Out-of-school time study programmes improve results for poorer students

A project funded by the Nuffield Foundation looked at the effect of out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes on GCSE performance in England.

Using data from the Next Steps longitudinal study of young people, Francis Green and Nicola Pensiero from the Institute of Education recorded the results of those who undertook their GCSEs in 2006. They found that teacher-led OST study groups were moderately effective in improving overall GCSE performance, particularly for children from disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For children whose parents were unemployed or in routine occupations, an improvement equivalent to approximately two grades was shown on their overall GCSE score.

While OST study programmes are available to children from all backgrounds in the vast majority of secondary schools in the UK, the research showed that 42% of children whose parents are unemployed take part compared to 46% of children from a professional background.

The research found no statistical benefit from programmes that were self-directed by students.

Source: Are out-of-school-time (OST) study programmes an effective way to improve the academic performance of socially disadvantaged children? (2016), UCL Institute of Education

Are young people overwhelmed by too much information?

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the UK was commissioned by the Careers and Enterprise Company to look at the experience of young people making career decisions in order to inform policies on the use of data and careers information.

The team conducted interviews and observations with young people aged 11-18 and careers guidance professionals in 11 schools and colleges across England in order to understand the career decision journey. In addition, they considered how careers information was presented and how young people reacted to the information in their decision-making process.

One of the key findings of the report, Moments of Choice, was that despite having access to all the information they might want, young people demonstrated a lack of knowledge and research about their career options. The report suggests that too much information and the wrong sort of information, rather than too little, is the problem when it comes to making decisions about the future. Young people are overwhelmed by the amount of information and the way that it is presented and feel there is no way of making sense of it all. As a result, they switch off from decision-making altogether. This highlights the importance of presenting good careers information, advice, and guidance in a way that young people find useable in order for them to make informed decisions about their future study and career options.

Source: Moments of Choice (2016), The Behavioural Insights Team

Using data to combat chronic absence

Chronic absenteeism (CA) has been broadly defined as missing so much school that a student is academically at risk. More specifically, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has defined it as missing 15 days or more for any reason. Hedy Chang at Attendance Works and Robert Balfanz at The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University recently examined the first-ever national data on chronic absenteeism released by the OCR, as well as data from the US Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics. Their goal was to determine if there were commonalities in patterns of chronic absenteeism, and if so, what possible solutions might be suggested based on these patterns.

The resulting research brief shows that CA is concentrated. Half of America’s chronically absent students can be found in just 4% of its districts and 12% of its schools. Where there are significant concentrations of poverty, there are significant amounts of absenteeism, regardless of whether the concentrations of poverty are in rural, urban, or suburban areas. The places with the largest numbers of chronically absent students usually have more than one generation of people living in poverty and a high African-American population.

The brief discusses how several districts successfully reduced chronic absenteeism by solving barriers to school attendance including unsafe walks to school, unreliable transportation, health issues like asthma, and making the schools welcoming and safe environments. A common pattern in the districts’ successes was that they all had access to data detailing their schools’ chronic absences. The authors make several recommendations to ensure that districts, schools, and families have the chronic-absence data they need. These recommendations include:

  • Examine what schools with low chronic absenteeism rates, despite facing challenges that can be a barrier to school attendance, are doing to overcome those barriers.
  • Use data to find indicators that a student is prone to CA. One such indicator is if a student missed more than 10% of the prior school year and two days in the first month of the current school year. Parents and school staff should be alerted.
  • When students are determined to be CA, it is important to find out why. Solving these problems is often most effective using teams of leaders who meet regularly and have the resources to solve the problems.

Source: Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence, Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center

Examining the impact of content-intensive teacher professional development

A new evaluation report by Michael S Garet and colleagues, published by the US Institute of Education Sciences, examines the impact of providing elementary (primary) school teachers with content-focused maths continuing professional development (CPD) on their knowledge, teaching, and students’ achievement.

The study’s CPD had three components totalling 93 hours. The core of the CPD was Intel Math, an 80-hour workshop delivered in the summer of 2013 that focused on deepening teachers’ knowledge of grades K–8 mathematics (Years 1 to 9). Two additional CPD components totalling 13 hours were delivered during the 2013–14 school year.

The study’s sample included grade 4 (Year 5) teachers from 94 schools in six US school districts and five states that were randomly assigned within schools to either a treatment group that received the study CPD or a control group that did not receive the study CPD.
Key findings were as follows:

  • The CPD had a positive impact on teacher knowledge. On average, treatment teachers’ maths knowledge scores on a study-administered maths assessment were 21 percentile points higher than control teachers’ scores in spring 2014, after the CPD was completed.
  • The CPD had a positive impact on some aspects of teaching practice, particularly Richness of Mathematics, which emphasises the conceptual aspects of maths, such as the use and quality of mathematical explanations.
  • Despite the CPD’s generally positive impact on teacher outcomes, the CPD did not have a positive impact on student achievement. On average, treatment teachers’ students scored 2 percentile points lower than control teachers’ students in spring 2014 on both a study-administered maths assessment aligned with the content of the CPD and the state maths assessment. This difference was statistically significant for the state maths assessment but not for the study-administered assessment.

Source: Focusing on Mathematical Knowledge: The Impact of Content-Intensive Teacher Professional Development (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Link between positive teacher-student relationships and good behaviour in teens

A new study has found that having a positive relationship with a teacher when a child is 10 to 11 years old can be linked to “prosocial” behaviours such as cooperation and altruism, as well as reducing problem classroom behaviours such as aggression and oppositional behaviour.

The study used data from a major longitudinal study of Swiss children among a culturally diverse sample of 7 to 15 year olds, and involved 1,067 students randomly sampled across 56 of the city’s schools. Only students who experienced a change of teacher when the student was 9 or 10 were used for the study, with data gathered from teachers, students, and their parents on an annual and later biannual basis.

Using this data, Ingrid Obsuth and her team were able to “score” the children on over 100 different characteristics or experiences that could potentially account for good or bad behaviour. They then matched students in pairs with similar scores in all respects except for how they felt about their teacher, and how the teacher felt about them.

Students who had a more positive relationship with their teacher displayed more prosocial behaviour towards peers (on average 18%, and 10% more up to two years later), and up to 38% less aggressive behaviour (and 9% less up to four years later), over students who felt ambivalent or negative towards their teacher.

Source: A Non-bipartite Propensity Score Analysis of the Effects of Teacher–Student Relationships on Adolescent Problem and Prosocial Behavior (2016), Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Least restrictive…for whom?

Numerous studies show the academic and social benefits for children with emotional and behavioural disorders (EBD) of including them in classes with children who do not have these issues. Few studies, however, examine the effects of this inclusion on their non-disabled classmates.

Given that children who have EBD often cause disruptions, and that disruptions are associated with reduced student engagement, Michael Gottfried, Anna Egalite, and J Jacob Kirksey recently examined the correlation between the absentee rate of non-disabled kindergartners (Year 1) who had peers with EBD in their classrooms with those who didn’t.

Subjects were the nationally representative sample of kindergartners used in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 2010-2011, a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Results showed more annual absences in classes that included peers with an EBD than in classes that didn’t. The incidences of chronic absence were also higher for students who had an EBD classmate. Patterns emerged for absent students: girls were more likely to be absent than boys, as were non-ELL and higher-income students. Patterns also emerged showing that students with EBD classmates were less likely to be absent when they had teachers with more experience, teachers certified in special education, or teachers who spent more time on discipline. They found that including children with other types of disabilities did not cause the same types of disruptions as including those with EBDs.

Source: Does the Presence of a Classmate with Emotional/behavioral Disabilities Link to Other Students’ Absences in Kindergarten? (2016), Early Childhood Research Quarterly