Early maths knowledge among low-income children linked to later achievement

A longitudinal study published in Child Development evaluates an early maths trajectories model for 517 low-income US children from ages 4- to 11-years-old to determine whether children’s maths skills at 4- and 5-years-old predicted their maths achievement at age 11.

Children were tested on six maths skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating and understanding shapes) during their last year of pre-school and near the end of the first grade (Year 2). At the end of the fifth grade (Year 6), they were tested on a range of maths knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry.

Bethany Rittle‐Johnson and colleagues found that children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects in pre-school were strong predictors of their maths achievement at age 11. By the end of the first grade (Year2), understanding written numbers and calculating were the strongest predictors of later maths knowledge. Patterning skills remained a predictor, however, shape knowledge was never a unique predictor of later maths achievement.

These results suggest that children’s maths knowledge in pre-school is related to their later achievement; however, not all early achievement is a useful predictor of future performance.

Source: Early math trajectories: low-income children’s mathematics knowledge from ages 4 to 11 (2016) Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12662

Link between positive teacher-student relationships and good behaviour in teens

A new study has found that having a positive relationship with a teacher when a child is 10 to 11 years old can be linked to “prosocial” behaviours such as cooperation and altruism, as well as reducing problem classroom behaviours such as aggression and oppositional behaviour.

The study used data from a major longitudinal study of Swiss children among a culturally diverse sample of 7 to 15 year olds, and involved 1,067 students randomly sampled across 56 of the city’s schools. Only students who experienced a change of teacher when the student was 9 or 10 were used for the study, with data gathered from teachers, students, and their parents on an annual and later biannual basis.

Using this data, Ingrid Obsuth and her team were able to “score” the children on over 100 different characteristics or experiences that could potentially account for good or bad behaviour. They then matched students in pairs with similar scores in all respects except for how they felt about their teacher, and how the teacher felt about them.

Students who had a more positive relationship with their teacher displayed more prosocial behaviour towards peers (on average 18%, and 10% more up to two years later), and up to 38% less aggressive behaviour (and 9% less up to four years later), over students who felt ambivalent or negative towards their teacher.

Source: A Non-bipartite Propensity Score Analysis of the Effects of Teacher–Student Relationships on Adolescent Problem and Prosocial Behavior (2016), Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Positive results for Success for All in national evaluations

Success for All (SFA) – a primary literacy approach – was selected to receive a five-year scale-up grant under the US Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) competition. This report, the second from MDRC’s independent evaluation, discusses the programme’s implementation and impacts in 2012-2013.

The evaluation uses a cluster random assignment design involving 37 schools for children age 5-12 and located in five school districts; 19 schools were randomly selected to receive the SFA programme, while the remaining 18 control group schools did not receive the intervention. Findings showed that first grade (Year 2) pupils who had participated in the SFA programme since kindergarten (Year 1) significantly outperformed children in the control group on two measures of phonics and decoding skills. Outcomes were similar for different categories of children, including African-American, Hispanic, and White children.

In addition, a new article reports the third-year findings of a longitudinal evaluation of SFA in England. The results reveal a statistically significant positive school-level effect for SFA schools compared with control schools on standardised reading measures of word-level and decoding skills. There were also directionally positive but non-significant school-level effects on measures of comprehension and fluency. A total of 18 SFA schools and 18 control schools across England, matched on prior achievement and demographics, were included in the quasi-experimental study.

Sources: The Success for All Model of School Reform: Interim Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Scale-Up (2014), MDRC. Success for All in England: Results From the Third Year of a National Evaluation (2014), SAGE Open 2014 (4).

Less structure = better outcomes?

Frontiers in Psychology has published a new study that suggests that children whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals.

As part of the study, parents of 70 6-year-olds were surveyed about their children’s daily, annual, and typical schedules. Researchers then categorised the children’s activities as either more structured or less structured, based on categorisation schemes from prior studies on children’s leisure-time use. In their classification system, structured time was defined to include any time outside of formal schooling spent in activities organised and supervised by adults (eg, piano lessons, organised football practice, and homework). Less-structured activities included free play alone and with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading, and media time. The children were also evaluated for self-directed executive function – the ability to set and reach goals independently – with a verbal fluency test.

Results of the study showed that the more time children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning. Conversely, the more time children spent in more-structured activities, the poorer their self-directed executive function.

The researchers emphasise that their results show a correlation between time use and self-directed executive function, but they don’t prove that the change in self-directed executive function was caused by the amount of structured or unstructured time. The research team is considering a longitudinal study, which would follow participants over time, to begin to answer the question of cause.

Source: Less-structured Time in Children’s Daily Lives Predicts Self-directed Executive Functioning (2014), Frontiers in Psychology, online June 2014.

“Winners and losers” from selective school system

A new working paper from the Institute of Education investigates the impact of the UK’s selective grammar school system on earnings inequality. Although the comprehensive system now dominates, the value of selective systems remains a policy issue.

The authors used data from the Understanding Society longitudinal panel study, which collected information from people aged 16+ in approximately 40,000 households in the UK beginning in 2009. They found that the wage distribution for individuals who grew up in selective schooling areas is quantitatively and statistically significantly more unequal, with higher earnings at the top and lower earnings at the lower end of the distribution.

The additional difference in earnings between the 90th and 10th percentiles in selective systems accounts for 14% of the total earnings gap, increasing to 18% when the authors controlled for a range of background and personal characteristics. The authors suggest that this inequality may be the result of grammar schools attracting the most effective teachers.

The raw mean and variance statistics for the selective versus non-selective areas showed that overall, average hourly earnings from 2009–2012 were very similar across the two groups (£8.61 versus £8.59).

Source: Selective Schooling Systems Increase Inequality (2014), Institute of Education, University of London.

Challenging content in the early years boosts later achievement

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal examines the relationship between academic content in kindergarten (Reception) and children’s later achievement in school. They found that spending four more days per month on more advanced topics in maths and reading was associated with modest increased test scores of about 0.05 standard deviations

The authors used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), a nationally representative sample of children who entered kindergarten in the US in the 1998/99 school year. It includes information on academic skills at school entry and throughout primary school, as well as information about the children, their families, teachers, and schools. Kindergarten teachers were surveyed about classroom reading and maths activities and content, with measures aligned to the proficiency areas measured by ECLS-K achievement tests. Parents were also surveyed about their child’s non-parental care experiences before they entered kindergarten. The study used a sample of almost 16,000 children.

Controlling for external factors that may have been correlated with preschool attendance (eg, race, health, family characteristics), the authors found a consistent and positive effect of exposure to advanced contents in maths and reading in kindergarten (eg, addition, subtraction, and ordinality in maths, and phonics instruction, reading aloud or silently, and reading comprehension in reading). In contrast, children did not benefit from basic content coverage (eg, counting out loud or sorting into subgroups in maths, and writing the letters of the alphabet in reading).

The authors conclude that increasing time spent on advanced academic content in kindergarten (and reducing time on basic content) could be a potentially low-cost way of improving achievement.

Source: Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects (2014), American Educational Research Journal, 51(2).