Improving times table fluency

The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.

Thirty-four Year 4 classes took part in the evaluation of Improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.

Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium. All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practiced multiplication facts.

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Source: Increasing times table fluency (May 2019), Institute for Effective Education

Success in evidence-based reform: The importance of failure

The latest blog post from Robert Slavin, a Professor in the IEE and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, considers the large number of randomised experiments evaluating educational programmes that find few achievement effects. This is a problem that will take on increasing significance as results from the first cohort of the US Investing in Innovation (i3) grants are released.

At the same time, the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK, much like i3, will also begin to report outcomes. It’s possible that the majority of these projects will fail to produce significant positive effects in rigorous, well-conducted evaluations. However, there is much to be learned in the process. For example, the i3 process is producing a great deal of information about what works and what does not, what gets implemented and what does not, and the match between schools’ needs and programmes’ approaches.

Tailoring evidence-based reform to different problems

Robert Slavin, professor at the Institute for Effective Education and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, focuses his latest blog post not just on reading, writing, and arithmetic, but on the sometimes harder-to-define problems of education, such as managing resources and cultivating relationships.

He says, “Is there anyone out there who thinks that it is not important to identify effective and replicable approaches to teaching reading, algebra, and all the other relatively easy-to-define, easy-to-measure problems of education? Yet solving these does still leave some very important but less-well-defined problems that may take different approaches. These approaches should still be informed by evidence, but perhaps different types of evidence from the design-build-evaluate-disseminate model that usually leads to proven and replicable approaches to reading or algebra, if anything does.”

Innovation in education and medicine

“Education research is as likely as medical research to lead to profound breakthroughs in practice and outcomes in the coming years.” That is the conclusion of the latest blog post from Robert Slavin, professor in the IEE and director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, in which he discusses similarities and differences in the way evidence affects, or could affect, education and medicine.

To support his conclusion, Slavin offers several reasons why, with greater support, education research could have at least as profound an impact on education outcomes as medicine or public health do on health outcomes. For example, he says, “Education research is easier to do than medical research. The unlikelihood of serious negative side effects is one reason. Another is that because pretests in education are so highly correlated with post-tests, we can accurately predict what students would have achieved without treatment, making it easier to do studies.” Ultimately, Slavin says, “When we build up a stock of proven programs and have the support of government for using them, watch out. Education could show medicine a thing or two about how to improve outcomes on a national scale using rigorous research and innovation.”

New York Times profiles evidence-based education

The New York Times has published an article on the work of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the rise of evidence-based education.

The institute (an office in the US Education Department), aims to get real data about what works in education, particularly from randomised controlled trials, and shares findings through its What Works Clearinghouse website. Among those interviewed are Robert Slavin, a professor in the IEE (and Director of the Centre for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins School of Education), Peter Tymms from Durham University, and Jon Baron, president of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy.

The article covers the history of the IES and considers the difficulties of translating the institute’s research into practical change. As Slavin explains in the article “It’s fascinating what a secret this is”. Instead, he says, educators are often “swayed by marketing or anecdotes or the latest fad.” However, he is hopeful of change. Despite little political drive in the US, the Obama administration has said its goal is to enable schools to use programmes that have been proven to work.

Updated evidence report on Reading Recovery

An updated report from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) provides new information on the effectiveness of Reading Recovery for beginning readers. Reading Recovery is a supplemental programme that provides one-to-one tutoring to children aged five or six. It aims to promote literacy skills and foster the development of reading and writing strategies by tailoring individualised lessons to each child. The WWC found that Reading Recovery has positive effects on general reading achievement and potentially positive effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and comprehension for beginning readers.

Robert Slavin, a Professor in the IEE, published a recent blog post on Reading Recovery. In it, Jerry D’Agostino, director of Reading Recovery’s i3 project, explains how Reading Recovery has dealt with the challenge of long-term sustainability.