Small class size has at best a small effect on academic achievement

Reducing class size is often suggested as a way of improving pupil performance. However evidence from a new Campbell systematic review suggests that reducing class size has at best only a very small effect.

The review summarises findings from relevant studies that measured the effects of class size on academic achievement. A total of 127 studies were analysed, including 45 studies that used data from the US Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) programme that reduced class sizes substantially in kindergarten to grade 3 (Years 1 to Year 4). However only ten studies, including four of the STAR programme, could be included in the meta-analysis.

Their analysis focused on effects on maths and reading and found a small positive effect of reducing class size on pupils’ reading achievement and a negative, but statistically insignificant, effect on maths. For reading, the weighted average effect size was +0.11, and the weighted average effect size for maths was -0.03.

For the four studies using data from the STAR programme, the researchers found a positive effect of smaller class sizes for both reading and maths. However, the average effect sizes were still very small and do not change the overall finding.

Source: Small class sizes for improving student achievement in primary and secondary schools: a systematic review (October 2018), Campbell Systematic Reviews 2018:10

Jury still out on Teach for America

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review has been published, which looks at the impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes.

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationwide teacher preparation programme designed to address the shortage of effective teachers, specifically in high-poverty rural and urban schools across the United States. The systematic review by Herbert Turner and colleagues considered the impact of TFA-prepared teachers relative to novice teachers, and alumni relative to veteran teachers. The impacts studied were for K–12 (Years 1–13) pupil outcomes in maths, English and science.

A total of 24 studies were eligible for the review. However, once the research design, study quality and comparison groups were considered, this was reduced to four qualifying studies.

The review found no significant effect on reading by TFA teachers in their first or second year teaching elementary grades (Years 1–6) when compared with non-TFA novice teachers. There was a small positive impact for pre-K to grade 2 (Reception to Year 3) teachers on reading, but not on maths. However, given the small evidence base, the review counsels that these results should be treated with caution.

Source:  What are the effects of Teach for America on math, English language arts, and science outcomes of K–12 students in the USA? (June 2018), A Campbell Systematic Review 2018:7

Later school start time may produce benefits but more evidence is needed

Many studies have been conducted to examine the impact for pupils of later school start times, some of which can be found in previous issues of Best Evidence in Brief. This Campbell systematic review summarises the findings from 17 studies to examine the evidence on the impact of later school start times on pupils’ mental health and academic performance.

The studies included in the review were randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted time series studies with data for pupils aged 13 to 19 and that compared different school start times. The studies reported on 11 interventions in six countries, with a total of almost 300,000 pupils.

The main results of the review suggest that later school starts may be associated with positive academic benefits and psychosocial outcomes. Later school start times also appear to be associated with an increase in the amount of sleep children get. Effect sizes ranged from +0.38 to +2.39, equivalent to an extra 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep each night. However, the researchers point out that, overall, the quality of the body of evidence is very low, and so the effects of later school start times cannot be determined with any confidence.

Source: Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well-being of high school students: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:15

Interventions can reduce school exclusion but the effect is temporary

This Campbell Systematic Review examined the impact of interventions to reduce exclusion from school. School exclusion, also known as suspension, involves the removal of pupils from regular teaching for a period during which they are not allowed to be present at school. In some extreme cases, the pupil is not allowed to come back to the same school (expulsion).

The review summarised 37 studies, reporting 38 interventions’ effect sizes. Most studies were from the US (n=33) and the UK (n=3). All of them were randomised controlled trials.

The evidence suggested that school-based interventions are effective at reducing school exclusion during the first six months after the intervention (effect size =+0.30), but that this effect is not sustained. Some specific types of interventions showed more promising results than others. Of the nine different types of school-based interventions included in the review, four types (enhancement of academic skills, counselling, mentoring/monitoring and skills training for teachers) showed positive results in reducing exclusion. However, based on the number of studies involved, the researchers suggest that results must be treated with caution.

Source: School-based interventions for reducing disciplinary school exclusion: a systematic review (January 2018), A Campbell Systematic Review 2018:1, Campbell Collaboration Crime and Justice Coordinating Group

Preschool language skills a predictor of later reading comprehension

A systematic review published by the Campbell Collaboration summarises the research on the correlation between reading-related preschool predictors, such as code-related skills  and linguistic comprehension, and later reading comprehension skills.

Sixty-four longitudinal studies met the eligibility criteria for the review. These studies spanned 1986 to 2016 and were mostly carried out in the US, Europe and Australia. Overall, the findings of the review found that code-related skills (rhyme awareness, phoneme awareness, letter knowledge and rapid automatised naming) are most important for reading comprehension in beginning readers, but linguistic comprehension (grammar and vocabulary) gradually takes over as children become older. All predictors, except for non-word repetition, were moderately to strongly correlated with later reading comprehension. Non-word repetition had only a weak to moderate correlation to later reading comprehension ability.

These results suggest a need for a broad focus on language skills in preschool-age children in order to establish a strong foundation for reading comprehension.

Source: Preschool predictors of later reading comprehension ability: a systematic review (December 2017), A Campbell Systematic Review 2017:4, Campbell Collaboration

Are classroom management programmes effective?

Ada Chukwudozie and Howard White at The Campbell Collaboration have prepared a new summary of a previously published systematic review of teacher classroom management practices.

The review examined the effects of teacher classroom management programmes on disruptive or aggressive pupil behaviour and sought to identify which management components were most effective. Examples of the classroom management programmes included COMP (Classroom Organization and Management Program) and the Good Behaviour Game.

A total of 12 studies were included in the review. These studies reported on public school general education classes with pupils from Kindergarten to  12th grade (Years 1 to 13). Effectiveness studies had to use a valid experimental or quasi-experimental design with control groups to be included in the review.

According to the summary, multi-component classroom management programmes had a significant positive effect in decreasing aggressive or problematic behaviour in the classroom. Results showed that pupils in the treatment classrooms in all 12 studies reviewed showed less disruptive or problematic behaviors when compared to pupils in control classrooms without the intervention.

The summary notes that it was not possible to make any conclusions regarding which components of the management programmes were most effective due to small sample size and lack of information reported in the studies reviewed.

Source: Effective multi-component classroom management programmes seem to improve student behavior in the classroom but further research is needed (2017) The Campbell Collaboration.