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Unfortunately, the Institute for Effective Education will be closing from December 2020. As a consequence, this website will not be updated.

As you may know, Best Evidence in Brief has always been produced by a partnership of organisations, including Johns Hopkins University, Nanjing Normal University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Johns Hopkins University will continue sending Best Evidence in Brief emails to our subscribers, albeit the US version, and you can continue to read all the articles online on their website here or sign up for future issues here.

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The IEE team

Are prematurely born children at higher risk of lower academic performance?

Published in the open access journal JAMA Network Open, this systematic review and meta-analysis considers the associations between premature birth and academic achievement in reading and maths.

Melinda McBryde and colleagues looked at 33 unique studies comparing the academic outcomes of school-age children who were born prematurely (n=4,006) with children born full-term (n=3,317). The meta-analysis compared mean scores from standardised tests of reading and maths (and associated subskills).

The results showed that children who were born prematurely scored lower on reading comprehension and applied mathematical problems than their full-term peers. Premature children also scored lower than their term-born peers in maths calculation, decoding, mathematical knowledge, word identification and mathematical fluency.

Extremely premature children (those born at less than 28 weeks’ gestation) had significantly lower reading performance compared with children born full-term. However, children born at 28 to 32 weeks’ gestation did not exhibit later reading deficits compared with full-term peers.

Looking at the ages when assessments were carried out, in reading, prematurely born children ages 5 to 8 performed significantly worse than full-term peers, as did those ages 9 to 11. Reading deficits were significant but less pronounced when children were assessed at 12 to 18. In contrast, the magnitude of deficits in maths in prematurely born children was similar across age groups.

Source: Academic outcomes of school-aged children born preterm: A systematic review and meta-analysis (April 2020), JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4)

Positive results for school-readiness intervention

A study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly reports on a randomised controlled trial of an intervention designed to improve the quality of teaching in early childhood education and increase children’s school readiness.

“Play and Learn” is a low-cost, 20-week, teacher-delivered early childhood education programme that targets both teacher and child skills. For teachers, the intervention aims to improve their teaching and interactive skills. The aim of the intervention for children is to improve their language and maths skills and increase school readiness.

The randomised controlled trial involved 1,116 children ages 18-36 months who were enrolled in 87 childcare centres in Denmark. Childcare centres were randomised to either an intervention or control group, with childcare centres in the intervention group implementing Play and Learn. Teachers implementing the intervention programme received training materials and tools to support their teaching and help them to be more explicit and intentional in their interactions with children to target language, maths language and numeracy skills.

The results of the study showed that the intervention had a positive short-term impact on children’s language and maths skills relative to control-group children in all four areas examined: general vocabulary (ES = +0.27), language use (ES = +0.19), maths language (ES = +0.80) and numeracy (ES = +0.55). However, children receiving the Play and Learn intervention did not improve skills relative to the control group on measures of social-emotional skills (self-regulation and cooperation = +0.12; empathy = 0.00).

Source: Low-cost teacher-implemented intervention improves toddlers’ language and math skills (March 2020), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 53, 4th Quarter 2020

Teachers’ use of intervention programmes to support underachieving pupils

A new research report from the RAND Corporation provides insight into teachers’ use of intervention programmes and the factors that may influence that use.

Laura Stelitano and colleagues used data from a sample of 4,402 teachers who indicated on the spring 2019 American Instructional Resources Survey (AIRS) that they teach English and/or maths. The survey asked teachers whether they used intervention programmes to support pupils who are performing below the required level for their year group in their respective subject area, and if so, to select the programmes they use from a list of common interventions.

The report found that, overall, intervention programmes were used less often for maths and in high (secondary) schools. Teachers were more likely to use intervention programmes in English (62%) than in maths (52%). Although high school teachers were least likely to use an intervention programme than elementary (primary) or middle school teachers, 42% of high school teachers reported using a reading or maths intervention. The report also found that teachers’ use of intervention programmes varied depending on the level of school poverty. Teachers in high-poverty schools were more likely than those in lower-poverty schools to use intervention programmes in English. However, the use of maths intervention programmes does not appear to be tied to school poverty levels.

The authors of the report recommend that research could also explore why such a large percentage of teachers are using intervention programmes, the quality of the programmes they are using, and how they are using the interventions to support learning.

Source: Teachers’ use of intervention programs: Who uses them and how context matters (2020), Insights from the American Educator Panels, RAND Corporation, RR-2575/16-BMGF/SFF/OFF

The effects of head teachers on attendance rates

While many studies examine the effects of head teachers on pupil achievement, a recent study examined the effects of head teachers on pupil absenteeism. Brendan Bartanen of Texas A&M reviewed the statewide data in Tennessee between 2006-07 and 2016-17, correlating 3,800 head teachers in 1,700 schools to pupil attendance and achievement data. He describes how he translates this data into a “value added” determination of head teachers’ effects, meaning using a system to determine which head teachers add value to their school community.

Results showed that replacing a head teacher who had a poor value-added rate (25%) with a head teacher who had a higher value-added rate (75%) reduced absences of pupils who were chronically truant by 4 percentage points, and of pupils overall by .08 percentage points. He also found that the head teachers whose schools showed the greatest increases in attendance were not necessarily the ones whose pupils demonstrated the greatest gains in test scores.

Source: Principal quality and student attendance (March 2020), Educational Researcher, Volume 49 Issue 2

A meta-analysis of writing in social studies, science and maths

Is writing about classroom content an effective way to learn? Arizona State University’s Steven Graham and colleagues at the University of Utah recently performed a meta-analysis on the effects of writing about classroom content in social studies, science and maths. Specifically, they examined if writing increased pupil achievement, if the results differed among subjects, and if any relationships existed by year level, activity type, or any other factors.

To be included, studies had to meet quality criteria including true or quasi-experimental research design, reliability of measures, controlling for teacher effects, multiple classes in the experimental and control conditions, experimental and control group pre-test equivalence, and both groups experiencing equal amounts of time learning the same topics.

This search yielded 56 studies in 53 documents meeting criteria for inclusion, involving 6,235 pupils in grades 1-11 (Years 2-12). Pupils in experimental groups wrote about classroom content, while most controls did not write at all. Forty-six percent of the studies assessed the impact of writing on science, 38% on maths and 14% on social studies. Thirty-four percent examined elementary (primary) pupils, and 32% each examined middle and high school (secondary) pupils. The types of writing activities for the experimental groups included writing informational text, such as summarising information or writing a report (34%); journal writing (32%); argumentative writing (13%); and narrative writing, such as creating a word problem in maths lessons (5%). These were coded to determine which, if any, were more effective than others.

Results showed that writing about content increased pupil achievement when compared to equivalent peers in non-writing control groups. Average weighted effect sizes were statistically significant in science (+0.31), social studies (+0.31) and maths (+0.32), as they were when broken down by elementary (+0.29), middle (+0.30) and high school (+0.30) levels. No correlation was found with number of treatment days, type of writing task, or type of assessment.

Source: The effects of writing on learning in science, social studies, and mathematics: A meta-analysis (March 2020), Review of Educational Research