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

Predicting success for pupils with disabilities

A systematic review in Review of Educational Research uses meta-analysis to consider in-school predictors of post-school success for pupils with disabilities. The examined predictors of success include various aspects of education, employment, and independent living.

The study gathered data on 16,957 individuals from 35 sources published between 1984 and 2010. Analysis revealed a small but significant overall association between the in-school predictors and post-school outcomes.

The authors reported that their findings “showed positive relationships between predictors and outcomes in almost all cases” and that although the effects were small, they were meaningful and robust.

More specifically, the authors highlighted that their analysis showed positive effects for widely studied areas (such as vocational education, inclusive classrooms, and paid work) and understudied areas (such as Student-focused Planning and Parent Involvement, and interagency collaboration).

The paper includes discussion of implications for practice and suggested directions for future research.

Source: What works, when, for whom, and with whom: a meta-analytic review of predictors of postsecondary success for students with disabilities (2015), Review of Educational Research

One tongue or two?

Concerns that a multilingual learning environment may confuse students and harm their learning are unfounded, according to a meta-analysis by researchers at the University of Luxembourg.

The review investigated the effectiveness of bilingual programmes for academic achievement in language-minority children in Europe. Similar reviews have been conducted in North America, but not previously in Europe.

The meta-analysis combined data from five European studies and revealed a small positive effect (g=0.23) on academic achievement, including reading, for language-minority children educated bilingually compared with those who experience submersion programmes (which use only the majority language).

The authors say that their analysis supports the importance of bilingual education. They note that the small number of included studies limit the extent to which their findings could be generalised to other settings. They call for further studies and closer attention to the size of the effects.

Effect sizes in the analysis are in line with previous meta-analyses in the United States, such as those of Slavin and Cheung, which also found small positive effects in support of bilingual programmes when compared with monolingual education.

Source: A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of bilingual programs in Europe (2014), Review of Educational Research