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)

Lessons from the scale-up of an early maths programme

Pre-K Mathematics is a supplementary mathematics curriculum for pre-k (Reception) children. It focuses on the pre-k classroom and home learning environments of young children, especially those from families experiencing economic hardship. Activities aim to support mathematical development by providing learning opportunities to increase children’s informal mathematical knowledge.

In an article published in Evaluation Review, Jaime Thomas and colleagues report on a cluster-randomised control trial of the scale-up of Pre-K Mathematics in 140 schools in California (70 intervention schools, 70 control). The post-test measured outcomes on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort Mathematics Assessment (ECLS-B) and the Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3) at the end of the pre-k year. Results showed that Pre-K Mathematics had positive and significant effects, with an effect size of +0.30 on the ECLS-B and +0.23 on the TEMA-3.

The authors consider how these results differ from previous, smaller studies of the efficacy and effectiveness of Pre-K Mathematics. They find that effect sizes were usually larger in the earlier studies. As studies became larger, more heterogeneous, and less controlled, they tended to yield smaller results.

Source: The Sequential Scale-Up of an Evidence-Based Intervention: A Case Study (August 2018), Evaluation Review

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