The impacts of Reading Recovery at scale

A study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis presents findings from a four-year evaluation of a national scale-up of Reading Recovery – a one-to-one reading intervention for struggling first grade (Year 2) readers. The evaluation included an implementation study and a multisite randomised controlled trial with 6,888 pupils in 1,222 schools in the US.

Philip Sirinides and colleagues compared the achievement of struggling first grade (Year 2) readers following the Reading Recovery programme with business-as-usual literacy teaching. Results were measured using pupils’ scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) total reading assessment, as well as the ITBS reading comprehension and reading words subtests.

Results showed a medium to large effect on pupils’ reading over the course of the four years (effect size = +0.37) compared to the control group. The impacts of Reading Recovery on the ITBS total reading scores showed an effect size of +0.37. The effect sizes for ITBS reading comprehension and reading words subtests were +0.38 and +0.35, respectively. Effect sizes tended to be larger in schools where pupils had lower average reading performance overall.

Source: The impacts of Reading Recovery at scale: results from the 4-year i3 external evaluation (March 2018), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

The positive side of taking the school bus

Out of all the early school years, excessive absenteeism is most prevalent during kindergarten (Year 1). While there may be many reasons for this, including difficulty moving from pre-school, how they get to school has been little studied.

In the first study to examine the effects of taking a school bus on reducing school absences, Michael Gottfried of the University of California Santa Barbara examined if taking a school bus to school reduced kindergarten pupil absence rate, and looked for any patterns among child and family characteristics.

Subjects were 11,000 US public school pupils who participated in The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011 (ECLSK:2011). As part of the study, data including school bus-taking was collected on a nationally representative set of kindergarten pupils in the 2010–2011 school year. Twenty-four percent of these kindergarten pupils took a school bus to school. They were paired with non-bus-taking pupils based on demographics, household conditions and kindergarten entry skills. Results showed that the kindergarten pupils who took the bus to school were less likely to be absent than their non-bus-taking peers, regardless of family characteristics, poverty level, or distance to school.

Authors discuss several implications of these findings, most notably that if taking the bus to school increases pupil attendance, this should be a consideration when budget cuts threaten to curtail school bus services.

Source: Linking getting to school with going to school (April 2017), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Do charter schools improve student achievement?

A new article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis presents findings from a large-scale, lottery-based study of charter schools (US schools that are publicly funded, but operate outside the established state school system), and results are mixed.

The study involved 33 charter middle schools in 13 states. These schools had a larger number of applicants than spaces available, so they relied on admissions lotteries to admit students. For the present study, students who won the lottery and were offered admission to study schools formed the treatment group, while those who did not win the lottery formed the control group. The full study sample included 2,904 students: 1,744 in the treatment group and 1,160 in the control group.

To measure the effects of the charter schools on student achievement, researchers examined test score data from state assessments. These data were obtained from schools, districts, or states for the baseline year and the preceding “pre-baseline year”, as well as for two follow-up years.
The researchers found that impacts varied considerably across schools and students, with more positive impacts for more disadvantaged schools and students, and more negative impacts for the more advantaged. However, on average, the charter schools in the study had non-significant negative impacts on student achievement in reading and maths.

The researchers caution that there are limitations to the study. For example, the schools were not randomly selected for the study, and the study focuses on charter middle schools and does not produce evidence on the effects of charter schools at the elementary or high school levels.

Source: Do Charter Schools Improve Student Achievement? (2016), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Primary school size matters for some children

A new article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis looks at primary school size and academic performance, and concludes that for most pupils there is no causal relationship.

The authors used administrative records on 691,450 pupils aged 8-11 who attended 1,417 schools in North Carolina between 2004 and 2010. The data contained end-of-year maths and reading scores, pupil demographics, classroom identifiers, and a set of school-level characteristics including total enrolment, average daily attendance, suspensions, expulsions, crimes per 1,000 pupils, and geographic locale.

The primary analysis provided no evidence of a causal relationship between school size and overall pupil achievement, regardless of whether school size was measured at the school or year level.

However, two subgroups were significantly harmed by increases in school size. The maths and reading achievement of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) was lower in large schools, as was the reading (but not maths) achievement of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils. The authors suggest that SEN pupils may be particularly sensitive to increases in school size either because larger schools are less able to match their needs to relevant support programmes, or because they are more sensitive to the weaker social bonds that may be inherent in larger schools. The authors also cite previous research that suggests that disadvantaged pupils who receive less attention at home may benefit from the greater individual attention provided by smaller schools.

Source: The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement (2015), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(1).