Pupils may do better on tests if they can go back and check their work

Joseph Hardcastle and colleagues conducted a study to compare pupil performance on computer-based tests (CBT) and traditional paper-and-pencil tests (PPT). More than 30,000 pupils in grades 4–12 (Years 5–13) were assessed on their understanding of energy using three testing systems: a paper and pencil test; a computer-based test that allowed pupils to skip items and move freely through the test; or a CBT that did not allow pupils to return to previous questions.

Overall, the results showed that being able to skip through questions, and review and change previous answers, could benefit younger pupils. Elementary (Years 5 and 6) and middle school (Years 7–9) pupils scored lower on a CBT that did not allow them to return to previous items than on a comparable computer-based test that allowed them to skip, review, and change previous responses. Elementary pupils also scored slightly higher on a CBT that allowed them to go back to previous answers than on the PPT, but there was no significant difference for middle school pupils on those two types of tests. High school pupils (Years 10–13) showed no difference in their performance on the three types of tests.

Gender was found to have little influence on a pupil’s performance on PPT or CBT; however, pupils whose primary language was not English had lower performance on both CBTs compared with the PPT.

Source: Comparing student performance on paper-and-pencil and computer-based-tests. Paper presented at the 2017 AERA Annual Meeting, 30 April 2017. American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.

Positive results for early language and pre-literacy intervention

A new study published in Child Development has found positive results for an intervention designed to improve early language and pre-literacy skills in children in Denmark.

Dorthe Bleses and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial of three variations of SPELL (Structured Preschool Efforts in Language and Literacy), to evaluate to what extent the intervention increased children’s language and pre-literacy skills compared to business as usual. SPELL, which is a Danish version of an existing programme, Read it Again-PreK!, is a 20-week storybook-based intervention for children aged  three- to six-years-old. Twice a week, children receive 30-minute lessons in small groups which include a before, during, and after reading activity to address the lesson’s objectives, which is delivered via an iPad-based digital learning technology.

For the trial, 6,483 children from 144 childcare settings were randomly assigned to one of three variations of SPELL, or continued with business as usual. Pre- to post-test comparisons showed an impact of all three interventions for literacy skills (effect sizes = +0.21 to +0.27) but not language skills (+0.04 to +0.16), with little difference among the three variations.

Source: The effectiveness of a large-scale language and preliteracy intervention: The SPELL randomized controlled trial in Denmark (2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12859

Screen time or story time?

A new article published in Frontiers of Psychology analyses differences in parent-child talk and reading behaviour when reading print versus electronic versions of the same books.

Parents of 102 children aged 17-26 months from Toronto, Canada, were randomly assigned to read either two electronic books or two print format books with their child. The books had identical content, but while the parent read the words in the print books aloud, the electronic books had an automatic voiceover. After reading, the children were asked to identify an animal presented in the books. Children who read the e-book made more correct choices.

Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea found that parents who read the print books pointed more frequently to pages than parents who read the electronic books. But the opposite was true for the children. Parents and children spent almost twice as much time reading the electronic books as the print format books. Children who were read the electronic books paid more attention, made themselves more available for reading, participated in more page turns, and produced more content-related comments during reading than those who were read the print format books.

The researchers point out that while increased engagement does not always translate into increased learning, the positive engagement and content-related language observed in the children who were read the electronic books suggests they have a role in supporting learning for younger children. However, more work should be done to identify the potential benefits and hazards.

Source: Parent-toddler behavior and language differ when reading electronic and print picture books (May 2017), Frontiers in Psychology 8:677

Comprehension Circuit Training delivered via tablet shows reading benefits

Comprehension Circuit Training (CCT) is a programme for teenagers designed to improve reading comprehension through a set of circuit-like exercises in pre-reading, reading, and after-reading to improve foundational reading skills and text-processing abilities. A recent randomised study investigated the effects of CCT delivered electronically via tablet on the reading comprehension of struggling teenage readers.

Three schools in Texas in the US, involving 3 teachers and 228 struggling sixth- to eighth-graders (Years 7–9), participated in this study. Using a within-teacher design, middle school teachers’ reading intervention classes were randomly assigned to electronic CCT (n=9 classes, 112 pupils) or business as usual (n=7 classes, 116 pupils). All pupils had failed to score at the “proficient” level on the prior year’s state reading assessment, and no significant pre-test differences were found between the two groups. CCT pupils received 39 e-CCT lessons in word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension that were organised into ten levels delivered in a standard sequence. Each 50-minute lesson contained four video-instruction components – an Opening Comprehension Circuit, WarmUp Station, Reading Core Station, and Knowledge Flex Station – delivered three days a week via Apple iPad. After video instruction, pupils partnered to practice lesson content, with teacher-led assessment occurring in the Knowledge Flex Station.

Results showed statistically significant effects in favour of the experimental group on post-test measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and silent reading efficiency. Pupils who entered with lower-level reading comprehension showed the greatest gains.

Source: Impact of a technology-mediated reading intervention on adolescents’ reading comprehension. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Vol. 10, 2.

Unhealthy school lunches nibble away academic performance

A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper looks at the effect of offering healthier school lunches on end-of-year test scores for pupils in California.

Michael L Anderson and colleagues analysed data collected over a five-year period (academic years 2008/2009 to 2012/2013) from around 9,700 schools that reported test scores on California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting exam, a state-wide test given to all pupils in grades 2 to 11 (Years 3 to 13). In order to determine the link between food quality and pupil achievement, they also collected data from the California Department of Education on school districts’ meal vendors for the same time span. Over that five-year period, about 12% of California schools contracted an outside company to provide lunch for at least one school year. The nutritional value of the school lunch menus was analysed by nutritionists at the Nutrition Policy Institute using the Healthy Eating Index.

The results of the study found that in years when schools offered a healthy lunch menu, pupil test scores were on average higher (effect size +0.03 to +0.04). In addition, test scores for pupils who qualified for reduced-price or free school lunches, (and therefore more likely to eat the healthy lunches), increased by about 40% in comparison to pupils who didn’t receive free school lunches.  The positive effect of healthy lunches on academic achievement persisted for the duration of a long-term contract.

Source: School lunch quality and academic performance (March 2017), NBER Working Paper No. 23218, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Children who enjoy reading over three years ahead in the classroom

Research published by the National Literacy Trust highlights the link between enjoyment of reading and achievement, with children who enjoy reading more likely to do better at reading – over three years ahead in the classroom – of their peers who don’t enjoy it.

The findings are based on data from 42,406 children aged 8 to 18 who participated in a National Literacy Trust survey at the end of 2016. At age 10, children who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years higher than their peers who don’t enjoy reading, rising to 2.1 years for 12-year-olds. At age 14, children who enjoy reading have an average reading age of 15.3 years, while those who don’t enjoy reading have an average reading age of just 12 years, a difference of 3.3 years.

The survey also indicates that three-quarters (78%) of UK primary school children enjoy reading, with girls more likely to enjoy reading than boys. Overall, 64.9% of girls enjoying reading either very much or quite a lot compared with 52.4% of boys, and this gap increases with age. At ages 8 to 11, 82.8% of girls and 72.4% of boys said they enjoyed reading. By ages 14 to 16, this figure has dropped to 53.3% of girls and 35.7% of boys reporting that they enjoy reading.

Source: Celebrating reading for enjoyment: findings from our annual literacy survey 2016 (June 2017), National Literacy Trust