New WWC practice guide on preventing dropout in secondary schools

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools , that offers research-based recommendations for reducing dropout rates in middle and secondary schools. The goal is to help educators and administrators learn strategies for identifying at-risk pupils and addressing the challenges they face.

The WWC and an expert panel chaired by Russell Rumberger from the University of California, Santa Barbara synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following four recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Monitor the progress of all pupils, and proactively intervene when pupils show early signs of attendance, behaviour, or academic problems (minimal evidence).
  • Provide intensive, individualised support to pupils who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success (moderate evidence).
  • Engage pupils by offering curricula and programmes that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve pupils’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school (strong evidence).
  • For schools with many at-risk pupils, create small, personalised communities to facilitate monitoring and support (moderate evidence).

Each recommendation provides specific, actionable strategies; examples of how to implement the recommended practices in schools; advice on how to overcome potential obstacles; and a description of the supporting evidence.

Source: Preventing dropout in secondary schools U.S. (September 2017), What Works Clearing House, Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide

Impact of teacher mentors

A study published by the Institute of Education Sciences in the US evaluates the impact of the Retired Mentors for New Teachers programme – a two-year programme in which recently retired teachers provide tailored mentoring to new teachers – on pupil achievement, teacher retention and teacher evaluation ratings. The new teachers meet with their mentors weekly on a one-to-one basis and monthly in school-level groups over the course of the two years.

Dale DeDesare and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial involving 77 teachers at 11 primary schools in Aurora, Colorado. Within each school, half of the new teachers were randomly assigned to a control group to receive the district’s business-as-usual mentoring support, while the other half received the intervention as well as business-as-usual mentoring support.

The study found that at the end of the first year, pupils who were taught by teachers in the programme group scored 1.4 points higher on the spring Measures of Academic Progress maths assessment than those taught by teachers in the control group, (effect size = +0.064), and this difference was statistically significant. Reading achievement was also higher among pupils taught by teachers in the programme group, however, the difference was not statistically significant (effect size = +0.014 at the end of the first year and +0.07 at the end of the second year). The effect of the programme on teacher evaluation ratings and teacher retention was not significant, although more teachers in the programme group left after two years than in the control group.

Source: Impacts of the retired mentors for new teachers program (REL 2017–225) (March 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central.

Report finds mixed effects for Saxon Math

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a new research report on Saxon Math, and findings show mixed results for the programme.

Saxon Math is a curriculum for pupils in grades K-12 (Years 1-13). It uses an incremental structure that distributes content throughout the year. For the IES report, researchers reviewed studies of Saxon Math’s primary courses, which include kindergarten (Year 1) through pre-algebra. Out of 26 studies eligible for review, five studies fell within the scope of the What Work Clearinghouse’s (WWC) primary maths topic area and met WWC design standards. These five studies included 8,855 pupils in grades 1–3 and 6–8 in 149 schools across at least 18 states.

According to the report, the estimated impact of the intervention on outcomes in the mathematics achievement domain was positive and substantively important in two studies and indeterminate in three studies. The authors conclude that Saxon Math has mixed effects on maths test scores of pupils in primary classes.

Source: Saxon Math (May 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse

What do pupils believe about learning and intelligence?

This study examined reported attitudes and beliefs about growth mindset (the belief that intelligence and academic ability are not fixed and can be increased through effort and learning) for a sample of 103,066 pupils and 5,721 teachers in grades 4–12 (Years 5–13) in Nevada’s Clark County School District in the US.

Three-quarters of pupils reported having beliefs that are consistent with a growth mindset. The average growth mindset score across all pupils was 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 indicates agreement with all statements that suggest a fixed-ability mindset, and 5 indicates disagreement). In addition, reported beliefs were found to differ depending on pupils’ ethnicity, school year, prior achievement and whether pupils were native English speakers or not. For example, the average growth mindset score for pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) was lower (3.5) than the average growth mindset score for non-EAL pupils (4.0). Lower-achieving pupils reported lower levels of growth mindset than their higher-achieving peers (a difference of 0.8 points).

Teachers’ average growth mindset score was 0.5 points higher than their pupils’ (4.5 compared with 4.0). For the most part, their beliefs regarding growth mindset did not vary significantly depending on the characteristics of the pupils attending their schools.

Source: Growth mindset, performance avoidance, and academic behaviors in Clark County School District (REL 2017–226) (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West

Using data to help ensure equity in suspensions

A new guide is available from the Institute of Education Sciences to help educators in the US to use data to determine if any ethnic groups are being disproportionately suspended or expelled within a school or district, and if so, how to use data to promote equity among all ethnic groups.

The guide is divided into two sections. The first describes how to use multiple data to analyse if a group is being disproportionately suspended or expelled, and how to determine the effectiveness of any interventions that might be in place. It also describes the data that can be used to analyse factors that may be contributing to any disproportion. In cases where a school or district determines there are inequalities that may be unjust, the second section outlines a process that helps promote equitable discipline, called Plan-Do-Study-Act. One district’s successful experience using the Plan-Do-Study-Act process is described in detail. The back of the guide contains websites and resources related to equity in school discipline and quality improvement processes.

Source: School discipline data indicators: A guide for districts and schools (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest (REL 2017–240)

Early warning indicators for risk of dropout among EALs

School districts in the US are using early warning indicators such as attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions to identify and provide support for pupils at risk of dropping out. A new report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences in the US examines whether these early warning indicators work just as well for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

The study compares data for pupils in six school districts in Washington State who were classified as EAL at any point in their education (n=2,652) with data for non-EAL pupils (n=6,943). Pupils were identified as at risk of dropout if they triggered one or both early warning indicators – six or more absences plus at least one course failure in grade 9 (Year 10), or at least one expulsion in grade 9. The results show that early warning indicators are unable to accurately identify future dropouts. Overall, 23.8% of pupils triggered one or both early warning indicators, with EAL pupils triggering one or both early warning indicators only slightly more (24.2%) than non-EAL pupils (23.6%). These percentages are substantially higher than the percentage of pupils who actually dropped out (all pupils = 5.4%; EAL pupils = 5.9%; non-EAL pupils = 5.2%). Only 9.2% of EALs who were identified in grade 9 as at risk dropped out.

Source: Are two commonly used early warning indicators accurate predictors of dropout for English learner students? Evidence from six districts in Washington state (March 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.