International evidence on what helps poor children succeed

A recent Policy Brief from the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) explores the issue of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils who are academically successful, or “academically resilient”.

The authors used data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to explore how prevalent academically resilient pupils are across education systems and what factors are associated with academic resilience within those systems. They focussed on children aged 13/14 in 28 education systems with sufficient numbers of academically resilient pupils for analysis.

The findings included:

  • Environments of high academic achievement appear to support academic resilience among disadvantaged pupils. In general, education systems with lower percentages of disadvantaged pupils tended to produce larger percentages of academically resilient pupils (eg, Japan and Korea), whereas those with higher percentages of disadvantaged pupils tended to produce lower percentages of academically resilient pupils (eg, Morocco and Ghana).
  • Pupils’ high educational aspirations appear to be the strongest and most consistent predictor of academic resilience; and
  • School factors associated with academic resilience include teachers’ positive attitudes about pupils’ learning abilities, and schools’ emphasis on academic success.

However, the brief concludes that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and that policy makers in individual countries need to examine which factors are relevant in their own contexts.

Source: Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students who are Academically Successful: Examining Academic Resilience Cross-nationally (2015), IEA.

Talented poor pupils missing out on GCSE success

A new research brief from the Sutton Trust has shown that talented pupils from poor backgrounds are falling short of their potential at GCSE, achieving on average half a grade less than other highly able pupils.;

The authors looked at pupils’ performance in Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests at age 11, and then at their GCSE attainment. They found that 15% of “highly able” pupils, that is those who score in the top 10% nationally at KS2, fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE.

The two factors that appear to make the most difference in this achievement are FSM6 status (those who are eligible for the Pupil Premium because they have received free school meals in any of the previous six years) and gender. Highly able boys are almost twice as likely to fall off track as girls, and for both boys and girls FSM6 status more than doubles the risk of falling into the missing talent group. One in ten of the poor but clever pupils are barely achieving C grades.

The report also found differences in the subjects taken. Highly able FSM6 pupils are less likely to be taking history or geography (included in the English Baccalaureate measure), and only 53% take triple sciences, compared to 69% of those not in the FSM6 category. This may be because they attend one of the 20% of schools that does not offer the triple science curriculum.

Recommendations include:

  • Developing a national programme for highly able pupils, with ring-fenced funding to support evidence-based activities and tracking of pupils’ progress.
  • Making schools accountable for this progress.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils have access to triple science.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils study a broad traditional curriculum (including a language and humanity) to widen future educational opportunities.
  • Using schools that buck the trend to support those where highly able pupils underperform, or to offer extra-curricular support to raise aspirations for young people in the area.

Source: Missing Talent (2015), The Sutton Trust.

CLEAR route for gifted students

The CLEAR model (Challenge Leading to Engagement, Achievement and Results) is a viable option to enhance learning for gifted students, according to a study from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Virginia.

The CLEAR model aims to establish a rich curriculum and responsive instruction to stimulate learning in gifted students. The three-year study recruited gifted third grade (Year 4) students (1,215 students in the first year’s cohort, 1,007 in the second year, and 683 in the third) in regular classes or small groups that were assigned randomly to the CLEAR intervention or a control.

Two CLEAR units were used: poetry (The Magic of Everyday Things) and research skills (Exploration and Communication). Intervention classes completed either both (first and second cohort) or one CLEAR module (third cohort).

The authors report that multilevel analyses of data from more than 200 classrooms revealed statistically significant differences in achievement in favour of students who used the CLEAR model.

Source: What works in gifted education: Documenting the effects of an integrated curricular/instructional model for gifted students (2014), American Educational Research Journal

America’s “talent underclass”

The 2010 report Mind the (Other) Gap identified large gaps in academic achievement at the top end of the ability distribution in the US (ie, among the most able pupils). A new report has now been published in response to subsequent research, and its authors conclude that there is growing evidence of a permanent “talent underclass”.

Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), they examined performance at grades 4 and 8 (Years 5 and 9). They found that the “excellence gaps” among different racial groups, high- and low-socioeconomic status, different levels of English language proficiency, and gender groups have widened.

The problem is particularly pronounced in maths. Between 1996 and 2011, the percentage of White pupils, more-affluent pupils, and English-language speakers scoring at the advanced level in maths increased substantially while the performance of other groups remained relatively stable. In reading, the gap changed little (but remained).

Recommendations in the report include considering the impact new policies will have on the highest-achieving pupils, looking at the size of excellence gaps when test results are released, including the performance of advanced pupils in state accountability systems, acknowledging the role of poverty in widening excellence gaps, and accelerating research in this area.

Source: Talent on the Sidelines: Excellence Gaps and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass (2013), Center for Education Policy Analysis, University of Connecticut.

Focus on early maths to raise standards

East Asian countries dominate international standardised tests in mathematics. This new working paper, produced by the Institute of Education, compares English children with those from Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, to see how their performance changes between the ages of 10 and 16.

The results suggest that, although average maths test scores are higher in the East Asian countries, the achievement gap does not increase between ages 10 and 16. The conclusion is that policy makers should concentrate on reforms at pre-school and primary level if English children are to catch up. Although they do not believe that reforming secondary education is the answer, the authors do note that there is also a need to ensure that English high achievers manage to keep pace with the highest achieving pupils in other countries during secondary school via, for instance, gifted and talented schemes.

Source: The Mathematics Skills of Schoolchildren: How Does England Compare to the High Performing East Asian Jurisdictions? (2013), Institute of Education