Effective programmes in primary maths

Marta Pellegrini from the University of Florence and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert E Slavin from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have released a new report on effective programmes in primary maths. The report reviews research on the mathematics achievement outcomes of all programmes with at least one study meeting the inclusion criteria of the review. A total of 78 studies were identified that evaluated 61 programmes in grades K–5 (Years 1–6).

The studies were very high in quality, with 65 (83%) randomised and 13 (17%) quasi-experimental evaluations. Key findings were as follows:

  • Particularly positive outcomes were found for tutoring programmes.
  • One-to-one and one-to-small group models had equal impacts, as did teachers and paraprofessionals as tutors.
  • Technology programmes showed modest positive impacts.
  • Professional development approaches focused on helping teachers gain in understanding of maths content and pedagogy had no impact on pupil achievement, but more promising outcomes were seen in studies focused on instructional processes, such as cooperative learning.
  • Whole-school reform, social-emotional approaches, maths curricula and benchmark assessment programmes found few positive effects, although there were one or more effective individual approaches in most categories.

The findings suggest that programmes emphasising personalisation, engagement and motivation have most impact in primary maths teaching, while strategies focused on textbooks, professional development for maths knowledge or pedagogy, and other strategies that do not substantially impact pupils’ daily experiences have little impact.

Source: Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis (October 2018), Johns Hopkins University

“Evidence for ESSA” website goes live

The Center for Research and Reform in Education in the US has released a new website called Evidence for ESSA, a free web-based resource that provides easy access to information on programmes that meet the evidence standards defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The website reviews maths and reading programmes for grades K to 12 (Years 1–13 in the UK) to determine which meet the strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence defined in ESSA (additional subject areas will be added later). The site provides a one-page summary of each programme, including a programme description, brief research review and practical information on costs, professional development and technology requirements. It is easily searchable and searches can be refined for particular groups (such as pupils with English as an Additional Language) and programme features (such as technology, co-operative learning, or tutoring). Evidence for ESSA directs users to the key studies that validate that a programme meets a particular ESSA standard.

The mission of Evidence for ESSA is to provide clear and authoritative information on programmes that meet the ESSA evidence standards and enable educators and communities to select effective educational tools to improve pupil success.

Source: Evidence for ESSA (www.evidenceforessa.org) The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) at Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Using data to combat chronic absence

Chronic absenteeism (CA) has been broadly defined as missing so much school that a student is academically at risk. More specifically, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has defined it as missing 15 days or more for any reason. Hedy Chang at Attendance Works and Robert Balfanz at The Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University recently examined the first-ever national data on chronic absenteeism released by the OCR, as well as data from the US Census Bureau and National Center for Education Statistics. Their goal was to determine if there were commonalities in patterns of chronic absenteeism, and if so, what possible solutions might be suggested based on these patterns.

The resulting research brief shows that CA is concentrated. Half of America’s chronically absent students can be found in just 4% of its districts and 12% of its schools. Where there are significant concentrations of poverty, there are significant amounts of absenteeism, regardless of whether the concentrations of poverty are in rural, urban, or suburban areas. The places with the largest numbers of chronically absent students usually have more than one generation of people living in poverty and a high African-American population.

The brief discusses how several districts successfully reduced chronic absenteeism by solving barriers to school attendance including unsafe walks to school, unreliable transportation, health issues like asthma, and making the schools welcoming and safe environments. A common pattern in the districts’ successes was that they all had access to data detailing their schools’ chronic absences. The authors make several recommendations to ensure that districts, schools, and families have the chronic-absence data they need. These recommendations include:

  • Examine what schools with low chronic absenteeism rates, despite facing challenges that can be a barrier to school attendance, are doing to overcome those barriers.
  • Use data to find indicators that a student is prone to CA. One such indicator is if a student missed more than 10% of the prior school year and two days in the first month of the current school year. Parents and school staff should be alerted.
  • When students are determined to be CA, it is important to find out why. Solving these problems is often most effective using teams of leaders who meet regularly and have the resources to solve the problems.

Source: Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence, Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center

Bias and teacher perceptions

Research has shown that teacher expectations frequently influence student outcomes. American University, The Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany, and Johns Hopkins University recently collaborated on a study to determine if teachers’ perceptions of their students’ future educational attainment could be correlated with their ethnicity or gender. In other words, would teachers predict brighter futures for students who shared their race or gender than for students of other races and genders?

Researchers examined data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which followed 16,810 US tenth graders (age 15-16). The ELS contained predictions from each student’s maths and English teacher about how far they expected them to go in school.

No correlations were found for factors such as their grades in ninth grade, socio-economic status, or mother’s education. However, non-African-American teachers had lower expectations than did African-American teachers for African-American students, with larger effects for male students and maths teachers.

By conducting this study, researchers hoped to encourage teacher training and professional development to include discussions about expectations and bias, to provide evidence that a more diverse teaching force is needed, and to inform other researchers who look at teacher predictions.

Source: Who believes in me? The effect of student–teacher demographic match on teacher expectations (2016), Economics of Education Review.

The reader-friendliness of school-choice guides

In order for parents to make a considered choice of school they need to have a clear understanding of their options. In the US, districts produce written guides for parents describing each school’s attributes, but parent interviews and surveys have shown that these guides are not often used. In order to assess their usefulness, researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined the reader-friendliness of school-choice guides across a sample of several urban districts.

The US Department of Education recommends that text for parents be written at the sixth- to eighth-grade level (age 11-13), as parents in deprived urban areas often have reduced literacy levels. However, researchers found that none of the guides were written at the recommended level; all were at secondary reading levels, or higher. Furthermore, sentences were lengthy and written with complex grammatical structuring, which may be confusing to parents with reduced reading comprehension due to low literacy levels or who speak English as a second language.

Researchers made several recommendations, such as write in the active voice, increase print size and white space, and increase the readability of the guides.

Source: The Readability and Complexity of District-Provided School-Choice Information (2015), Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 20(3).