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.

Professional development not the answer to improving maths achievement

Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) is a professional development programme designed to increase teachers’ knowledge of fourth grade (Year 5) maths fractions and rational numbers with the ultimate goal of improving their pupils’ maths achievement.

A study conducted in the 2014–15 school year, prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences by Madhavi Jayanthi and colleagues at Instructional Research Group and REL Southeast, investigated the effects of DMI on teacher content knowledge and their pupils’ subsequent achievement in fractions. A total of 264 fourth grade (Year 5) teachers in 84 elementary (primary) schools in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the US were randomly assigned by school to receive either DMI (n=42 schools, 129 teachers) or their usual professional development programme (n=42 schools, 135 teachers). The 84 schools were matched on grade four enrolment, number of pupils who exceeded fourth grade maths standards, percentage of African American and Hispanic pupils and percentage of pupils eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. In autumn 2014, DMI teachers received eight three-hour training sessions conducted over four days, followed by homework and concluding with a test on fractions. A total of 4,204 fourth grade pupils’ (2,091 E, 2,113 C) baseline scores on third grade standardised tests were used as a pre-test, because most third graders know little about fractions and the Test for Understanding of Fractions was used as the post-test at the end of the academic year to measure their knowledge gain after their teachers had completed DMI.

Results showed no significant differences between either the DMI or non-DMI teachers’ knowledge of fractions and their pupils’ proficiency in fractions.

Source: Impact of the Developing Mathematical Ideas professional development program on grade 4 students’ and teachers’understanding of fractions (March 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.