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

One-to-one technology and pupil outcomes

An evaluation published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis evaluates the impact of the Digital Conversion Initiative on pupil outcomes for one US school district in North Carolina.

The initiative provided laptop computers to every pupil from the fourth grade (Year 5) upwards, while also providing teachers with training on how to best use the technology in their lesson plans.

Marie Hull and Katherine Duch used administrative school data from 2005 to 2013 to determine the programme’s impact on maths and reading achievement for pupils in grades 4 to 8 (Years 5 to 9), as well as the impact of the programme on pupil behaviour. They compared the district’s data from before and after implementation, as well as data from neighbouring school districts without one-to-one programmes to determine the short- and medium-term effects.

Their results suggest there is potential for one-to-one laptop programmes to help improve pupil outcomes. They found that:

  • Maths scores for pupils improved by 0.11 standard deviations in the short term and 0.13 standard deviations in the medium term.
  • No significant change in reading scores in the short term, and mixed evidence of improvement in the medium term.
  • Time spent on homework stayed constant.
  • Pupils spent more of their homework time using a computer.

Source: One-to-one technology and student outcomes: Evidence from Mooresville’s Digital Conversion Initiative (September 2018), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Findings from an evaluation of Thinking Maths

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation of Thinking Maths – a professional learning programme for maths teachers to support pupils’ maths learning during the transition between primary and secondary school (currently Year 7 and Year 8 in South Australia).

The evaluation involved 158 schools in South Australia, which were randomly assigned to the intervention (63 schools) or the control group (104 schools). Teachers participated in 30 hours of face-to-face professional learning delivered at 4–5 week intervals over three school terms. The programme focuses on three areas for better teaching and learning of mathematics: (a) using quality task design, (b) sequencing a conceptual development, and (c) using research-informed effective pedagogies.

Pupils whose teachers received Thinking Maths made additional progress in maths when compared to business-as-usual maths classes (effect size = +0.05). However, there were differences between primary and secondary school pupils: the effect size for secondary pupils (Years 8–10) was -0.16, whereas the effect size for primary pupils (Years 5–7) was +0.14.

Source: Thinking Maths: A professional learning program supporting teachers to engage middle-school students in maths. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary, (September 2018). Evidence for Learning, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Numeracy intervention for pupils struggling with maths

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of 1stClass@Number, a 10-week numeracy intervention, delivered by teaching assistants, that provides intensive support for pupils struggling with maths.

A randomised controlled trial was conducted in 133 schools in south and west Yorkshire. Schools each nominated four children in Year 2 to participate, and the schools were then randomly assigned to either receive the intervention or to continue with normal teaching. A team from the University of Oxford evaluated the programme, which was delivered three times a week for 10 weeks in addition to normal mathematics instruction. A process evaluation collected additional data through observations, questionnaires and phone interviews.

Results showed that the intervention had a positive effect on Quantitative Reasoning Tests (effect size = +0.18) compared to pupils in the control group. Among pupils eligible for free school meals, those in the intervention group did not make any additional progress in the Quantitative Reasoning Test compared to control group pupils.

1stClass@Number seemed to have no impact on performance in end of Key Stage 1 maths tests compared to pupils in the control group. However, there was some evidence that the intervention widened the gap in Key Stage 1 maths results between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers.

Source: 1stClass@Number: Evaluation report and executive summary (July 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Disadvantaged pupils hit hardest by maths teacher shortages

In England there is currently a shortage of maths teachers; among the factors that might be influencing this shortage are that departments lose 40% of teachers during their first six years in the profession, and there are higher private sector wages for maths graduates. At the same time, demand for maths teachers has increased due to policy measures to increase participation in maths for 16 to 18 year olds. To examine what impact this has had, the Nuffield Foundation commissioned researchers from FFT Education Datalab to look at how secondary schools have responded to the shortage.

Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims used data from England’s School Workforce Census and found that schools are using their most experienced and well-qualified maths teachers for year groups taking high-stakes exams (GCSEs, A-levels, and GCSE retakes), and using inexperienced maths teachers and  teachers who trained in other subjects to fill staffing gaps elsewhere.

In the most disadvantaged schools (those with more pupils eligible for free school meals), pupils across all year groups are more likely to be taught by an inexperienced teacher. At Key Stage 5 (age 16-18) pupils in the most disadvantaged schools are almost twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher as in the least disadvantaged schools (9.5% versus 5.3%).

Source: How do shortages of maths teachers affect the within-school allocation of maths teachers to pupils? (June 2018), Nuffield Foundation

Jury still out on Teach for America

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review has been published, which looks at the impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes.

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationwide teacher preparation programme designed to address the shortage of effective teachers, specifically in high-poverty rural and urban schools across the United States. The systematic review by Herbert Turner and colleagues considered the impact of TFA-prepared teachers relative to novice teachers, and alumni relative to veteran teachers. The impacts studied were for K–12 (Years 1–13) pupil outcomes in maths, English and science.

A total of 24 studies were eligible for the review. However, once the research design, study quality and comparison groups were considered, this was reduced to four qualifying studies.

The review found no significant effect on reading by TFA teachers in their first or second year teaching elementary grades (Years 1–6) when compared with non-TFA novice teachers. There was a small positive impact for pre-K to grade 2 (Reception to Year 3) teachers on reading, but not on maths. However, given the small evidence base, the review counsels that these results should be treated with caution.

Source:  What are the effects of Teach for America on math, English language arts, and science outcomes of K–12 students in the USA? (June 2018), A Campbell Systematic Review 2018:7