Effective reading programmes for secondary pupils

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake and colleagues from the Center for Research and Reform in Education have updated their paper Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students. Their review focuses on 73 studies that used random assignment (n=66) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 55 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading.

The authors found that specific programmes using one-to-one, small-group tutoring, and cooperative learning showed positive outcomes, as did a small number of programmes emphasising social-emotional learning, technology, or teaching of metacognitive strategies. Benchmark assessments did not affect reading outcomes. Leaving aside tutoring and benchmarks, programmes that provide additional instructional time (usually, a daily extra period) were no more effective than programmes that did not provide extra time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from additional time on supplemental courses.

Source: Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students (August 2017), Best Evidence Encyclopedia

Does increasing time spent in class improve pupil performance?

A study by Huebener and colleagues examined whether increasing the amount of time pupils spend in the classroom affects their performance.

The authors used PISA scores to analyse the effect of increasing the time spent in class by two hours per week over a five-year period for ninth-grade students in Germany (average age = 15 years old). During the additional classroom time, pupils were taught new content.

Their findings indicate that while increasing the time spent in class did improve pupils’ average performance, effect sizes were small. The increase in lesson time was shown to increase average PISA test scores in reading, maths and science (effect size between +0.04 and +0.06 for one additional hour per week). However, these results differ according to pupil ability, with a widening gap in performance between low- and high-performing pupils. The researchers suggest this is because the additional teaching time was used to teach new content, and that lower-performing pupils may not be able to cope with this additional content. They recommend that when policymakers consider adding additional classroom time, they consider how this time is spent. Different pupils have different learning needs, so the content of the extra lessons, rather than the time, is more important to improving pupil performance.

Source: Increased instruction hours and the widening gap in student performance (August 2017), Labour Economics, Volume 47

Unpacking the evidence on cognitive load theory

Cognitive load theory – the theory of how the human brain learns and stores knowledge – is supported by a number of randomised controlled trials and has significant implications for teaching practice.  A report from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation in New South Wales, Australia, examines the existing research on cognitive load theory and what it looks like in practice. The first part of the report explains how human brains learn according to cognitive load theory, and outlines the evidence base for the theory. The second part examines the implication of cognitive load theory for teaching practice and describes some recommendations that are directly transferable to the classroom. These include:

  • Worked example effect – pupils are shown a problem that has already been solved (a “worked example”), with every step fully explained and clearly shown. Pupils who are taught using lots of worked examples learn more quickly than pupils who are asked to solve the problems themselves.
  • Modality effect – evidence suggests that working memory can be sub-divided into auditory and visual streams, so presenting information using both these methods of communication can increase working memory capacity – for example, when using a diagram and text to explain something, the written text can be communicated in spoken form.

Source: Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand (August 2017) Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation

Implication of subject choice on university entry

The introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure for schools in England means that schools are incentivised to encourage pupils to study this set of subjects (to count towards the EBacc, a pupil must achieve GCSE grade C or above in a range of subjects including English, maths, history or geography, two sciences, and a language). But are some subjects “better” to study than others for getting to university?

A recent Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working Paper seeks to understand the implications of subject choices at age 14 (when pupils pick their GCSE options), and if these choices then play a part in whether pupils go to university and where they end up studying.

Using data collected from the longitudinal survey, Next Steps, Jake Anders and colleagues looked at the different probabilities of applying to university, entering university, and attending a high-status university for pupils who study the full set of subjects required for EBacc, compared to those who study other combinations of subjects. Using both regression modelling and propensity score matching to test the robustness of the results, they found that pupils who study the full set of EBacc subjects are slightly more likely to apply for and to attend university (a positive effect of 4 and 3 percentage points, respectively). However, the results from the regression model imply that pupils with a full set of EBacc subjects are less likely to get into a high-status university.

The researchers emphasise that the differences are not large, and ultimately it’s far more important to perform well in whatever subject is studied, so the likely implications of more pupils studying EBacc subjects should not be exaggerated.

Source: Incentivising specific combinations of subjects: does it make any difference to university access? (August 2017), CLS working paper 2017/11. Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Does consistency in programming lead to academic gains in KIPP?

While numerous studies show positive immediate effects of pre-k (Reception), studies also show that these effects usually fade as soon as kindergarten or first grade (Year 1 and Year 2). To discover if consistency in programming from pre-school to elementary (primary) school can extend these positive effects, Virginia Knechtel and colleagues at Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) recently performed the first randomised study of the effectiveness of The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) pre-school on second graders (Year 3) who had continued with the KIPP programme into elementary school.

KIPP is a network of 200 elementary and secondary charter schools serving 80,000 pupils in the US, most of whom are low-income and African American or Latino. Admission to KIPP is via lottery. KIPP schools emphasise academics and character development in safe environments that foster pupils’ progression to further education. As part of an i3 scale-up grant, MPR performed a randomised study on the effects of KIPP on elementary to high school pupils, and found positive, statistically significant effects for KIPP pupils. For the pre-school study, the researchers drew their population sample from pupils in the 2015 study who had started KIPP in pre-K (n=97), comparing them to pupils who did not win the KIPP lottery and attended other schools (n=147). At the end of second grade (Year 3), when most pupils had attended KIPP for five years, both reading and maths scores were higher on subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson for KIPP pupils than for control pupils (ES=+0.43 on Letter Word ID, +0.21 for Passage Comprehension, +0.34 for Applied Problems and +0.31 for Calculation). This is not a lasting effect of pre-k, but the cumulative impact of everything KIPP schools did in grades pre-K-2 (Reception to Year 3).

Authors interviewed school staff and identified six key factors that differed between KIPP and non-KIPP programmes. These included that the schools’ structures allow for continuity among year groups, KIPP pre-K is academically focused, and there is a conscious effort to build relationships between school staff and pupils’ families.

Source: Pre-kindergarten impacts over time: An analysis of KIPP charter schools (August 2017), Mathematica Policy Research

The evidence on state-funded preschool

The evidence of the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten (preschool) programmes in the US was recently reviewed by a task force of scientists from the Brookings Institute and Duke University. These findings were released in a report called “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects”. Following the evidence review, the task force released a consensus statement outlining conclusions and recommendations about the effects of state-funded pre-kindergarten. According to the report:

  1. Greatest improvements at the end of the pre-kindergarten year are more often found for pupils from low-SES backgrounds or who are dual language learners than for their higher-SES and English-proficient peers.
  2. Not all pre-k programmes are equally effective, and this may be influenced by several factors. Positive influences include using evidence-based programmes that are well-implemented; utilising ongoing professional development and coaching for teachers; and promoting classrooms with predictable routines and positive, supportive pupil-teacher relationships.
  3. Pre-k environments are most effective when pupils’ individual abilities, knowledge and backgrounds are considered, and teaching strategies and content accordingly adjusted.
  4. Children who attend pre-k demonstrate more school readiness at the end of the year than those who do not, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.
  5. Long-term effects of pre-k in the later elementary (primary)years are inconclusive.
  6. More complete and reliable evidence is needed, during and after pre-k programmes, to create and sustain pre-kindergartners’ long-term gains.

The full report goes into more detail about the consensus statements, and discusses the results of the evidence with regards to funding, policy and other considerations.

Source: Puzzling it out: The current state of scientific knowledge on pre-kindergarten effects: A consensus statement (April 2017), Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, The Brookings Institution