More evidence in favour of free eye tests and glasses at school

Several recent Best Evidence in Brief articles describe the positive effects on reading achievement of providing free vision screening and glasses to pupils who need them. Adding to the evidence showing that vision is one of the most important health outcomes for academic success, a recent study describes the results of one such programme, Florida Vision Quest.

Florida Vision Quest (FLVQ) is a programme designed to provide pupils in high-poverty schools with vision screening and free vision testing in a mobile vision clinic. If children are found to need glasses, they receive them at no charge. Two pairs are given to each child.

Within three school districts in Central Florida, elementary Title I schools were randomly assigned to one of three treatments: Full treatment (n=19), screen only (n=19), or control (n=38). Only pupils in grades 4 and 5 (Year 5 and 6) were involved in the study. Outcomes were determined for all pupils in those grades, not just those who needed glasses.

Findings showed there were significant positive effects on reading (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests, or FCAT) for schools that received the full treatment (effect size = +0.13) but not for those that received screening only. There were no effects for maths.

Source: The Impact of Providing Vision Screening and Free Eyeglasses on Academic Outcomes: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Title I Elementary Schools in Florida (Spring 2018), Journal of Policy Analysis and Management

Lessons from the scale-up of an early maths programme

Pre-K Mathematics is a supplementary mathematics curriculum for pre-k (Reception) children. It focuses on the pre-k classroom and home learning environments of young children, especially those from families experiencing economic hardship. Activities aim to support mathematical development by providing learning opportunities to increase children’s informal mathematical knowledge.

In an article published in Evaluation Review, Jaime Thomas and colleagues report on a cluster-randomised control trial of the scale-up of Pre-K Mathematics in 140 schools in California (70 intervention schools, 70 control). The post-test measured outcomes on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort Mathematics Assessment (ECLS-B) and the Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3) at the end of the pre-k year. Results showed that Pre-K Mathematics had positive and significant effects, with an effect size of +0.30 on the ECLS-B and +0.23 on the TEMA-3.

The authors consider how these results differ from previous, smaller studies of the efficacy and effectiveness of Pre-K Mathematics. They find that effect sizes were usually larger in the earlier studies. As studies became larger, more heterogeneous, and less controlled, they tended to yield smaller results.

Source: The Sequential Scale-Up of an Evidence-Based Intervention: A Case Study (August 2018), Evaluation Review

How much is enough?

There have now been many controlled studies of preventive mental health interventions for young people. For these studies to be useful, practitioners need to know whether the effects shown for a particular intervention are modest, moderate, or large.

Emily Tanner-Smith and colleagues summarised more than 400 mean effect size estimates from 74 meta-analyses that synthesised findings from many trials. All the trials were of programmes aimed at preventing problematic behaviour or emotional problems for young people aged 5-18. The results, published in Prevention Science, indicate that, with few exceptions, the median average effect sizes on various outcomes fell within the range of +0.07 to +0.16. The authors advise that these indicate the level of improvement that has been achieved to date and can serve as a benchmark for assessing the value of new findings.

The report also points out that prevention programmes yielded larger effects on knowledge than on actual behaviour. Providing information to increase knowledge (e.g., about the risks of drug use) is an important component of many programmes, but knowledge does not always correlate strongly with actual behaviour.

Source: Empirically Based Mean Effect Size Distributions for Universal Prevention Programs Targeting School-Aged Youth: A Review of Meta-Analyses (August 2018) Prevention Science

Surprise rewards for good attendance had a surprising consequence

A working paper by Carly Robinson and colleagues, published by the Harvard Kennedy School, reports on an experiment to measure the impact of attendance rewards on pupils.

The trial included 15,629 sixth to twelfth grade pupils (Year 7-13) from 14 school districts in California. All the pupils had previously had perfect attendance in at least one month in the autumn. The pupils were randomly allocated to one of three groups:

  • “Prospective Award” pupils received a letter telling them they would receive a certificate if they achieved perfect attendance in February (the following month).
  • “Retrospective Award” pupils received a letter and certificate telling them they had earned an award for perfect attendance during one month in the autumn term.
  • Control pupils received no communication.

The researchers collected data on the pupils’ attendance in the following month (February). They found there was no impact of offering the prospective reward on subsequent attendance. They also found that offering the retrospective award resulted in pupils attending less school in February. Absences among this group increased by 8% (an average of 0.06 days per pupil). The researchers suggest that the retrospective awards may have sent unintended signals to the pupils, telling them that they were performing better than the descriptive social norm of their peers, and exceeding the institutional expectations for the awarded behaviour.

Source: The Demotivating Effect (and Unintended Message) of Retrospective Awards (July 2018) HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP18-020.

Examining the effects of parental involvement

A paper by Lisa Boonk and colleagues, published in Educational Research Review, reviews the research literature on the relationship between parental involvement and students’ academic achievement.

To be eligible for the paper, studies had to (a) investigate parental involvement and its relation with academic achievement of learners aged 0 to 18; (b) provide clear descriptions of the parental involvement construct and measurements and type of academic outcome; and (c) be published in the period 2003 to 2017 in a peer-reviewed journal. A total of 75 studies were included.

After reviewing the literature, the authors found that parental involvement variables that show promise according to their correlations with academic achievement are:

  • reading at home
  • parents who hold high expectations/aspirations for their children’s academic achievement and schooling
  • communication between parents and children regarding school
  • parental encouragement and support for learning.

Source: A review of the relationship between parental involvement indicators and academic achievement (June 2018) Educational Research Review.

The impact of a classroom management programme on children’s mental health

Tamsin Ford and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of the Incredible Years Teacher Classroom Management (IYTCM) programme. The IYTCM programme aims to improve teachers’ classroom management skills and build strong relationships with students and their parents. Teachers are trained to ignore low-level bad behaviour that often disrupts classrooms and instead develop effective behaviour plans that encourage and promote emotional regulation skills.

The study, published in Psychological Medicine, used a cluster randomised controlled trial, in which children ages four to nine from schools across the southwest of England were randomly allocated to undertake the IYTCM programme or continue their usual practice over a 30-month period (with outcomes assessed at 9, 18, and 30 months). One class in each of 80 schools (40 IYTCM, 40 usual practice; 2,075 children in total) participated. Effects of the intervention on students’ mental health were assessed via the Total Difficulties score from the teacher-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Data on a range of secondary outcomes (e.g., children’s disruptive behaviour, service use), was also collected in addition to detailing the costs of IYTCM compared to usual practice.

The report concludes that IYTCM may provide a small short-term improvement to children’s mental health, particularly for children who are already struggling. The results of the trial showed there was a small reduction in the SDQ Total Difficulties score at 9 months, but not at 18 or 30 months.

Source: The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the Incredible Years® Teacher Classroom Management programme in primary school children: Results of the STARS cluster randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 1-15.