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

Do physically active lessons improve pupil engagement?

A study published in Health Education and Behavior looks at the effects of introducing physically active lessons into primary school classes. Emma Norris and colleagues used the Virtual Traveller (VT) intervention to evaluate whether physically active lessons had any effect on pupil engagement, physical activity and on-task behaviour.

Virtual Traveller is a programme of pre-prepared physically active lesson sessions delivered using classroom interactive whiteboards during regular lessons. A total of 219 children aged 8- to 9-years-old from 10 schools in Greater London took part in the cluster-randomised controlled trial. Children in the intervention schools received 10-minute VT sessions three times a week, for six weeks, during maths and English lessons. To assess the effectiveness of VT, pupils’ physical activity levels, on-task behaviour and engagement were measured at baseline (T0), at weeks two (T1) and four  (T2) of the six-week intervention, and at one week (T3) and three months (T4) post-intervention.

Pupils in the intervention group showed more on-task behaviour than those in the control at T1 and T2, but this was not maintained post-intervention. No difference in pupil engagement between the control and intervention groups was observed at any time point. VT was found to increase physical activity, but only during lesson time.

Source: Physically active lessons improve lesson activity and on-task behavior: a cluster-randomized controlled trial of the “Virtual Traveller” intervention (March 2018), Health Education & Behavior DOI: 10.1177/1090198118762106

Is the pen mightier than the mouse?

Ben Backes and James Cowan from CALDER have published a working paper on the differences between computer- and paper-based tests.

In 2015, Massachusetts introduced the new PARCC assessment. School districts could choose whether to use the computer or paper versions of the test, and in 2015 and 2016, districts were divided fairly evenly between the two. The authors use this division to compare results for pupils in Grades 3–8 (Years 4–9).

Pupils who took the online version of PARCC scored about 0.10 standard deviations lower in maths and about 0.25 standard deviations lower in English than pupils taking the paper version of the test. When pupils took computer tests again the following year, these differences reduced by about a third for maths and by half for English.

The study also looked at whether the change to computer tests affected some pupils disproportionately. There were no differences for maths, but for English there was more of an effect on pupils at the bottom of the achievement distribution, pupils with English as an additional language and special education pupils.

The authors point out that these differences not only have consequences for individual pupils, but for other decisions based on the data, including teacher and school performance measures and the analysis of schoolwide programmes.

Source: Is the pen mightier than the keyboard? The effect of online testing on measured student achievement (April 2018), National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, Working Paper 190

Fostering curiosity can promote academic achievement

A new research article by Prachi Shah and colleagues at the University of Michigan shows that children who are curious have higher academic achievement than those who aren’t. In fact, they see cultivating curiosity in the classroom—promoting the joy of discovery and motivating pupils to find out answers to life’s questions—as an untapped strategy for early academic success.

Researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which has tracked thousands of children since 2001. Children were followed via parent interviews and assessing the children at ages 9 months, 2 years, in pre-K (reception) and kindergarten (Year 1), and then looking at the reading, maths and behavioural skills of 6,200 of these children in 2006 and 2007 when they were in kindergarten. After controlling for other factors that might influence academic achievement, results showed that eagerness to learn new things had a small but positive influence on kindergartners’ reading (effect size=+0.11) and maths (+0.12). This was even more so for children from low SES backgrounds (effect size=+0.18 in reading, +0.20 in maths).

Source: Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement (April 2018), Pediatric Research

Maths anxiety, working memory and self-concept

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Jaén, Spain, and published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at the relationship between maths anxiety and maths performance in primary school children, and also the possible mediating role of working memory and maths self-concept.

A total of 167 pupils in grades 3 and 5 (age 8–12 years) took part in the study. Each pupil completed a set of questionnaires to assess maths anxiety and self-concept as well as their mathematical performance. Working memory was assessed using two backward span tasks. Teachers were also asked to rate each pupils’ maths achievement.

As expected, results showed that pupils who demonstrated higher levels of anxiety about maths tended to have lower scores on maths outcomes such as ability, problem‐solving and teacher‐rated maths achievement. However, this relationship was lessened once the effects of working memory and self-concept were considered. The researchers suggest, therefore, that it is worth taking into consideration working memory and self-concept when designing interventions aimed at helping pupils with maths anxiety.

Source: Math anxiety and math performance in children: The mediating roles of working memory and math self‐concept (May 2017), British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 87, Issue 4