Free glasses improve reading achievement

In the first US school-based study to link reading achievement with the provision of free glasses, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education and colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, examined the effects on reading performance of providing free glasses to disadvantaged pupils.

A total of 317 second and third grade pupils (Years 3 and 4) in 12 disadvantaged Baltimore City schools had their vision tested in the autumn and winter of 2014-2015. They also completed reading pre- and post-tests from the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery at those times. Sixty-nine percent (n=182) of the pupils’ vision tests showed they needed glasses. Pupils who needed glasses were given two pairs, one for home and one for school. Lost or broken glasses were replaced, and school staff were enlisted to help children remember to wear their glasses. Results showed that the reading scores for the children provided with glasses improved more than those for pupils who did not need glasses (effect size=+0.16).

The study points to a new strategy for improving reading performance in high-poverty schools.

Source: In plain sight: reading outcomes of providing eyeglasses to disadvantaged children (May 2018) Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) DOI: 10.1080/10824669.2018.1477602

Do physically active lessons improve pupil engagement?

A study published in Health Education and Behavior looks at the effects of introducing physically active lessons into primary school classes. Emma Norris and colleagues used the Virtual Traveller (VT) intervention to evaluate whether physically active lessons had any effect on pupil engagement, physical activity and on-task behaviour.

Virtual Traveller is a programme of pre-prepared physically active lesson sessions delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards during regular lessons. A total of 219 children aged 8- to 9-years-old from 10 schools in Greater London took part in the cluster-randomised controlled trial. Children in the intervention schools received 10-minute VT sessions three times a week, for six weeks, during maths and English lessons. To assess the effectiveness of VT, pupils’ physical activity levels, on-task behaviour and engagement were measured at baseline (T0), at weeks two (T1) and four  (T2) of the six-week intervention, and at one week (T3) and three months (T4) post-intervention.

Pupils in the intervention group showed more on-task behaviour than those in the control at T1 and T2, but this was not maintained post-intervention. No difference in pupil engagement between the control and intervention groups was observed at any time point. VT was found to increase physical activity, but only during lesson time.

Source: Physically active lessons improve lesson activity and on-task behavior: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of the “Virtual Traveller” intervention (March 2018), Health Education & Behavior DOI: 10.1177/1090198118762106

Is the pen mightier than the mouse?

Ben Backes and James Cowan from CALDER have published a working paper on the differences between computer- and paper-based tests.

In 2015, Massachusetts introduced the new PARCC assessment. School districts could choose whether to use the computer or paper versions of the test, and in 2015 and 2016, districts were divided fairly evenly between the two. The authors use this division to compare results for pupils in Grades 3–8 (Years 4–9).

Pupils who took the online version of PARCC scored about 0.10 standard deviations lower in maths and about 0.25 standard deviations lower in English than pupils taking the paper version of the test. When pupils took computer tests again the following year, these differences reduced by about a third for maths and by half for English.

The study also looked at whether the change to computer tests affected some pupils disproportionately. There were no differences for maths, but for English there was more of an effect on pupils at the bottom of the achievement distribution, pupils with English as an additional language and special education pupils.

The authors point out that these differences not only have consequences for individual pupils, but for other decisions based on the data, including teacher and school performance measures and the analysis of schoolwide programmes.

Source: Is the pen mightier than the keyboard? The effect of online testing on measured student achievement (April 2018), National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, Working Paper 190

Study shows benefits of Healthy Harlem programme

Mathematica Policy Research posted a new research brief that summarises findings from a study of Healthy Harlem, an after-school programme aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. The study, by James Mabli, Martha Bleeker and Mary Kay Fox, showed that participation in the Healthy Harlem programme led to increased physical activity and improved weight status for overweight and obese pupils.

Key components of Healthy Harlem include physical activity, healthy snacks, nutrition education lessons and parent workshops. To assess Healthy Harlem’s effectiveness, the authors monitored pupils at 21 after-school sites during an initial baseline year and then measured programme impacts after two and three years of participation. They collected data through a pupil survey, a fitness test and direct measurements of height and weight. Key findings were as follows:

  • A 5.5 percent decrease in mean BMI z-scores after two years of participation and a 9.0 percent decrease after three years of participation. According to the report, a BMI z-score reflects the number of standard deviations a pupil’s BMI is from the mean BMI for a reference population.
  • A decrease of 12.2 percentage points in the percentage of pupils who were overweight or obese after two years, and a decrease of 18.4 percentage points after three years.
  • An increase in the percentage of pupils considered to be within the Harlem Fitness Zone, a measure of fitness based on a pupil’s ability to complete a minimum number of laps, defined for age-and-gender subgroups.

Source: The impact of Healthy Harlem on the body mass index and weight status of adolescents after two and three Years (March 2018), Mathematica Policy Research

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

The academic benefits of pupil–teacher familiarity

A study published in the journal Economics of Education Review suggests that assigning pupils to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance because teachers get to know their pupils and are able to adjust and target their teaching styles accordingly.

Andrew J Hill and Daniel B Jones used administrative data from North Carolina to observe the importance of pupil–teacher familiarity on academic performance in elementary (primary) school. They found that “looping”, in which an entire class moves to the next year with the same teacher, results in a small but statistically significant increase in pupil achievement. Pupils who spent a second year with the same teacher scored higher on end-of-year tests (on average 0.123 of a standard deviation) than those who weren’t matched. These benefits were greatest for minority pupils and lower-performing teachers (as measured by value-added).

Source: A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches (June 2018) Economics of Education Review volume 64