Programme components and disadvantaged pupils

Research shows that pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to attend pre-school or to have a home environment incorporating literacy and language activities than their less disadvantaged peers. As a result, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to enter school with the social and academic skills needed to set them up for success. Jans Deitrichson and colleagues at the Danish National Centre for Social Research recently performed a meta-analysis aimed at determining what components within academic interventions are the most effective at improving the achievement of primary school students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

A total of 101 studies performed between 2000–2014 were included in the meta-analysis. Seventy-six percent were randomised controlled trials and the rest were quasi-experimental studies. Studies had to target pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds, utilise standardised test results in reading and maths as the outcome measures, and take place in OECD or EU countries, although most were in the US. They also had to contain information that allowed the researchers to calculate effect sizes.

The authors sorted each study’s academic intervention into “component categories” (the methods used). Examples include coaching/ mentoring of pupils, cooperative learning, incentives, small-group tutoring, or a combination of these or other methods. Analysis demonstrated that tutoring, feedback and progress monitoring, and cooperative learning were the components with the largest effect sizes. The authors stated that although the average effect sizes for these components were not large enough to close the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic pupils, they certainly reduced it. They suggest that cost-effectiveness studies should be performed on these programmes to give policymakers and educators a fuller picture of programme benefits.

Source: Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: A systematic review and meta-analysis (January 2017), Review of Educational Research, Vol 87, Issue 2

Rethinking the use of tests

Olusola O Adesope and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to summarise the learning benefits of taking a practice test versus other forms of non-testing learning conditions, such as re-studying, practice, filler activities, or no presentation of the material.

Analysis of 272 independent effect sizes from 188 separate experiments demonstrated that the use of practice tests is associated with a moderate, statistically significant weighted mean effect size compared to re-studying (+0.51) and a much larger weighted mean effect size (+0.93) when compared to filler or no activities.

In addition, the format, number and frequency of practice tests make a difference for the learning benefits on a final test. Practice tests with a multiple-choice option have a larger weighted mean effect size (+0.70) than short-answer tests (+0.48). A single practice test prior to the final test is more effective than when pupils take several practice tests. However, the timing should be carefully considered. A gap of less than a day between the practice and final tests showed a smaller weighted effect size than when there is a gap of one to six days (+0.56 and +0.82, respectively).

Source: Rethinking the use of tests: A meta-analysis of practice testing (February 2017), Review of Educational Research DOI: 10.3102/0034654316689306

A century of research on ability grouping and acceleration

Researchers Saiying Steenbergen-Hu and colleagues recently analysed the results of almost 100 years of research on the effects of ability grouping (which places pupils of similar skills and abilities in the same classes) and acceleration (where pupils are given material and assignments that are usually reserved for older year groups) on pupils’ academic achievement. After screening thousands of studies, their secondary meta-analysis, recently published in Review of Educational Research, synthesised the results of thirteen earlier meta-analyses on ability grouping and six on acceleration that met inclusion criteria for the final review.

They divided ability grouping into four types: (1) between-class ability grouping, where pupils in the same year are divided into low-, medium-, or high-level classes; (2) within-class ability grouping, where pupils within a classroom are taught in groups based on their levels; (3) cross-year subject grouping, where pupils in different year groups are combined into the same class depending on their prior achievement; and (4) grouping for pupils considered gifted.

Results showed academic benefits of within-class grouping, cross-year grouping by subject, and grouping for the gifted, but no benefit of between-class grouping. Results were consistent regardless of whether pupils were high-, medium-, or low-achievers. Analyses of acceleration groups for pupils labelled as gifted showed that these pupils performed the same as older non-gifted pupils, and that being in accelerated classes had positive effects on these pupils’ grades.

Source: What one hundred years of research says about the effects of ability grouping and acceleration on K–12 students’ academic achievement: Findings of two second-order meta-analyses (December 2016), Review of Educational Research, Vol. 86, No. 4

Creativity is modestly correlated with achievement

A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines the link between creativity and academic achievement.

Aleksandra Gajda and colleagues initially selected 148 studies, but narrowed these down to include only those studies that used a quantitative measure of the link between creativity and academic achievement; included more objective measures of creativity (such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) or self-report scales that showed sufficient reliability; and used grade point average (GPA), external exams, or researcher-developed tests to measure academic achievement.

The results showed a positive (albeit modest) relationship between creativity and academic achievement. The relationship was significantly stronger when creativity was measured with tests, particularly verbal tests, rather than when it was measured using self-report scales. The relationship was also significantly stronger when academic achievement was measured using standardised tests, rather than using GPA. The relationship between creativity and academic achievement was stable, no matter when, or where, the study had been carried out.

Source: Creativity and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis (2016), Journal of Educational Psychology

Parental involvement: Including fathers in the picture

A new meta-analysis from Harvard University explores the relative strength of the association between educational involvement of fathers versus mothers and the achievement of their children. The research suggested that parents have an equal academic impact on children regardless of their gender, although fathers’ mean levels of involvement were lower.

In general, research on parental involvement in education does not distinguish between fathers and mothers, and where the focus is on one parent this is most likely to be the mother. In contrast, this meta-analysis sought to put fathers in the picture. The authors included 52 empirical studies representing 390 correlations for the relation between parental involvement (mothers or fathers) and achievement. They found that parental involvement was positively associated with pupil achievement, and the relation between involvement and achievement was equally strong for fathers and mothers. Child gender did not moderate this relation.

The authors do note some limitations to their analysis, namely a lack of longitudinal studies and wide variability in the way parental involvement and achievement had been measured across the studies.

Source: Including Fathers in the Picture: A Meta-Analysis of Parental Involvement and Students’ Academic Achievement (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology.

Parent involvement and academic achievement reviewed quantitatively

A recent meta-analysis published in Educational Research Review examined the effects of parental involvement on pupil achievement.

The authors looked at 5,000 studies and found 37 that met their selection criteria. The selected studies included more than 80,000 pupils and their families.

The included studies had to:

  • Take place between kindergarten (Year 1) and 12th grade (Year 13).
  • Be published between 2000 and 2013.
  • Report parent participation in their children’s education, but not as part of a designated programme.
  • Examine the effects of parent involvement on academic achievement quantitatively. 

Because each study looked at different variables affecting achievement outcomes, as well as different populations affected, the authors broke down each study into independent analytical units and calculated 108 effect sizes for comparison.

They found that parental expectations had the largest influence on children’s academic achievement, followed by discussing school activities with children and helping them develop reading habits. Homework supervision and participation in school activities demonstrated the least effect.

Source: Parental involvement on student academic achievement: a meta-analysis (2015), Educational Research Review