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

Examining restorative practices in schools

A new research brief by Catherine Augustine and colleagues at the RAND Corporation examines findings from an evaluation of restorative practices as implemented in schools in Pennsylvania, USA. Restorative practices are described as inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community, and these practices were implemented through the SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change programme. Some key elements of the programme include:

  • Affective statements: Personal expressions of feeling in response to specific positive or negative behaviours of others.
  • Small impromptu conferences: Questioning exercises that quickly resolve lower-level incidents involving two or more people.
  • Fair process: A set of transparent practices designed to create open lines of communication, assure people that their feelings and ideas have been taken into account, and foster a healthy community as a means of treating people respectfully throughout a decision-making process so that they perceive that process to be fair, regardless of the outcome.

The research team conducted a randomised controlled trial of restorative practices in 44 schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between June 2015 and June 2017. Data included findings from observations, surveys, and interviews, and administrative.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • Restorative practices were successful in reducing pupil suspensions.
  • Restorative practices reduced suspension rates of elementary grade (primary school) pupils, African American pupils, pupils from low-income families, and female pupils more than for pupils not in these groups.
  • Restorative practices did not improve academic outcomes, nor did they reduce suspensions for middle school pupils or suspensions for violent offences.

Overall, the research team concludes that restorative practices are promising, particularly for elementary schools seeking to reduce suspension rates.

Source: Restorative practices help reduce student suspensions. (December 2018), RAND Corporation RB-10051-DOJ

Planning ahead for summer

Heather L Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts in the US. The summer programmes in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programmes that featured both academic teaching and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income pupils.

The overall study combined a randomised controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programmes can improve academic, behavioural, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban children in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 pupils from third to seventh grade (Years 4 to 8). Data included surveys, observations and test data.

Findings showed that pupils who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics teaching in a summer performed better on the subsequent state maths test, and those receiving 34 hours of English lessons performed better on the subsequent state English language assessment.

These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as pupils who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.

Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:

  • Commit in the autumn to a summer programme, and start active planning by January with a programme director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
  • Prior to the start of the summer programme, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimising loss of teaching time, and on checking for pupil understanding.
  • Operate the programme for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academic lessons per day.

A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.

Source: Getting to work on summer learning. Recommended practices for success, 2nd edition (2018), RAND Corporation

$575 million programme has no impact on pupil outcomes

Findings from an evaluation of a $575 million programme to improve teacher performance found that, while sites implemented new measures of teaching effectiveness and modified personnel policies accordingly, the programme had no impact on pupil outcomes.

The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, designed and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed to dramatically improve pupil outcomes by improving pupils’ access to effective teaching. Three US school districts and four charter management organisations participated in the programme, which ran between 2009 and 2016.

The final evaluation report, published by the RAND Corporation, found that by the end of 2014-15, outcomes for pupils in the settings that took part in the initiative were not better than outcomes for pupils in similar settings that did not take part. There was no evidence that low-income minority (LIM) pupils had greater access than non-LIM pupils to effective teaching. In addition, it found very few instances of improvement in the effectiveness of teaching overall, and no improvement in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers compared to experienced teachers. The evaluation also found no increase in the retention of effective teachers, although there was some decline in the retention of ineffective teachers in most settings that took part in the initiative.

The report states several possible reasons that the initiative failed to achieve its goals for improving pupil outcome:

  • incomplete implementation of the key policies and practices
  • the influence of external factors, such as state-level policy changes during the initiative
  • insufficient time for effects to appear
  • a flawed theory of action
  • a combination of all these factors.

 

Source:  Improving teaching effectiveness: Final report: The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2015–2016 (2018), RAND Corporation.

How ESSA supports social and emotional learning

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows US states to use federal funding to adopt research-proven programmes to improve pupil achievement. This includes social-emotional learning (SEL) programmes. To offer some guidance and inform decision makers, RAND has released a report, Social and emotional learning interventions under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reviews recent evidence on these programmes. The report discusses how ESSA supports SEL programmes and outlines the programmes that meet the ESSA evidence standards.

Specifically, authors found 60 SEL programmes that met strong, moderate, or promising evidence standards in grades K-12 (Years   1 to 13). Most were evaluated at the primary school level in urban communities with minority populations. A second report describes these programmes and the research that supports them in detail.

Source: Social and emotional learning interventions under the Every Student Succeeds Act: evidence review (2017), RAND Corporation, RR-2133-WF

Is personalised learning effective?

A new research brief by John F Pane and colleagues at the RAND Corporation asks the question: “Does personalised learning improve pupil learning more than other educational approaches?” As part of their report, the authors present findings from an evaluation of personalised learning (PL) schools conducted by RAND Corporation researchers for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research team analysed maths and reading scores for approximately 5,500 pupils in 32 US schools that received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative to support highly personalised approaches to learning. These schools took the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) mathematics and reading assessments for one academic year: autumn 2014 to spring 2015. The research team compared the achievement of pupils in PL schools with matched peers attending non-PL schools and national norms.

Key findings from the research brief include:

  • Early evidence suggests that PL can improve achievement for pupils, regardless of their starting level of achievement.
  • Benefits of PL may take some time to emerge. Analyses suggest that effects may be more positive after schools have experience implementing PL.
  • To date, the field lacks evidence on which practices are most effective or what policies must be in place to maximise the benefits.

The authors note that additional research is needed using more rigorous experimental studies.

Source: How Does Personalized Learning Affect Student Achievement? RAND Corporation, 2017.