What works for struggling readers?

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance summarises evidence from 17 studies conducted under Striving Readers, a federal grant programme that aimed to raise middle and high school pupils’ literacy levels in deprived areas. As part of the programme, each Striving Readers grantee partnered with an independent evaluator to conduct a randomised controlled trial of the reading intervention being implemented.

For the current report, all of the Striving Reader evaluations were reviewed under What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. Twelve studies met the standards without reservations, three studies met with reservations, and two studies did not meet the WWC evidence standards.

Based on findings from studies that met the standards with or without reservations, four of ten interventions had positive, potentially positive, or mixed effects on reading achievement. Specifically:

  • For READ 180, there was evidence of positive effects on reading achievement. Three studies found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Xtreme Reading, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and one study found no effects.
  • For Learning Strategies Curriculum, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. There was a single study of the intervention, and it found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Voyager Passport Reading Journeys, there were mixed effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and two studies found no effects.

Source: Summary of Research Generated by Striving Readers on the Effectiveness of Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.

Capital gains

A new report published by the Centre for Social Exclusion (CASE) at LSE explores the relative improvement in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in London over the past two decades compared to those elsewhere in the country, the so-called “London Effect”.

The authors use two major datasets, the National Pupil Database and the Millennium Cohort Study, to describe the situation in London. They found that:

  • Disadvantaged pupils in London generally start primary school at age 5 at a similar level or behind their peers elsewhere in England. The London advantage then generally grows from the period they start school at age 5 through to age 11.
  • In 1997, about 47% of poorer pupils in both inner London and the rest of England achieved the expected level in English tests at age 11. By 2008, poorer pupils in inner London became 7 percentage points more likely to achieve this standard (75% for inner London compared with 68% for the rest of England).
  • The performance of disadvantaged pupils in London in exams at age 16 has improved substantially, starting from the mid-1990s onwards, and they are now achieving much higher results at age 16 than disadvantaged pupils outside London.
  • The characteristics of disadvantaged pupils in London are very different from those outside London, especially in terms of ethnicity. For example, disadvantaged pupils in inner London are much less likely to come from a White-British background (13% in inner London in 2013 as compared with 76% outside of London) and much more likely to come from other ethnic backgrounds.
  • Disadvantaged pupils in London are also more likely than those outside London to live in a deprived neighbourhood, to attend voluntary aided/controlled schools, less likely to attend foundation schools, and have a peer group that contains more disadvantaged pupils, more pupils from an ethnic minority, and who speak English as an Additional Language.

Source: Understanding the Improved Performance of Disadvantaged Pupils in London (2015), LSE.

A little help from your friends

A new article in the British Journal of Psychology describes research into whether, and how, a single close supportive friendship may improve psychological resilience in socio-economically vulnerable young people. The authors conclude that such friendships facilitate resilience, and that at least one close friendship helps adolescents’ strength and resilience against substantial adversity.

409 participants aged between 11 and 19 years were recruited through three comprehensive secondary schools and two colleges in Yorkshire with deprived catchment areas (n=394), and through an online mailing list for peer supporters (n=15). They completed self-report measures of close friendship quality, psychological resilience, social support, and other resources.

Findings revealed a significant positive association between perceived friendship quality and resilience. This was facilitated through inter-related mechanisms of developing a constructive coping style (comprised of support-seeking and active coping), effort, a supportive friendship network, and reduced disengaged and externalising coping. There were gender differences. Perceived friendship quality facilitated effort and friendship network support more strongly for boys than girls, and in contrast it promoted constructive coping more strongly for girls. Boys were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of disengaged and externalising coping than girls.

The authors suggest a number of implications for practice, including:

  • Practitioners might prioritise existing and emerging supportive adolescent friendships within resilience interventions;
  • Interventions might promote peer-based coping skills and self-efficacy; and
  • Supportive peer friendships might be regularly included within assessments of psychosocial resources by clinicians and educators.

Source: Best Friends and Better Coping: Facilitating Psychological Resilience Through Boys’ and Girls’ Closest Friendships (2015), British Journal of Psychology.

International evidence on what helps poor children succeed

A recent Policy Brief from the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) explores the issue of socio-economically disadvantaged pupils who are academically successful, or “academically resilient”.

The authors used data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to explore how prevalent academically resilient pupils are across education systems and what factors are associated with academic resilience within those systems. They focussed on children aged 13/14 in 28 education systems with sufficient numbers of academically resilient pupils for analysis.

The findings included:

  • Environments of high academic achievement appear to support academic resilience among disadvantaged pupils. In general, education systems with lower percentages of disadvantaged pupils tended to produce larger percentages of academically resilient pupils (eg, Japan and Korea), whereas those with higher percentages of disadvantaged pupils tended to produce lower percentages of academically resilient pupils (eg, Morocco and Ghana).
  • Pupils’ high educational aspirations appear to be the strongest and most consistent predictor of academic resilience; and
  • School factors associated with academic resilience include teachers’ positive attitudes about pupils’ learning abilities, and schools’ emphasis on academic success.

However, the brief concludes that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and that policy makers in individual countries need to examine which factors are relevant in their own contexts.

Source: Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students who are Academically Successful: Examining Academic Resilience Cross-nationally (2015), IEA.

Talented poor pupils missing out on GCSE success

A new research brief from the Sutton Trust has shown that talented pupils from poor backgrounds are falling short of their potential at GCSE, achieving on average half a grade less than other highly able pupils.;

The authors looked at pupils’ performance in Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests at age 11, and then at their GCSE attainment. They found that 15% of “highly able” pupils, that is those who score in the top 10% nationally at KS2, fail to achieve in the top 25% at GCSE.

The two factors that appear to make the most difference in this achievement are FSM6 status (those who are eligible for the Pupil Premium because they have received free school meals in any of the previous six years) and gender. Highly able boys are almost twice as likely to fall off track as girls, and for both boys and girls FSM6 status more than doubles the risk of falling into the missing talent group. One in ten of the poor but clever pupils are barely achieving C grades.

The report also found differences in the subjects taken. Highly able FSM6 pupils are less likely to be taking history or geography (included in the English Baccalaureate measure), and only 53% take triple sciences, compared to 69% of those not in the FSM6 category. This may be because they attend one of the 20% of schools that does not offer the triple science curriculum.

Recommendations include:

  • Developing a national programme for highly able pupils, with ring-fenced funding to support evidence-based activities and tracking of pupils’ progress.
  • Making schools accountable for this progress.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils have access to triple science.
  • Ensuring all highly able pupils study a broad traditional curriculum (including a language and humanity) to widen future educational opportunities.
  • Using schools that buck the trend to support those where highly able pupils underperform, or to offer extra-curricular support to raise aspirations for young people in the area.

Source: Missing Talent (2015), The Sutton Trust.

What works for reducing risky behaviour?

This report from the RAND Corporation examines whether being assigned to attend a high-performing public charter school in the US reduces the rates of risky health behaviour among deprived ethnic minority teenagers, and whether this is due to better academic performance, peer influence, or other factors. Risky behaviour included alcohol use, drug use, and unprotected sex, while very risky health behaviour included binge drinking, substance abuse at school, and gang participation. The researchers surveyed 521 pupils aged 14 to 18 who were offered admission into a high-performing public charter school through a random lottery (intervention group) and 409 pupils who were not offered admission (control group). The researchers also obtained the pupils’ state standardised test scores.

Results of the study showed that being assigned to attend a high-performing school led to improved maths and English standard test scores, greater school retention, and lower rates of engaging in very risky behaviour, but no difference in risky behaviour. The authors list several factors that may have contributed to these improvements. For example, the school environment may play a role by reducing exposure to “risky” peers but also by improving persistence, resilience, and other non-cognitive skills, and simply being in a demanding school may leave less time and opportunity to engage in very risky behaviour.

Source: Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents (2014), Pediatrics 134(2).