Three-year achievement gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that for schools in the UK, the achievement gap in maths, science and reading between the top-performing pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds is around two years and eight months.

Global Gaps by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education analyses the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess how well the top 10% of pupils in the UK’s schools are doing. In England, the highest-achieving pupils score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading. However, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, high-achieving pupils perform, on average, below the OECD median scores.

For girls in England, the achievement gap in science and reading is even greater. High-achieving girls from low socio-economic backgrounds are around three years behind their more advantaged, high-achieving peers. This is around eight months greater than the equivalent gap for boys for science, and nine months greater for reading. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with an achievement gap of around two years and nine months for both girls and boys.

Source: Global Gaps: Comparing socio-economic gaps in the performance of highly able UK pupils internationally (February 2017), The Sutton Trust

Applied STEM improves outcomes for secondary pupils with learning disabilities

Studying an applied STEM course could help pupils with learning disabilities (LD) complete secondary school and transition successfully to higher education, according to a US study published in Educational Policy.

Pupils with learning disabilities face significant academic challenges in secondary school, as well as greater risks of dropping out altogether. Studying courses like applied STEM, which focus on applying maths and science skills more directly to practical job experiences, may help them to make the connection between learning and opportunities beyond secondary school, and to see the importance of continuing with their studies.

In order to examine the role applied STEM might have in improving outcomes for LD pupils, Jay Stratte Plasman and Michael A Gottfried analysed data from the US Department of Education to see if there was any link between studying applied STEM and dropout. While pupils generally appeared to benefit from studying applied STEM, the advantages were greater for those with learning disabilities. They calculated a two percent dropout rate for LD pupils who study applied STEM versus 12 percent for LD pupils who do not. Their analysis also demonstrated that LD pupils who study applied STEM are 2.35 times more likely to enrol in college immediately after secondary school, and 2.23 times more likely to go to college two years after completing secondary school, than LD pupils who did not study applied STEM.

Source: Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities (October 2016), Educational Policy

A randomised controlled trial of the repeated reading strategy

Repeated reading is a strategy used to develop children’s reading fluency in targeted text. However, little research has been done using randomised trials to determine the extent to which fluency gained in repeated reading generalises to new text in terms of accuracy, speed, comprehension and expression. In an effort to examine the effectiveness of the repeated reading strategy, Scott Ardoin and colleagues at the University of Georgia and Mount Holyoke College conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing pupils’ fluency development using repeated reading to their fluency development using wide reading (non-repetitive reading of passages with minimal word and content overlap) and to a third group who continued with business as usual.

A total of 168 second grade (Year 3) pupils in three schools in the southeastern US were matched on standardised pre-testing by reading level in groups of three and assigned to one of the three groups. Pre-tests were also conducted for eye movement and prosody. Each pupil received 20 minutes of individualised intervention four times a week for 9-10 weeks.

Results showed that while all pupils gained in all areas, the pupils in the experimental conditions gained more than the business-as-usual pupils, with the lowest-achieving pupils making the most gains. It was of note that there was no significant advantage to being in the repeated reading group versus the wide reading group.

Source: Repeated versus wide reading: A randomized control design study examining the impact of fluency interventions on underlying reading behaviour (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59 pp 13-38

Examining teachers’ response to chaos in the classroom

An article co-authored by Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Lieny Jeon reports that teachers need emotional support to manage chaotic classrooms.

The finding comes from a study Jeon and her colleagues conducted that examined the role of teachers’ emotional abilities and classroom environments in how teachers respond to children’s negative emotions and disruptive behaviour. The researchers sampled 1,129 teachers working with pre-school pupils in child-care centres or public pre-K programmes (Reception) across the US. Using a survey, the teachers were asked to rate their perceptions of environmental chaos and their responsiveness to children in early childcare settings.

The researchers found that childcare chaos (eg, crowdedness, unpredictability and lack of routines and rules) was directly associated with teachers’ non-supportive reactions (eg, distress reactions and punitive reactions) after controlling for multiple programme and teacher characteristics. In addition, teachers in more chaotic childcare settings had less reappraisal and coping skills, which in turn was associated with lower levels of positive responsiveness to children.

The article suggests that intervention programmes are needed to address teachers’ coping and emotion regulation strategies in early childhood education.

Source: Child-care chaos and teachers’ responsiveness: The indirect associations through teachers’ emotion regulation and coping (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59:83-96

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

Gender stereotypes about intelligence begin early

Girls as young as six years old associate high-level academic ability with men more than women, according to a report published in the journal Science. The study also found that although girls aged five to seven were more likely than boys to associate their own gender with good grades, they did not link these achievements to innate abilities of “brilliance”.

Lin Bian and colleagues carried out a number of tests with children, half of whom were girls, to test the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s ideas of intellectual ability. In the first test, boys and girls aged five, six, and seven were read a story about a highly intelligent person and then asked to guess the person’s gender. Next, they were shown pictures of pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and asked to pick which they thought were highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women.

The results revealed that at age five, girls are just as likely as boys to associate intelligence with their own gender. However, by ages six and seven, girls were less likely than boys to make this association, with girls identifying their own gender as “really, really smart” 48% of the time compared to 65% of the time for boys.

Source: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests (January 2017), Science Vol. 335 (6323) pp.389-391