Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Do young children favour boys over girls?

A new study published in American Psychologist looks at evidence of bias against women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability.

Andrei Cimpian conducted a series of three experiments to test for evidence of gender bias and its developmental roots. In the two initial experiments, more than 1,150 participants (mean age 35 years) were asked to refer individuals for a job. The results showed that participants were less likely to refer a woman when the job description mentioned intellectual ability (43.5% female referrals) than when it did not (50.8%).

In the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether young children favour boys over girls for intellectually challenging activities. Children ages five to seven (n= 192) were recruited from a small mid-western city in the US, and taught how to play a team game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children, the other half were not. Children were then asked to select three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know.

Initially, the children selected teammates of the same gender as themselves (so, girls chose the other girls, and boys chose the other boys), but by the third selection round they became less likely to select girls as teammates for the “smart” game (37.6% girls selected) than for the control game (53.4%). Girls were less likely to select other girls as teammates across selection rounds, particularly for the “smart” game.

Source: Evidence of bias against girls and women in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability (December 2018), American Psychologist 73(9)

The principles of success in maths

Helping pupils to understand the logical principles underlying maths may improve their mathematical achievement, according to the findings of a randomised controlled trial published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

Mathematical Reasoning lessons focus on developing pupils’ understanding of the logic principles underlying maths, and cover principles such as place value and the inverse relation between addition and subtraction. One hundred and sixty English primary schools took part in the trial, and were randomly allocated to receive either Mathematical Reasoning or to be in the control group. The control group was given the opportunity to take part in the programme the following year. Teachers in the intervention schools delivered the programme to Year 2 pupils over 12 to 15 weeks as part of their usual maths lessons. Learning was supported by online games, which could be used by pupils at school and at home.

The independent evaluation by a team from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found a small but statistically significant effect size of +0.08 on maths achievement for pupils who took part in the programme, compared to other pupils. It had the same impact for pupils eligible for free school meals. They also found some evidence that the programme had a positive impact on mathematical reasoning.

Source: Mathematical Reasoning: Evaluation report and executive summary (December 2018), Education Endowment Foundation.

Do pupils benefit from longer school days?

A study published in Economics of Education Review looks at the evidence from the extended school day (ESD) programme in Florida to determine whether pupils benefit from longer school days.

In 2012, Florida introduced the ESD programme, increasing the length of the school day by an hour in the lowest-performing elementary (primary) schools in order to provide additional reading lessons. The lessons had to be based on research, adapted for pupil ability, and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Schools were selected using school-level reading accountability measures. For this study, David Figlio and colleagues looked at reading scores for all pupils in Florida between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4 and 11) using school administrative data from 2005–06 and 2012–13, and employed a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of lengthening the school day, looking at the different performance of schools either side of the cut-off point.

Results indicated that the additional one hour of reading lessons had a positive effect on pupils’ reading achievement. ESD schools showed an improvement of +0.05 standard deviations on reading test scores in the first year. The annual cost of the ESD programme was $300,000-$400,000 per school, or $800 per pupil.

Source: Do students benefit from longer school days? Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida’s additional hour of literacy instruction (December 2018), Economics of Education Review, Volume 67

Effective programmes in primary maths

Marta Pellegrini from the University of Florence and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert E Slavin from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have released a new report on effective programmes in primary maths. The report reviews research on the mathematics achievement outcomes of all programmes with at least one study meeting the inclusion criteria of the review. A total of 78 studies were identified that evaluated 61 programmes in grades K–5 (Years 1–6).

The studies were very high in quality, with 65 (83%) randomised and 13 (17%) quasi-experimental evaluations. Key findings were as follows:

  • Particularly positive outcomes were found for tutoring programmes.
  • One-to-one and one-to-small group models had equal impacts, as did teachers and paraprofessionals as tutors.
  • Technology programmes showed modest positive impacts.
  • Professional development approaches focused on helping teachers gain in understanding of maths content and pedagogy had no impact on pupil achievement, but more promising outcomes were seen in studies focused on instructional processes, such as cooperative learning.
  • Whole-school reform, social-emotional approaches, maths curricula and benchmark assessment programmes found few positive effects, although there were one or more effective individual approaches in most categories.

The findings suggest that programmes emphasising personalisation, engagement and motivation have most impact in primary maths teaching, while strategies focused on textbooks, professional development for maths knowledge or pedagogy, and other strategies that do not substantially impact pupils’ daily experiences have little impact.

Source: Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis (October 2018), Johns Hopkins University

Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4