The benefits of theatre field trips

Field trips to the theatre provide a number of educational benefits to pupils, according to research published in Educational Researcher. Jay P Greene and colleagues found that giving pupils the opportunity to take part in a field trip to see a live theatre performance produced an increase in tolerance as well as a greater understanding of the plot and vocabulary of those plays.

Schools in Arkansas in the US were assigned by lottery to receive free tickets to attend one of five live theatre performances over a two-year period. Grade 9 (Year 10) classes from participating schools were then randomly assigned to take part in theatre field trip or to serve as a control group and not take part in the field trips. In addition, for two of the five experiments, a second treatment group was added in which pupils were randomly assigned to watch a film version of the theatre play. The average age of pupils in the treatment and control groups was 14 years old.

The impact to pupils of the theatre field trip was measured on five outcomes: tolerance, social perspective taking (the ability to understand others’ feelings and perspectives), content knowledge, theatre consumption and theatre participation. Pupils in the theatre field trip treatment groups scored higher for levels of tolerance and social perspective taking (+0.14 and 0.16 of a standard deviation higher than the control group). Pupils’ content knowledge of the plot and vocabulary in the plays was also greater (by 0.15 of a standard deviation) than pupils in the control group.

However, watching a film did not produce benefits, and as the film-viewing group also left school for a field trip, the results suggest that the educational benefits to pupils come from the experience of watching live theatre, and not simply from leaving school for a field trip. Results also indicate that theatre field trips may encourage pupils to visit the theatre more often.

Source: The play’s the thing: experimentally examining the social and cognitive effects of school field trips to live theater performances (March 2018), Educational Researcher, Vol 47, Issue 4, pp. 246 – 254

Decades of evidence supports early childhood education

A recent meta-analysis of almost 60 years’ worth of high-quality early childhood education (ECE) studies in the US found that participating in ECE programmes significantly reduced special education placement and grade retention (pupils having to repeat a year), and lead to increased graduation rates from secondary school.

Dana Charles McCoy and colleagues examined data from studies spanning 1960-2016. All had to meet strict inclusion criteria and address ECE’s effects on special education placement, grade retention, or dropout rates, yielding 22 studies. Seven were randomised controlled studies, four were quasi-experimental, and eleven used non-randomised assignment and compared groups who were equivalent at baseline.

Results showed statistically significant effects of ECE. Compared to pupils who did not attend ECE, participants were 8.1% less likely to be placed in special education, 8.3% less likely to be held back a year and 11.4% more likely to graduate from secondary school.

Source: Impacts of early childhood education on medium- and long-term educational outcomes (November 2017), Educational Researcher Volume 46, issue 8

Trends in early literacy

The transition from kindergarten to first grade (Year 1 to Year 2 in the UK) is considered to be a critical period for children’s academic and social development. Expectation about children’s early literacy learning has risen over time, but has their achievement – and how?

Jerome V D’Agostino and Emily Rodgers analysed achievement data obtained from a US database for Reading Recovery (a literacy intervention for first grade pupils) for more than 364,000 children entering first grade in the same schools. From this data they created a literacy profile for pupils at entry to the first grade over a 12-year period, beginning in the 2002–03 school year.

Their research, published in Educational Researcher, found that overall, reading for all pupils in the first grade improved measurably between 2002 and 2013. Literacy scores on entry increased over time. The effect size change in achievement gaps narrowed (-0.10) on basic skills like letter identification, but widened on advanced skills like text reading level (+0.08) over 12 years.

Source: Literacy achievement trends at entry to first grade (March 2017), Educational Researcher, Vol 46, Issue 2.

How research design affects outcomes

As evidence-based reform becomes increasingly important in educational policy, it is becoming essential to understand how research design might contribute to reported effect sizes in experiments evaluating educational programmes. Educational Researcher has recently published an article that examines how methodological features such as types of publication, sample sizes, and research designs affect effect sizes in experiments.

A total of 645 studies from 12 recent reviews of evaluations of reading, mathematics, and science programmes were studied. The findings suggest that effect sizes are roughly twice as large for published articles, small-scale trials, and experimenter-made measures, than for unpublished documents, large-scale studies, and independent measures, respectively. In addition, effect sizes are significantly higher in quasi-experiments than in randomised experiments.

Explanations for the effects of methodological features on effect sizes are discussed, as are implications for evidence-based policy.

Source: How Methodological Features Affect Effect Sizes in Education (2016), Educational Researcher

Science achievement gaps start early and persist

A study published in Educational Researcher looks at the profile of science achievement gaps to the age of 14.

The researchers used data from the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K), which followed 7,757 children from kindergarten (Year 1) to eighth grade (Year 9). In kindergarten, the children completed a general knowledge test covering the physical, biological, and social sciences. In the following years, there were further assessments of science, reading, and mathematics achievement, as well as approaches to learning and parenting quality.

Large gaps in science general knowledge were already evident when children entered kindergarten. These gaps continued into first grade (Year 2), third grade (Year 4), and ultimately eighth grade. Between third and eighth grade, lower reading and mathematics achievement was also predictive of the persistence of these science achievement gaps.

The authors argue that interventions may need to be implemented very early in children’s development to counteract these early general knowledge gaps. Improving reading and mathematics achievement and behavioural self-regulation, and decreasing school racial segregation may also contribute to reducing the science achievement gaps.

Source: Science Achievement Gaps Begin Very Early, Persist, and Are Largely Explained by Modifiable Factors (2016), Educational Researcher.

Eat, sleep, research, repeat

A new study published in Educational Researcher has analysed the amount of replication that takes place in education research.

Repeating a research study helps to increase confidence in its findings. It can help to address some possible criticisms of a single study, such as a bias to publish positive findings, hypothesizing after the results are known, or misuse of data or results.

Researchers looked at the entire publication history of the top 100 education journals (more than 160,000 articles). They found that only 0.13% of journal articles were replications, although that percentage is rising. In 1990 the replication rate was 1 in 2000 articles; now it is around 1 in 500.

The majority of studies (67.4%) successfully repeated the original findings. However, replications were significantly less likely to be successful when there was no overlap in the authors of the original and the repeated study. This may indicate potential bias in replicating one’s own work or, more positively, that the original researchers benefit from the experience of having done the study previously.

Source: Facts Are More Important Than Novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences (2014), Educational Researcher, 43(6).