Effects of charter middle school attendance on college enrolment and completion

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a report examining the effects of attending a charter middle school on students’ later rates of college enrolment and completion. Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate outside the established state school system.

Researchers compared the December 2017 data of students who had entered lotteries to be admitted into 31 charter middle schools nationwide more than ten years before. A total of 1,723 students who had randomly won the lotteries and were admitted into charter middle schools were compared to the 1,150 students who were not admitted at that time.

Three to eight years after expected high school graduation, results showed equal rates of college enrolment (69%) and current enrolment/completion (47%) for both groups. There was also no difference among charter middle attendees and non-attendees in rates of attending a two- or four-year college; if colleges attended were public, private, non-profit, or for profit; and if colleges were highly selective or not. In addition, charter middle school students were as likely to attend dual enrolment high schools (earning college credit while in high school) as their non-charter-selected peers.

These same schools were examined in an earlier study, the Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, where some schools demonstrated improvements in students’ middle school achievement, especially in urban, low socio-economic status areas. These schools were as successful as the others in students’ later college attendance and graduation rates.

Source: Do Charter Middle Schools Improve Students’ College Outcomes? (April 2019) Institute of Education Sciences Evaluation Brief

Can attention span in infancy predict later executive function?

Infant attention skills are significantly related to preschool executive function at age three, according to a new study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

One hundred and fourteen children took part in the study. Jessica H. Kraybill and colleagues measured children’s attention at five months by using parental-report questionnaires and by assessing look duration and shifting rate while the children watched a video clip.

Children’s single longest continuous look and the number of shifts of gaze at the video were recorded. Shorter looking durations were taken as an indication of better information processing, and high shift rates typically represent better attention. The performance on four different executive function tasks for these same children was then measured when they were three years old.

Results indicated that higher attention at age five months was related to higher executive function at age three (effect size = + 0.05), supporting the notion that attention span in infancy may serve as an early marker of later executive function.

Source: Infant Attention and Age 3 Executive Function, (March 2019), Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

Test anxiety intervention and uncertain control

Increasing a student’s sense of being in control is an important factor in reducing test anxiety, according to a study published in School Psychology Quarterly, which reports the findings of an intervention to reduce test anxiety in secondary school students who are preparing for high-stakes exams.

Fifty-six Year 10 and 11 students from two secondary schools in urban areas of England participated in the study and were randomly allocated to one of two intervention groups: an early intervention group (n=25), or a wait-list control group (n=31). The intervention comprised six sessions which used both cognitive and behavioural approaches, delivered over six weeks (one session per week).

David Putwain and Marc Pescod measured test anxiety (using the Revised Test Anxiety Scale) and uncertain control (using the Motivation and Engagement Scale) for all participants at three time points: a baseline measurement before either group had received the intervention; after the early intervention group had received the intervention; and after the wait-list control had received the intervention.

The results suggest that after receiving the intervention, students showed a moderate reduction in the worry and tension components of test anxiety and uncertain control.

Source: Is reducing uncertain control the key to successful test anxiety intervention for secondary school students? Findings from a randomized control trial, (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly.

Setting up in-class libraries in rural China

A study published in Reading Research Quarterly examined the effects of installing an in-class library providing students with age-appropriate books on student reading outcomes and achievements in rural China.

Most previous studies of the effects of age-appropriate books have been conducted in developed regions. However, in rural China, not only are age-appropriate reading materials scarce, but schools, teachers, and parents believe independent reading will negatively affect students’ performance on high-stakes college entrance exams.

To examine the actual effects in rural China, Hongmei Yi and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial including 11,083 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 120 schools in Jiangxi province in China. In the treatment schools, an in-class library stocked with 70 extracurricular books was installed in each classroom. The books were carefully selected based on recommendations of reading specialists and educators. Students received a baseline survey before the intervention and a follow-up survey after eight months of the intervention. Besides asking students about their attitudes toward reading and reading habits, students’ performance in Chinese language and maths was evaluated, and an assessment made of their reading skills using test items from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). They found that:

  • The in-class library significantly improved students’ reading habits after eight months. Students borrowed books more, read more, enjoyed reading more, and communicated more with their friends about reading.
  • There were no significant effects on students’ performance in maths and Chinese, despite the beliefs in China’s highly competitive system that independent reading would lower test scores.
  • However, there was no significant effect on students’ reading achievement.

The authors suggest that the lack of positive effects might be due to the book choices, short duration of the programme, and the fact that tasks were not assigned to teachers regarding the use of the in-class libraries. They suggest that the results highlight the importance of providing age-appropriate reading resources to primary students in rural China.

Source: Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In‐Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China, (March 2019) Reading Research Quarterly 

Understanding maths anxiety

While mathematics is often considered a hard subject, not all difficulties with the subject result from cognitive difficulties. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a maths problem. Research conducted by the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge examined the maths performance of more than 2,700 primary and secondary pupils in the UK and Italy who were screened for maths anxiety and general anxiety. Researchers then worked one-to-one with the children in order to gain deeper understanding of their cognitive abilities and feelings towards maths using a series of cognitive tasks, questionnaires, and interviews.

Emma Carey and colleagues found that a general feeling that maths was more difficult than other subjects often contributed to feelings of anxiety about the subject, and that teachers and parents may inadvertently play a role. Girls in both primary and secondary school were found to have higher levels of both maths anxiety and general anxiety.

Pupils indicated poor test results, or negative comparisons to peers or siblings, as reasons for feeling anxious. Secondary school pupils also indicated that the transition from primary to secondary school was a cause of maths anxiety, as the work seemed harder and there was greater pressure on tests and increased homework.

The report sets out a series of recommendations, including:

  • Teachers should be aware that maths anxiety can affect pupils’ maths performance.
  • Teachers and parents need to be aware that their own maths anxiety might influence pupils’ math anxiety.
  • Teachers and parents also need to be aware that gendered stereotypes about maths ability might contribute to the gender gap in maths performance.
  • Reducing classroom pressure and using methods like free writing about emotions before a test could help to alleviate maths anxiety.

Source: Understanding mathematics anxiety: Investigating the experiences of UK primary and secondary school students (March 2019), Centre for Neuroscience in Education, University of Cambridge

Parent-teacher meetings and pupil outcomes

Engaging parents in their children’s education, both at home and at school, can be an effective and low-cost way of improving learning outcomes for pupils. A study published in European Economic Review examines whether academic achievement can be improved by increasing parental involvement through scheduled parent-teacher meetings.

Asad Islam conducted the randomised controlled trial in schools in two southern districts of Bangladesh. Seventy-six primary schools were chosen randomly from more than 200 in these regions, with 40 schools randomly allocated to the intervention group and 36 to the control group. Pupils in these schools all came from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and a quarter of parents did not complete primary school.

The intervention involved monthly face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers over a period of two academic years. At each 15-minute meeting, teachers discussed with parents their child’s academic progress and provided them with a report card for their child. Pupil achievement outcomes were measured using standardised test scores.

Overall, test scores of pupils in the intervention schools increased by 0.26 standard deviations (SD) in the first year, and 0.38 SD by the end of the second year of the intervention. The study also found that pupils in the intervention schools had made improvements in their reading and writing abilities and general knowledge. Parents who attended the parent-teacher meetings reported that they felt encouraged to spend more time at home helping children study or do homework. Both parents and teachers also reported improved attitudes in the behaviour and confidence of their children.

Source: Parent–teacher meetings and student outcomes: Evidence from a developing country (January 2019), European Economic Review, Volume 111