Early warning indicators for risk of dropout among EALs

School districts in the US are using early warning indicators such as attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions to identify and provide support for pupils at risk of dropping out. A new report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences in the US examines whether these early warning indicators work just as well for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

The study compares data for pupils in six school districts in Washington State who were classified as EAL at any point in their education (n=2,652) with data for non-EAL pupils (n=6,943). Pupils were identified as at risk of dropout if they triggered one or both early warning indicators – six or more absences plus at least one course failure in grade 9 (Year 10), or at least one expulsion in grade 9. The results show that early warning indicators are unable to accurately identify future dropouts. Overall, 23.8% of pupils triggered one or both early warning indicators, with EAL pupils triggering one or both early warning indicators only slightly more (24.2%) than non-EAL pupils (23.6%). These percentages are substantially higher than the percentage of pupils who actually dropped out (all pupils = 5.4%; EAL pupils = 5.9%; non-EAL pupils = 5.2%). Only 9.2% of EALs who were identified in grade 9 as at risk dropped out.

Source: Are two commonly used early warning indicators accurate predictors of dropout for English learner students? Evidence from six districts in Washington state (March 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.

What are the effects of a four-day school week?

A Brookings report by Paul T Hill and Georgia Heyward examines the four-day school week in rural Idaho in the US. According to the report, four-day weeks have been implemented in approximately 42 of Idaho’s 115 school districts, with a primary goal of cost savings (eg, savings on transportation, heating, cleaning and clerical costs). The revised schedule adds roughly 30 to 90 minutes to each day that pupils are in school, and then on the fifth day (usually Friday), the goal is to assign projects and encourage parent and community groups to organise study halls and enrichment activities.

The authors collected data by interviewing district and school leaders in Idaho communities that had moved to the four-day week. Key findings included:

  • Though cost cutting was the original motivation for the four-day week, savings have been elusive in most localities. This is because so many costs are fixed (eg, teacher and administrator salaries).
  • Teachers reported difficulty restarting instruction and focusing children’s attention after a three-day weekend.
  • Teachers in many places now consider the fifth day a benefit, and some superintendents reported that the four-day week made the locality more attractive to teacher candidates.
  • Working parents found the longer hours in school more convenient as it meant that children’s days more nearly matched their own workdays. However, the fifth day presented new problems of child care and planning for positive uses of children’s time.
  • No district that had adopted the four-day week had rigorously assessed the effects on pupil achievement. Several district leaders said pupil and teacher attendance had improved in the first year of the four-day week, but they had not assessed whether these results persisted over time.

The authors discuss the limitations of their evidence, and note that the long-term effects for rural pupils’ education are unknown.

Source: The four-day school week in rural Idaho schools (July 2015), Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho

Engaging dads in a parenting intervention improved outcomes

A parenting programme in which fathers engage with their children through reading was found to boost the fathers’ parenting skills while also improving the child’s school readiness and behaviour, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

The randomised controlled trial, conducted by Anil Chacko and colleagues, evaluated the effects of Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers, an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their pre-school children. For the study, 126 low-income fathers – the majority of whom spoke Spanish – and their children were recruited across three Head Start centres in New York City. The intervention included eight weekly sessions, each lasting 90 minutes. The effects of the programme on parenting skills, child behaviour and language, and outcomes for fathers including stress and depression were measured before and immediately after participation in the programme. Measures included observations by the researchers using a behavioural coding system that measures the quality of parent-child social interactions, reports from the fathers and standardised assessments of child language.

The study found that parenting behaviours, child behaviours and the language development of the children improved. Moderate effect sizes were found for observed positive parenting (+0.63) and for observed child problem behaviour (+0.34). Using the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-4) to measure language outcomes, effect sizes of +0.52 were reported for auditory comprehension and +0.51 for expressive language. Parental stress and depression effect sizes were insignificant. Overall, the findings suggest more than a 30% improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.

Source: Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: a randomized controlled trial (January 2017), Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

The positive side of taking the school bus

Out of all the early school years, excessive absenteeism is most prevalent during kindergarten (Year 1). While there may be many reasons for this, including difficulty moving from pre-school, how they get to school has been little studied.

In the first study to examine the effects of taking a school bus on reducing school absences, Michael Gottfried of the University of California Santa Barbara examined if taking a school bus to school reduced kindergarten pupil absence rate, and looked for any patterns among child and family characteristics.

Subjects were 11,000 US public school pupils who participated in The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011 (ECLSK:2011). As part of the study, data including school bus-taking was collected on a nationally representative set of kindergarten pupils in the 2010–2011 school year. Twenty-four percent of these kindergarten pupils took a school bus to school. They were paired with non-bus-taking pupils based on demographics, household conditions and kindergarten entry skills. Results showed that the kindergarten pupils who took the bus to school were less likely to be absent than their non-bus-taking peers, regardless of family characteristics, poverty level, or distance to school.

Authors discuss several implications of these findings, most notably that if taking the bus to school increases pupil attendance, this should be a consideration when budget cuts threaten to curtail school bus services.

Source: Linking getting to school with going to school (April 2017), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Predicting reading ability from DNA analysis

Researchers from King’s College London have used a genetic scoring technique to predict reading performance throughout school years from DNA alone.

Saskia Selzam and colleagues calculated genetic scores for educational achievement in 5,825 individuals from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) based on genetic variants identified to be important for educational achievement. They then mapped these scores against reading ability between the ages of 7 and 14.

The report, published in Scientific Studies of Reading, found there was a correlation between children’s DNA and their reading ability. Genetic scores were found to explain up to five percent of the differences between children in their reading ability. The children with the highest and lowest genetic scores had reading abilities almost two years apart. This association remained significant even after accounting for cognitive ability and family socioeconomic status.

The researchers note that although five percent may seem a relatively small amount, it is substantial compared to other results related to reading. For example, gender differences have been found to explain less than one percent of the differences between children in reading ability. The use of genetic scoring in education as an early screening tool to help identify those at particular genetic risk of reading problems, they propose, could lead to tailored intervention and prevention according to an individual child’s needs.

Source: Genome-wide polygenic scores predict reading performance throughout the school years (March 2017), Scientific Studies of Reading

What is the research on screen time for children?

There continue to be conflicting views about the recommendations to give to children on screen time (the use of “screen” media including television, smart phones and computer games). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended two hours or less screen time per day for most children. Two recently published studies investigate this recommendation and whether the amount of screen time has any impact on children’s behaviour and school readiness.

The first study, published  in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, examines whether screen time that exceeds the AAP recommendations affects children’s school readiness, and specifically whether this varies according to family income.

Andrew Ribner and colleagues looked at data from 807 kindergarten (Year 1) children of diverse backgrounds. Their parents reported family income, as well as the number of hours of television their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet and smartphone use were not included. The children were assessed using measures of maths, knowledge of letters and words and executive function. Results showed that watching more television than recommended by the AAP is negatively associated with maths and executive function, but not with letter and word knowledge. This association was found to increase as family income decreased.

For older children, screen time may not be strongly associated with any behaviour problems. Research published in Psychiatric Quarterly investigated the links between the amount of screen time and risky behavioural outcomes for 6,089 young people aged 12–18 from Florida.

The sample was divided into four groups: abstainers (those who reported spending no time watching television or using other media); low users (no more than two hours of screen time per day, in line with AAP guidance); moderate users (three to six hours per day); and excessive users (six or more hours per day). Christopher J Fergusson, who conducted the study, found that moderate screen use was not associated with any risky behaviour. Even excessive screen use was only weakly associated with negative outcomes related to delinquency, reduced grades and depression only and at levels unlikely to be significant.

Source: Family socioeconomic status moderates associations between television viewing and school readiness skills (April 2017), Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (38:3)

Everything in moderation: moderate use of screens unassociated with child behavior problems (February 2017), Psychiatric Quarterly.