Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed
between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk
pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar
backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make
their pupils so successful?
Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.
Results show that schools in the successful districts were
comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful
districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and
district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable
affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and
maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively
associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.
The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California
authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half
of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately
assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from
low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of
qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.
California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new analysis of the state of the attainment gap in the UK. Using data from Key Stage 2 to predict how the attainment gap is likely to shift in the next five years, it reveals that there will be little or no headway in closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates in the next five years.
Improvements in primary schools over the past few years mean that the gap between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils with at least a good pass at GCSE in English and maths and all other pupils is set to reduce from 24 percentage points (ppts) to 21.5 between 2017 and 2021. However, there will be little change in Attainment 8 (which measures average achievement in GCSE across eight subjects) and Progress 8 (which measures students’ progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight subjects) gaps. The Attainment 8 score gap of 11 points in 2017 will remain in 2021, while for Progress 8 the attainment gap is set to increase a little: from 14.8 ppts in 2017 to 15.6 ppts in 2021.
The analysis emphasises that even small improvements – just one or two GCSE passes compared to no qualifications – can have significant increases on a young person’s lifetime productivity returns and in national wealth. This highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving results for currently low-attaining pupils.
The report also contains 15 key lessons from the first six years of the EEF on closing the attainment gap.
Source: The attainment gap: 2017 (January 2018), The Education Endowment Foundation
Research has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) is the highest predictor of children’s academic achievement. Moreover, the achievement gap between low- and high-SES pupils begins early in their schooling. How effective have initiatives been at narrowing the achievement gap? Emma Garcia at the Education Policy Institute in the US and Elaine Weiss at the Broader Bolder Approach to Education examined two cohorts of kindergartners (Year 1), those who started in 1998 and those who started in 2010. They were looking at the relationship between socio-economic status and kindergartners’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills at the start of their school years to see if the achievement gap had narrowed in this twelve-year span.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics – Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies of the Kindergarten Classes of 1998-99 and 2010-11, Garcia and Weiss found that the achievement gap did not change between 1998 to 2010 among pupils living in the US’s highest and lowest economic strata, a difference of 1.17 standard deviations in reading and 1.25 standard deviations in maths, despite parents’ increased involvement in educating their children across all SES groups and the implementation of programmes designed to narrow these gaps. Interestingly, they did find that the percentage of children living in poverty grew during that time, yet the achievement gap did not grow, nor did it narrow. They found that greater parental involvement and children’s pre-school attendance contained the gap, but did not do enough to eliminate the overall effects of poverty on pupil achievement.
The researchers then reviewed twelve programmes designed to narrow the achievement gap. The most effective programmes addressed not only academics, but ensured the children were getting proper meals and healthcare and provided other supports for children and their families.
Source: Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them (September 2017), Education Policy Institute
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
Research shows that pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to attend pre-school or to have a home environment incorporating literacy and language activities than their less disadvantaged peers. As a result, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to enter school with the social and academic skills needed to set them up for success. Jans Deitrichson and colleagues at the Danish National Centre for Social Research recently performed a meta-analysis aimed at determining what components within academic interventions are the most effective at improving the achievement of primary school students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.
A total of 101 studies performed between 2000–2014 were included in the meta-analysis. Seventy-six percent were randomised controlled trials and the rest were quasi-experimental studies. Studies had to target pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds, utilise standardised test results in reading and maths as the outcome measures, and take place in OECD or EU countries, although most were in the US. They also had to contain information that allowed the researchers to calculate effect sizes.
The authors sorted each study’s academic intervention into “component categories” (the methods used). Examples include coaching/ mentoring of pupils, cooperative learning, incentives, small-group tutoring, or a combination of these or other methods. Analysis demonstrated that tutoring, feedback and progress monitoring, and cooperative learning were the components with the largest effect sizes. The authors stated that although the average effect sizes for these components were not large enough to close the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic pupils, they certainly reduced it. They suggest that cost-effectiveness studies should be performed on these programmes to give policymakers and educators a fuller picture of programme benefits.
Source: Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: A systematic review and meta-analysis (January 2017), Review of Educational Research, Vol 87, Issue 2
A new report from the Education Policy Institute has examined the progress made in closing the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils in the UK (those eligible for Pupil Premium) and their peers. The analysis considers how that gap varies across the country and how it has changed since 2007.
While the report does find that the gap has closed slightly, progress is slow. Between 2007 and 2016, the gap by the end of primary school only narrowed by 2.8 months. Over the same period, the gap by the end of secondary school narrowed by 3 months. However, last year, disadvantaged pupils were still 19 months behind their peers by the time they took their GCSEs, meaning that on average a disadvantaged pupil falls two months behind their peers for each year of secondary school. The situation is worse for the most persistently disadvantaged pupils (those who have been eligible for free school meals for at least 80 per cent of their time in school). Over the last decade, the attainment gap for this group has actually widened slightly by 0.3 months. In 2016 the most disadvantaged pupils were on average over two full years of learning behind their peers by the end of secondary school.
The report also finds that some regions of the UK are doing worse than others when it comes to closing the gap. The disadvantage gap is generally smaller in London, the south and the east of England, at around 16 to 18 months. Successful areas in London include Hackney, Islington, Newham and Barnet, where disadvantaged pupils are around eight months behind. The Isle of Wight has the largest gap – pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are on average 29 months behind their peers by the end of secondary school.
Source: Closing the gap? Trends in educational attainment and disadvantage (August 2017), Education Policy Institute