Three-year achievement gap between poor pupils and their better-off peers

Research published by the Sutton Trust shows that for schools in the UK, the achievement gap in maths, science and reading between the top-performing pupils from low and high socio-economic backgrounds is around two years and eight months.

Global Gaps by Dr John Jerrim of the UCL Institute of Education analyses the 2015 test scores from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA tests to assess how well the top 10% of pupils in the UK’s schools are doing. In England, the highest-achieving pupils score above the median score for OECD countries in maths, science and reading. However, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, high-achieving pupils perform, on average, below the OECD median scores.

For girls in England, the achievement gap in science and reading is even greater. High-achieving girls from low socio-economic backgrounds are around three years behind their more advantaged, high-achieving peers. This is around eight months greater than the equivalent gap for boys for science, and nine months greater for reading. There is no significant gender difference in maths, with an achievement gap of around two years and nine months for both girls and boys.

Source: Global Gaps: Comparing socio-economic gaps in the performance of highly able UK pupils internationally (February 2017), The Sutton Trust

Is mathematics education in England working for everyone?

A new report published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) analyses data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to look at the impact of disadvantage on children’s performance in England.

Focusing on children’s performance in maths, researchers Rebecca Wheater and colleagues find that:

  • The gap between the most and least disadvantaged is equivalent to over three years’ of schooling. This is close to the OECD average.
  • The impact of socio-economic background on maths performance in England can be seen from the most to least disadvantaged. Its effects are even greater when comparing differences in achievement between children of high and average socio-economic background than between children of average and low socio-economic background.
  • Disadvantaged children who perform better than average, given their socio-economic background, tend to be born in the autumn, are more confident in their abilities and are less likely to play truant.
  • The patterns of performance in England have changed little over the years and examination of other countries’ data suggests that they too have found it very difficult to reduce the impact of socio-economic background on performance.
  • Many factors other than socio-economic background also affect performance such as student characteristics and the impact of individual schools. These other factors are more important to student performance in England than in other countries.

Source: Is mathematics education in England working for everyone? NFER analysis of the PISA performance of disadvantaged pupils (2016) National Foundation for Educational Research

Gamers score higher on PISA than social media climbers

A recent study by Alberto Posso at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology examined the pattern of teenagers’ internet usage and its relationship to their reading, maths, and science scores on the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

PISA is an international survey used to analyse educational systems based on 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, math, and science in randomly chosen schools. The PISA survey also collects information on how often teens use technology and for what purpose, as well as household information such as parents’ education and occupations.

After analysing the scores of 12,000 Australian high school students in the most recent 2012 survey, and after controlling for differences such as socioeconomic status, parents’ education, and other variables that might affect students’ educational outcomes, teenagers who played video games on a regular basis scored 15 points above average in maths and reading and 17 points above average in science, while teenagers who used social media daily scored 4% below average in maths. The article discusses the possible reasons for this disparity, including the fact that certain video games require students to apply academic knowledge to progress to higher levels. Social media use, however, reinforces little academic knowledge and can eat into studying time.

Source: Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students (2016), International Journal of Communication

Is technology improving outcomes?

A new report from PISA looks at how education systems and schools are integrating technology into learning experiences, and with what results.

The findings, taken from the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), show that young people in general have very high levels of access to computers. A total of 96% of 15-year-olds in the OECD countries/economies reported that they had a computer at home, and 72% reported computer access at school.

But has accessibility made a difference to learning outcomes? The findings of this report indicate that pupils who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes; that pupils in countries/economies that have invested heavily in technology showed no appreciable improvements in reading, maths, or science achievement; and that in places where it is common for pupils to use the internet at school for homework, pupils’ performance in reading declined between 2000 and 2012. However, pupils who used computers “moderately” at school tended to have somewhat better learning outcomes than those who used them rarely.

The authors also explore the “digital divide.” They say that as the gap in access to digital media and resources closes, research has started to focus on what people do with it, and this still depends on factors such as reading skills and social support. The report found that in general disadvantaged pupils preferred chat over email. Also, while in most countries/economies there were no differences related to socio-economic status in the use of video games, the influence of socio-economic status was strong when it came to reading news or obtaining practical information from the internet.

Source: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection (2015), OECD.

Report examines research on the gender gap in reading and student engagement

The Brown Center on Education Policy in the US has released a new report that asks How Well Are American Students Learning? The report describes the results of three educational research studies.

The first study examines the gender gap in reading. Historically, boys in the US score lower than girls on standardised reading tests and the gap widens in middle and high school. This trend is seen around the world, even in countries that scored high on the PISA reading subtests. The authors debunk several popular explanations for the gap, most notably the theory that females are biologically better at reading. The authors also note that the reading gap disappears in adulthood and that after age 35, men score significantly higher on reading measures than women. The authors comment that the effects of life cycle experiences on reading proficiency need to be examined.

The second study looks at the effects of intrinsic motivation on maths in 15-year-olds. Surprisingly, results showed a negative correlation between engagement level and maths achievement (higher engagement levels yielded lower test scores). Fifteen-year-olds in the US scored at average engagement levels. Countries who scored higher in PISA scores (Japan, Finland, South Korea) reported lower engagement levels for mathematics.

The third study discusses the early effects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – a set of standards that details what children age 5 to 18 should know in maths and literacy. The findings showed small, non-significant effects in fourth grade (Year 5) reading and eighth grade (Year 9) maths in states with strong CCSS implementation.

Source: How Well Are American Students Learning? (2015), Brown Centre on Education Policy

PISA and homework

An OECD report on data from the PISA survey looked at homework among 15-year-olds and asked whether homework perpetuates inequalities in education.

According to the report, in 2012 students in the 38 countries covered by the survey spent an average of an hour less on their weekly homework than their predecessors did in 2002 (OECD average 5.9 hours). Socio-economically advantaged students and those who attended socio-economically advantaged schools tended to spend more time doing homework than other students. There was an association between the amount of mathematics homework supplied and the performance of both students and schools, but other factors had a greater effect on overall school performance.

The report concludes that homework provides an opportunity for learning but could reinforce socio-economic differences. Schools and teachers might be able to mitigate the problem by, for example, providing quiet places for study for students with no such facility at home.

Source: Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? (2014) PISA in Focus