Each of the science disciplines (physical science, life science, earth science, and science and society) is composed of four chapters that repeat common themes, which advance over a three-year period. Designing and carrying out experiments in small groups is important in all topics. Teachers receive seven days of professional development each year, including a three-day summer institute and four one-day sessions, enabling sharing of experiences and introducing new content over time.

To determine the effects of The BSCS Inquiry Approach on pupil achievement, BSCS conducted a two-year cluster-randomised study of the intervention that compared pupils in grades 10–11 (Years 11–12) in nine experimental (n=1,509 pupils) and nine control secondary schools (n=1,543 pupils) in Washington State in the US. A total of 45% of pupils qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. At the end of two years, the BSCS pupils scored higher than controls (effect size=+0.09, p<.05) on the Washington State Science Assessments.

Source: An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, BSCS

Findings from an evaluation of Thinking Maths

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation of Thinking Maths – a professional learning programme for maths teachers to support pupils’ maths learning during the transition between primary and secondary school (currently Year 7 and Year 8 in South Australia).

The evaluation involved 158 schools in South Australia, which were randomly assigned to the intervention (63 schools) or the control group (104 schools). Teachers participated in 30 hours of face-to-face professional learning delivered at 4–5 week intervals over three school terms. The programme focuses on three areas for better teaching and learning of mathematics: (a) using quality task design, (b) sequencing a conceptual development, and (c) using research-informed effective pedagogies.

Pupils whose teachers received Thinking Maths made additional progress in maths when compared to business-as-usual maths classes (effect size = +0.05). However, there were differences between primary and secondary school pupils: the effect size for secondary pupils (Years 8–10) was -0.16, whereas the effect size for primary pupils (Years 5–7) was +0.14.

Source: Thinking Maths: A professional learning program supporting teachers to engage middle-school students in maths. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary, (September 2018). Evidence for Learning, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Grouping pupils by achievement

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of two trials of programmes developed by the University College-London (UCL) Institute of Education investigating approaches to grouping pupils: Best Practice in Setting and Best Practice in Mixed Attainment Grouping.

The main trial, “Best Practice in Setting”, tested an intervention that aimed to get schools to improve their setting practice (grouping pupils in classes by their current achievement levels). A total of 127 schools took part in the trial, which ran over the course of two academic years. Teachers were randomly allocated to sets to prevent “lower” sets from being disproportionately assigned less-experienced teachers, while pupils in Years 7 and 8 were assigned to sets based on independent measures of achievement, rather than more subjective judgements such as behaviour and peer interactions. There were opportunities throughout the year to re-assign pupils to different sets based on their current level of achievement.

The evaluation found no evidence that the intervention improves outcomes in maths (effect size = -0.01) or English (effect size = -0.08). The process evaluation revealed mixed views from participants, and many interviewees thought that what they were being asked to do represented little change from what they already do.

The researchers noted that because school and teacher buy-in was low and attrition rates for follow-up testing were high, half of the schools in the math trial and more than half of the schools in the English trial stopped the intervention before follow-up, and this makes it difficult to conclude anything certain about the impact of Best Practice in Setting.

Source: Best practice in grouping students. Intervention A: Best practice in setting evaluation report and executive summary, (September 2018). Education Endowment Foundation

Best practice in grouping students. Intervention B: Mixed attainment grouping. Pilot report and executive summary, (September 2018). Education Endowment Foundation

More evidence in favour of free eye tests and glasses at school

Several recent Best Evidence in Brief articles describe the positive effects on reading achievement of providing free vision screening and glasses to pupils who need them. Adding to the evidence showing that vision is one of the most important health outcomes for academic success, a recent study describes the results of one such programme, Florida Vision Quest.

Florida Vision Quest (FLVQ) is a programme designed to provide pupils in high-poverty schools with vision screening and free vision testing in a mobile vision clinic. If children are found to need glasses, they receive them at no charge. Two pairs are given to each child.

Within three school districts in Central Florida, elementary Title I schools were randomly assigned to one of three treatments: Full treatment (n=19), screen only (n=19), or control (n=38). Only pupils in grades 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) were involved in the study. Outcomes were determined for all pupils in those grades, not just those who needed glasses.

Findings showed there were significant positive effects on reading (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests, or FCAT) for schools that received the full treatment (effect size = +0.13) but not for those that received screening only. There were no effects for maths.

Source: The Impact of Providing Vision Screening and Free Eyeglasses on Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Title I Elementary Schools in Florida (Spring 2018), Journal of Policy Analysis and Management

Lessons from the scale-up of an early maths programme

Pre-K Mathematics is a supplementary mathematics curriculum for pre-k (Reception) children. It focuses on the pre-k classroom and home learning environments of young children, especially those from families experiencing economic hardship. Activities aim to support mathematical development by providing learning opportunities to increase children’s informal mathematical knowledge.

In an article published in Evaluation Review, Jaime Thomas and colleagues report on a cluster-randomised control trial of the scale-up of Pre-K Mathematics in 140 schools in California (70 intervention schools, 70 control). The post-test measured outcomes on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort Mathematics Assessment (ECLS-B) and the Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3) at the end of the pre-k year. Results showed that Pre-K Mathematics had positive and significant effects, with an effect size of +0.30 on the ECLS-B and +0.23 on the TEMA-3.

The authors consider how these results differ from previous, smaller studies of the efficacy and effectiveness of Pre-K Mathematics. They find that effect sizes were usually larger in the earlier studies. As studies became larger, more heterogeneous, and less controlled, they tended to yield smaller results.

Source: The Sequential Scale-Up of an Evidence-Based Intervention: A Case Study (August 2018), Evaluation Review