Evidence supports The BSCS Inquiry Approach

With the increasing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curricula comes the need for evidence backing these programmes. One such science programme is The BSCS Inquiry Approach, a comprehensive secondary school science approach based on three key concepts: constructivism, coherence and cohesiveness. The materials are built around the 5E process (engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate). Teaching focuses on evaluating pupils’ current understanding and using inquiry methods to move them to higher understandings. Each of the science disciplines (physical science, life science, earth science, and science and society) is composed of four chapters that repeat common themes, which advance over a three-year period. Designing and carrying out experiments in small groups is important in all topics. Teachers receive seven days of professional development each year, including a three-day summer institute and four one-day sessions, enabling sharing of experiences and introducing new content over time.

To determine the effects of The BSCS Inquiry Approach on pupil achievement, BSCS conducted a two-year cluster-randomised study of the intervention that compared pupils in grades 10–11 (Years 11–12) in nine experimental (n=1,509 pupils) and nine control secondary schools (n=1,543 pupils) in Washington State in the US. A total of 45% of pupils qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. At the end of two years, the BSCS pupils scored higher than controls (effect size=+0.09, p<.05) on the Washington State Science Assessments.

Source: An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, BSCS

First-year effects of the Communities in Schools programme

MDRC has released a report describing the first-year results of a randomised study of the Communities in Schools (CIS) programme. This is a programme designed to prevent at-risk middle and high school pupils in the US from dropping out by providing them with academic, behavioural, and emotional supports through an organised, in-school, case-managed system.

The study took place in 28 schools during the 2012-2013 school year. The sample included 2,230 pupils, of which 1,140 were assigned to the CIS group, and 1,090 were assigned to receive the regular support services provided by their schools. Both groups were predominantly ethnic minority and low income, and similar in terms of attendance rate, academic achievement, and EAL status, the only difference being that the experimental group was 2.8% more likely to receive free- or reduced-price lunches.

Following one year of services, CIS pupils were more likely than the controls to report having positive relationships with adults outside the home or school setting, to report positive peer relations, and to view education as valuable. However, the case-managed group did not demonstrate more gains in attendance, academics, or discipline than the control group.

The authors discuss areas for improving the programme and will examine the second year of data to continue to assess findings.

Source: Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out: Implementation and Interim Impact Findings from the Communities In Schools Evaluation (2015), MDRC.

FITKids programme benefits body and mind

Results of a randomised study that compared pupils who attended FITKids (a daily after-school fitness programme) to those who did not showed benefits for the FITKids group in attention, memory, and task-switching.

The study involved 221 eight- to nine-year olds matched by age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and aerobic fitness during the school years 2009-2013. The experimental groups participated in the FITKids programme for two hours a day after school for nine months. Each day they spent 30 minutes at activity stations, followed by a rest/education period then about 45 minutes of organised games. The control groups were put on a waiting list for the FITKids programme.

All groups were pre- and post-tested on fitness and cognitive measures. Both groups demonstrated post-test gains in aerobic fitness, but these were significant only in the experimental group. The experimental group demonstrated twice the accuracy in cognitive tasks at post-test compared with the control group.

The authors concluded that a daily after-school fitness programme improves brain health. They warned that policies that seek to increase academic achievement by replacing physical education and break times with academic classes may inadvertently do more harm than good.

Source: Effects of the FITKids Randomized Controlled Trial on Executive Control and Brain Function (2014), Pediatrics 134(4)

Controversy about New York scholarship study

In issue 21 of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on a longitudinal, randomised evaluation of a voucher programme in New York by Chingos and Peterson. Dylan Wiliam informed us about a criticism of this study by Sara Goldrick-Rab. The original study reported a positive effect of receiving vouchers to attend private schools on college attendance for African-American pupils but not for Hispanic pupils, and there were no effects of vouchers overall. Goldrick-Rab notes that the African-American/Hispanic differences in treatment effects were not significant, and there was a serious problem among the African-American subsample: pupils in the voucher group, despite random assignment, had parents who were significantly more likely to have gone to college themselves.

Goldrick-Rab’s conclusion is that the study should be reported as “Vouchers Don’t Work”, while Chingos and Peterson conclude “Yes they do, if only for African Americans.” There is support for both positions, but clearly, replication is needed.

More on this can be found in  this article on Inside Higher Ed.

Sources: The effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), Brookings

Review of the effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), National Education Policy Center

Higher ed Scholars’ voucher war (2012), Inside Higher Education

Do scholarships to private primary schools increase college enrolment?

This randomised study examines the post-secondary education (college) enrolment of pupils in New York who participated in a voucher experiment at elementary (primary) school. In the spring of 1997, the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation Program offered scholarships to low-income families to support their elementary-age children to attend private schools.

For the current study, researchers from the Brown Center on Eduation Policy at the Brookings Institute and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance obtained pupil information that allowed them to identify over 99 per cent of the pupils who participated in the original experiment and follow up on their college enrolment. Findings showed no overall impacts of the scholarships on college enrolment, but did find large, statistically significant positive impacts on the enrolment rate of African-American pupils in the study. Specifically, the researchers report significant increases in full-time college attendance, enrolment in private four-year colleges, and enrolment in selective four-year colleges for this group of pupils.

Source: The effects of school vouchers on college enrollment: Experimental evidence from New York City (2012), Brookings