Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

Two behaviours linked to dropout rates in high school

A study published in the Journal of School Health examines how two behaviours – aggression and poor study skills – may be a factor in why some pupils do not finish high school.

Pamela Orpinas and colleagues randomly selected 620 sixth-grade (Year 7) pupils from northeast Georgia schools. Teachers completed a behaviour rating scale for these pupils every year from grades six to twelve (Year 7 to Year 13). Based on teacher ratings, the pupils were categorised into low, medium and high aggression trajectories from middle to high school and into five study skills groups (low, average-low, decreasing, increasing and high).  Examples of behaviours considered to be aggressive were threatening to hurt, hitting, bullying and teasing others. Examples of study skills were doing extra credit work, being well organised, completing homework, working hard and reading assigned chapters. Participants in the study were classed as a dropout if they were not enrolled in school and had not obtained a high school diploma by the end of the spring term in grade 12 (Year 13).

Pupils who were identified in the high-aggression/low-study-skills group had a 50% dropout rate compared to pupils with low aggression and high study skills who had a dropout rate of less than 2%. The results highlight the importance of early interventions that combine academic enhancement and behavioural management for reducing school dropout rates.

Source: Longitudinal examination of aggression and study skills From middle to high school: Implications for dropout prevention (February 2018), Journal of School Health Volume 88, issue 3

Potentially positive effects for counselling before college

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new intervention report that examines the research on the impact of summer counselling on pupils’ college enrolment and persistence. As the report notes, summer counselling is designed to help college-intending high school graduates complete the steps needed to enrol in college and start their college careers.

The review included five studies of summer counselling that met the WWC’s research standards without reservations. Together, these studies included 13,614 recent high school graduates in 10 locations. In all five studies, pupils were provided with summer counselling for about 1.5 months between high school graduation and college registration. During this time, programmes provided college-intending individuals with information about tasks required for college enrolment, as well as assistance in overcoming unanticipated financial, informational and socioemotional barriers that prevent college entry.

According to the report, the research shows that summer counselling had potentially positive effects on credit accumulation and persistence (extent of evidence: small) and mixed effects on college access and enrolment (extent of evidence: medium to large) for recent high school graduates.

Source: Transition to college intervention report: Summer counseling (March 2018), What Works Clearinghouse, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

How powerful is your evidence?

To offer a beacon through the often muddy waters of interpreting evidence, The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab has released an informal guide describing factors that affect randomised evaluations’ statistical power, the sensitivity of an evaluation to detect any change brought about by the programme. Six Rules of Thumb for Determining Sample Size and Statistical Power describes how relationships between these factors affect a study’s design and results.

The main points outlined in the guide are:

  • Larger sample sizes, which are the amount of subjects in a study, increase statistical power.
  • If effect sizes are small, larger sample sizes can help achieve a given level of power.
  • Evaluations of small programmes need larger sample sizes.
  • If outcomes vary drastically among study subjects, a larger sample size is needed.
  • Study subjects should be divided equally between experimental and control groups.
  • In randomised evaluations, randomising in “clusters,” or groups, is less powerful than individual random assignment.

A companion piece on the dangers of performing under-powered evaluations can be found here.

Source:  Six rules of thumb for determining sample size and statistical power (March 2018), The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab

Maths anxiety, working memory and self-concept

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Jaén, Spain, and published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the relationship between maths anxiety and maths performance in primary school children, and also the possible mediating role of working memory and maths self-concept.

A total of 167 pupils in grades 3 and 5 (age 8–12 years) took part in the study. Each pupil completed a set of questionnaires to assess maths anxiety and self-concept as well as their mathematical performance. Working memory was assessed using two backward span tasks. Teachers were also asked to rate each pupils’ maths achievement.

As expected, results showed that pupils who demonstrated higher levels of anxiety about maths tended to have lower scores on maths outcomes such as ability, problem‐solving and teacher‐rated maths achievement. However, this relationship was lessened once the effects of working memory and self-concept were considered. The researchers suggest, therefore, that it is worth taking into consideration working memory and self-concept when designing interventions aimed at helping pupils with maths anxiety.

Source: Math anxiety and math performance in children: The mediating roles of working memory and math self‐concept (May 2017), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 87, Issue 4

Are growth mindsets important to academic achievement?

Mindset theory suggests that pupils with higher growth mindsets benefit from higher academic achievement, and therefore, interventions designed to increase pupils’ growth mindsets are thought to increase academic achievement. To evaluate this, Victoria Sisk and colleagues conducted two meta-analyses to assess to what extent and under which circumstances growth mindsets are important to academic achievement.

The first meta-analysis examined whether pupils’ mindsets were related to academic achievement. In the second, they looked at the effectiveness of growth mindset interventions on pupils’ academic achievement. For both analyses, academic achievement was measured using standardised test scores from more than 400,000 pupils.

The study, published in Psychological Science, found little to no impact for both meta-analyses, and effect sizes were inconsistent across studies. Overall, the first meta-analysis showed only a very weak relationship between mindsets and academic achievements. Similarly, only a very small overall effect for mindset interventions on academic achievement was demonstrated in the second meta-analysis.

Source: To what extent and under which circumstances are growth mind-sets important to academic achievement? Two meta-analyses (March 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617739704