Rethinking the use of tests

Olusola O Adesope and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to summarise the learning benefits of taking a practice test versus other forms of non-testing learning conditions, such as re-studying, practice, filler activities, or no presentation of the material.

Analysis of 272 independent effect sizes from 188 separate experiments demonstrated that the use of practice tests is associated with a moderate, statistically significant weighted mean effect size compared to re-studying (+0.51) and a much larger weighted mean effect size (+0.93) when compared to filler or no activities.

In addition, the format, number and frequency of practice tests make a difference for the learning benefits on a final test. Practice tests with a multiple-choice option have a larger weighted mean effect size (+0.70) than short-answer tests (+0.48). A single practice test prior to the final test is more effective than when pupils take several practice tests. However, the timing should be carefully considered. A gap of less than a day between the practice and final tests showed a smaller weighted effect size than when there is a gap of one to six days (+0.56 and +0.82, respectively).

Source: Rethinking the use of tests: A meta-analysis of practice testing (February 2017), Review of Educational Research DOI: 10.3102/0034654316689306

Turning around maladaptive behaviour

Pupils with significant behaviour problems typically have lower grades, higher dropout rates, and lower rates of employment when they leave school. To head off these problems, many schools use social problem-solving programmes within the classroom, yet no large research review has been done on social problem-solving programmes since 1993. To update these findings, Kristin Merrill and colleagues at the University of Florida performed a literature review of social problem-solving (SPS) programme studies in grades K-12 (Years 1-13) spanning 1993-2015.

From a group of 380 studies that the authors found, 18 met inclusion criteria, which included that studies must have been from peer-reviewed journals, been quantitative and addressed a specific programme implemented during school hours.

Results found positive outcomes related to SPS skills acquisition and to peer acceptance. The greatest evidence was found for older pupils, at-risk pupils, and programmes specifically targeting aggressive behaviours. In the studies that followed pupils after they were no longer in SPS programmes, some maintained improved behaviours for up to a year. The key features of an effective SPS programme were that pupils be taught step-by-step techniques to think through tough situations, having them rehearse and reflect on their desired behaviours; that emotional regulation skills be taught early; and that in order to maintain these gains, pupils actively think about how they use these new skills in real-life situations.

Source: A review of social problem-solving interventions: Past findings, current status, and future directions (February 2017), Review of Educational Research , Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 71–102

Equipping students for an automated world

New research from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), in partnership with Nesta, suggests that complex human traits like problem-solving and social skills will be the most sought-after in the future workplace, as these are the hardest to replicate in an automated world.

Rose Luckin and colleagues argue that giving children well-structured problems to solve together (collaborative problem solving), is an essential skill to learn in order to prepare them for the workplace of the future, and also reinforces knowledge and improves attainment. However, despite this, collaborative problem solving is rarely taught in schools. The report, Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem solving, suggests that the current education system is stifling such skills because it remains focused on memory and knowledge tasks, due mainly to the preference for individual assessment, concerns over behaviour management, and lack of training for teachers. It calls for policymakers, educators, and innovators to adapt to equip young people with the skills needed for the future and includes recommendations on how the education system can incorporate collaborative problem solving.

Source: Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem solving (March 2017), Nesta

Best schools in England continue to be highly socially selective

A report published by the Sutton Trust reveals that 85% of England’s top comprehensive schools are more socially selective than the average state school. However, schools where pupils make the most progress are much less so.

The report looks at the social composition of England’s top 500 comprehensive schools, based on GCSE attainment, and finds that the top-performing schools take just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), which is just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%). About half of this gap is due to the location of high-attaining schools in catchment areas with lower numbers of disadvantaged pupils, but the rest is due to social selection in admissions occurring even within those neighbourhoods.

Among the best schools measured by the Department for Education’s new ‘Progress 8’ measure, which focuses on gains, Carl Cullinane and colleagues find that FSM rates are much closer to the national average (15.2%), and that they are less socially selective, with a third of these schools admitting more FSM pupils than their catchment area.

There are indications of improvement in the numbers of disadvantaged pupils attending top schools, with the average 9.4% FSM rate up from 7.6% in 2013. In that year, 57% of the best schools had FSM rates lower than six per cent, but the number below that mark has fallen to 39%.

Source:  Selective comprehensives 2017: Admissions to high-attaining non-selective schools for disadvantaged pupils (March 2017) The Sutton Trust

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

Can a postcard reduce pupils’ absenteeism?

In an effort to improve parents’ and guardians’ awareness of absenteeism, and therefore reduce pupil absenteeism, the Philadelphia school district in the US together with the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance conducted a randomised controlled trial based on the principles of “nudge” theory. Nudge theory is an approach that involves unobtrusive intervention to promote desired behaviours.

In this study, the “nudge” was a single postcard sent to the homes of pupils in grades 1–12 (Years 2–13 in the UK) who had been absent the previous year to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and what impact, if any, different messages had. Two types of message were tested: one simply encouraging parents to improve their child’s attendance; the other included specific information about their child’s attendance history as well as encouraging them to improve their child’s attendance. A control group received no postcards from the school.

Todd Rogers and colleagues found that receiving a postcard reduced absences by around 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in pupils’ absence according to which message their parents received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between pupils in grades 1– 8 (Years 2–9) and pupils in grades 9–12 (Years 10–13).

Source: A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.