New WWC practice guide on preventing dropout in secondary schools

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools , that offers research-based recommendations for reducing dropout rates in middle and secondary schools. The goal is to help educators and administrators learn strategies for identifying at-risk pupils and addressing the challenges they face.

The WWC and an expert panel chaired by Russell Rumberger from the University of California, Santa Barbara synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following four recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Monitor the progress of all pupils, and proactively intervene when pupils show early signs of attendance, behaviour, or academic problems (minimal evidence).
  • Provide intensive, individualised support to pupils who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success (moderate evidence).
  • Engage pupils by offering curricula and programmes that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve pupils’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school (strong evidence).
  • For schools with many at-risk pupils, create small, personalised communities to facilitate monitoring and support (moderate evidence).

Each recommendation provides specific, actionable strategies; examples of how to implement the recommended practices in schools; advice on how to overcome potential obstacles; and a description of the supporting evidence.

Source: Preventing dropout in secondary schools U.S. (September 2017), What Works Clearing House, Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide

Can friendships as a teenager predict later mental health?

Research by Rachel Narr and colleagues at the University of Virginia looked at whether the quality of friendships during adolescence can predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health.

The study looked at a sample of 169 teenagers over 10 years, from age 15 to 25. They were surveyed annually and asked about who their closest friends were along with questions about those friendships. They were also assessed on anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth and symptoms of depression.

The researchers found that teens who prioritised close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth and fewer symptoms of depression at age 25 than their peers. However, teens who had lots of friends, rather than a few close friendships, had higher levels of anxiety as young adults.

The study also determined that there was a low relation between teens having high-quality friendships and being more sought after by their peers, suggesting that although some teens manage both popularity and close friendship well, and attract both due to similar characteristics, for the most part, these two types of social success are due to different personal attributes.

Source: Close friendship strength and broader peer group desirability as differential predictors of adult mental health (August 2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12905

Evaluation of an early language intervention

A randomised controlled trial, conducted by Silke Fricke and colleagues, looked at the effect of an oral language intervention and compared the extent to which a 30-week programme beginning in nursery and continuing for 20 weeks in Reception was more effective than delivering a 20-week programme starting in Reception.

Children from 34 nurseries in the UK were randomly allocated to a 30-week intervention (n= 132), a 20-week intervention (n=133), or an untreated waiting control group (n=129). Allocation was minimized for gender, age and verbal skills. The children in the 30-week intervention group received the Nuffield Early Language Intervention programme for 10 weeks in nursery and continued for 20 weeks in Reception. The 20-week intervention group received only the final 20 weeks of the intervention, beginning when they entered primary school. The control group received their usual schooling.

Children in both the 20- and 30-week programme intervention groups showed greater improvement in oral language skills on measures including the CELF Expressive Vocabulary and CELF Sentence Structure subtests, and the Information Score from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, compared to children in the control group (effect size for the 20-week programme = +0.21; effect size for the 30-week programme = +0.30). However, there was no evidence to suggest that either programme improved early literacy or reading comprehension skills.

Source: The efficacy of early language intervention in mainstream school settings: a randomized controlled trial (October 2017), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12737

Effective reading programmes for secondary pupils

Ariane Baye from the University of Liege and Cynthia Lake and colleagues from the Center for Research and Reform in Education have updated their paper Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students. Their review focuses on 73 studies that used random assignment (n=66) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 55 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading.

The authors found that specific programmes using one-to-one, small-group tutoring, and cooperative learning showed positive outcomes, as did a small number of programmes emphasising social-emotional learning, technology, or teaching of metacognitive strategies. Benchmark assessments did not affect reading outcomes. Leaving aside tutoring and benchmarks, programmes that provide additional instructional time (usually, a daily extra period) were no more effective than programmes that did not provide extra time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from additional time on supplemental courses.

Source: Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students (August 2017), Best Evidence Encyclopedia

Does increasing time spent in class improve pupil performance?

A study by Huebener and colleagues examined whether increasing the amount of time pupils spend in the classroom affects their performance.

The authors used PISA scores to analyse the effect of increasing the time spent in class by two hours per week over a five-year period for ninth-grade students in Germany (average age = 15 years old). During the additional classroom time, pupils were taught new content.

Their findings indicate that while increasing the time spent in class did improve pupils’ average performance, effect sizes were small. The increase in lesson time was shown to increase average PISA test scores in reading, maths and science (effect size between +0.04 and +0.06 for one additional hour per week). However, these results differ according to pupil ability, with a widening gap in performance between low- and high-performing pupils. The researchers suggest this is because the additional teaching time was used to teach new content, and that lower-performing pupils may not be able to cope with this additional content. They recommend that when policymakers consider adding additional classroom time, they consider how this time is spent. Different pupils have different learning needs, so the content of the extra lessons, rather than the time, is more important to improving pupil performance.

Source: Increased instruction hours and the widening gap in student performance (August 2017), Labour Economics, Volume 47

Unpacking the evidence on cognitive load theory

Cognitive load theory – the theory of how the human brain learns and stores knowledge – is supported by a number of randomised controlled trials and has significant implications for teaching practice.  A report from the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation in New South Wales, Australia, examines the existing research on cognitive load theory and what it looks like in practice. The first part of the report explains how human brains learn according to cognitive load theory, and outlines the evidence base for the theory. The second part examines the implication of cognitive load theory for teaching practice and describes some recommendations that are directly transferable to the classroom. These include:

  • Worked example effect – pupils are shown a problem that has already been solved (a “worked example”), with every step fully explained and clearly shown. Pupils who are taught using lots of worked examples learn more quickly than pupils who are asked to solve the problems themselves.
  • Modality effect – evidence suggests that working memory can be sub-divided into auditory and visual streams, so presenting information using both these methods of communication can increase working memory capacity – for example, when using a diagram and text to explain something, the written text can be communicated in spoken form.

Source: Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand (August 2017) Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation