Providing free glasses to secondary age pupils

Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China. 

In this study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups. Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control group increased from 28% to 50%.

The study questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:

  • Among the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils who already had glasses at baseline.
  • Providing glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools (instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
  • Providing glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own glasses at baseline.

Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631

Home visits show effect on absenteeism and performance

A new study by Steven Sheldon and Sol Bee Jung from Johns Hopkins School of Education examines Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHV), a strategy for engaging educators and families as a team to support pupil achievement. The PTHV model has three main components: (1) an initial visit in the summer or autumn in which educators focus on getting to know the pupil and the family, (2) ongoing two-way conversation during the school year, and (3) a second visit in the winter or spring with a focus on how to support the child academically.

Four large urban districts from across the US participated in the study. From each district, the researchers requested pupil-level data about demographic characteristics (eg, gender, race) and pupil outcomes (eg, attendance and standardised test performance). Additionally, districts were asked to provide data about the implementation of PTHV in their schools.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • On average, schools that systematically implemented PTHV experienced decreased rates of pupil chronic absenteeism and increased rates of pupil English language and maths proficiency, as measured on state assessments.
  • Pupils whose families participated in a home visit were less likely to be chronically absent than pupils whose families did not participate.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with a decreased likelihood of being chronically absent.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with an increased likelihood of scoring at or above proficiency on standardised English language assessments.

Source: Student outcomes and parent Year 3 evaluation teacher home visits (November 1018), Johns Hopkins University

Parent-teacher meetings and pupil outcomes

Engaging parents in their children’s education, both at home and at school, can be an effective and low-cost way of improving learning outcomes for pupils. A study published in European Economic Review examines whether academic achievement can be improved by increasing parental involvement through scheduled parent-teacher meetings.

Asad Islam conducted the randomised controlled trial in schools in two southern districts of Bangladesh. Seventy-six primary schools were chosen randomly from more than 200 in these regions, with 40 schools randomly allocated to the intervention group and 36 to the control group. Pupils in these schools all came from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and a quarter of parents did not complete primary school.

The intervention involved monthly face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers over a period of two academic years. At each 15-minute meeting, teachers discussed with parents their child’s academic progress and provided them with a report card for their child. Pupil achievement outcomes were measured using standardised test scores.

Overall, test scores of pupils in the intervention schools increased by 0.26 standard deviations (SD) in the first year, and 0.38 SD by the end of the second year of the intervention. The study also found that pupils in the intervention schools had made improvements in their reading and writing abilities and general knowledge. Parents who attended the parent-teacher meetings reported that they felt encouraged to spend more time at home helping children study or do homework. Both parents and teachers also reported improved attitudes in the behaviour and confidence of their children.

Source: Parent–teacher meetings and student outcomes: Evidence from a developing country (January 2019), European Economic Review, Volume 111

Which character strengths lead to good achievement?

An article previously published in Frontiers in Psychology by Lisa Wagner and Willibald Ruch reported on two studies conducted with 179 primary pupils from three schools, and 199 secondary pupils from four schools in Switzerland to examine whether character strengths are important to school success for primary and secondary pupils.

The authors measured character strengths by the Value in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth,) and positive classroom behaviours with the Classroom Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS), which cover positive achievement-related behaviour and positive social behaviour. For primary pupils, achievement was obtained by teacher ratings; for secondary pupils, the schools’ administration offices provided their grades. The findings showed that:

  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, social intelligence and self-regulation were positively related to positive classroom behaviour for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence, hope, love of learning, perspective, zest and gratitude were positively related to school achievement for both primary and secondary pupils.
  • Perseverance, prudence and hope were associated with both positive classroom behaviour and school achievement across primary and secondary sectors.

According to the authors, these findings indicate there is a rather distinct set of strengths most relevant in schools. The authors also suggest that further research could explore whether teachers and pupils value these strengths.

Source: Good character at school: positive classroom behavior mediates the link between character strengths and school achievement (May 2015), Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 6    

Positive effects of a healthy debate

Johns Hopkins University’s Daniel Shackelford has conducted the first quantitative study examining the effects of participation in an extracurricular debate club during pre-adolescence on pupils’ later academic and engagement outcomes, including entry to selective-entrance high schools.

Dr Shackelford examined a 10-year sample of 2,263 4th to 8th grade pupils (Year 5 to Year 9) participating in Baltimore City’s Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL) between the 2004 to 2013 school years, comparing their standardised maths and reading scores, attendance, and entry to selective-entrance high schools to 81,906 peers who did not participate in BUDL. Ninety-one percent of both groups were African American, and 96% of both groups received free and reduced-price lunch.

It is of note that these two groups were not matched at baseline: pupils who became debaters differed from controls prior to their participation in BUDL, with higher standardised test scores and attendance, so no true causal conclusion can be drawn from comparing groups. Yet among the debate pupils themselves, results showed that pre-adolescent debate participation yielded more than a 6% increase in reading scores and a 4% increase in maths scores on standardised testing. While debate inherently involves reading and might be accountable for increased reading achievement, Dr Shackelford observes that debaters were 10% more likely not to be chronically absent than non-debaters, and this increased engagement in school may have yielded the improvements in maths scores. BUDL pupils were also more likely to attend a selective high school (+0.12) or selective career tech high school (+0.01) than to attend a traditional high school.

Source: The BUDL effect: Examining academic achievement and engagement outcomes of preadolescent Baltimore Urban Debate League participants (February 2019), Educational Researcher. 

Is social-emotional learning linked to academic performance?

A study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology looks at the benefits of a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) intervention in relation to academic achievement by examining how the four main components that underlie the SEL model (children’s social-emotional competence, school connectedness, mental health problems and academic achievement) interact over time.

Margarita Panayiotou and colleagues from Manchester Institute of Education used data drawn from a major cluster randomised trial of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum to present a three-wave (annual assessment, T1, T2, T3) longitudinal sample. The sample included 1,626 pupils from 45 primary schools in north-west England. They examined the relationship over time between social-emotional competence (T1), school connectedness (T2), mental health difficulties (T2), and academic achievement (T3), and whether exposure to an SEL intervention (in this case PATHS versus usual provision) had any effect on these relationships.

Social-emotional competence at T1 had a positive influence on school connectedness and mental health difficulties at T2. However, SEL was only a significant predictor and mediator of academic achievement at T3 after controlling for gender and prior academic performance. Pupils who had greater social-emotional competence at T1 were reported to experience fewer mental health difficulties at T2, and this in turn predicted higher academic achievement at T3 (p<0.01). However, greater connectedness to school at T2 did not predict later academic achievement. Intervention exposure did not appear to influence these relationships.

Source: An empirical basis for linking social and emotional learning to academic performance (January 2019). Contemporary Educational Psychology, Volume 56