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

A randomised controlled trial of the repeated reading strategy

Repeated reading is a strategy used to develop children’s reading fluency in targeted text. However, little research has been done using randomised trials to determine the extent to which fluency gained in repeated reading generalises to new text in terms of accuracy, speed, comprehension and expression. In an effort to examine the effectiveness of the repeated reading strategy, Scott Ardoin and colleagues at the University of Georgia and Mount Holyoke College conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing pupils’ fluency development using repeated reading to their fluency development using wide reading (non-repetitive reading of passages with minimal word and content overlap) and to a third group who continued with business as usual.

A total of 168 second grade (Year 3) pupils in three schools in the southeastern US were matched on standardised pre-testing by reading level in groups of three and assigned to one of the three groups. Pre-tests were also conducted for eye movement and prosody. Each pupil received 20 minutes of individualised intervention four times a week for 9-10 weeks.

Results showed that while all pupils gained in all areas, the pupils in the experimental conditions gained more than the business-as-usual pupils, with the lowest-achieving pupils making the most gains. It was of note that there was no significant advantage to being in the repeated reading group versus the wide reading group.

Source: Repeated versus wide reading: A randomized control design study examining the impact of fluency interventions on underlying reading behaviour (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59 pp 13-38

Improving reading comprehension for English learners

A randomised controlled trial, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, has examined the impact of a version of the PACT reading comprehension and content acquisition intervention, which was modified to meet the needs of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs), in eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies classes.

Sharon Vaughn and colleagues carried out the trial with schools with moderate to high concentrations of EALs. In the selected schools, all eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies teachers participated, and classes were randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison condition. Each teacher taught both PACT treatment classes and comparison classes, and the same social studies content was delivered to pupils in both conditions, but with the interrelated components of PACT included in the treatment classes.

Pupils in the treatment group did better than pupils in the comparison group on measures of content knowledge acquisition and content reading comprehension, but not general reading comprehension. Both EALs and non-EALs who received the intervention performed better on measures of content knowledge acquisition (effect size = 0.40) and content-related reading (effect size = 0.20).

Source: Improving content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners: Findings from a randomized control trial (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1)

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Teaching assistants make a positive difference on pupil outcomes

A working paper from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research finds evidence that teaching assistants can have positive effects on pupil outcomes.

Charles T. Clotfelter and colleagues examined the role of teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff in elementary (primary) schools in North Carolina to identify causal effects on pupils’ test scores in maths and reading.

Positive effects were identified on test scores in reading, but for maths, positive effects were only found for minority pupils’ test scores. For both reading and maths, the effects on minority pupils’ test scores were larger than the effects on the test scores for white pupils.

The report also found that more teachers (and therefore smaller class sizes) had a number of positive effects on test scores, particularly for minority pupils, and were also associated with lower absentee rates and a lower probability of high rates of in-school suspension.  

Source: Teaching assistants and nonteaching staff: Do they improve student outcomes? (2016) National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER)

Positive progress for maths, but not reading, for a thinking-skills intervention

The Education Endowment Foundation evaluated the impact of the ReflectED programme using a randomised controlled trial involving 1,858 pupils across 30 schools in five areas throughout England over the academic year 2014/15. The evaluation examined the impact on the maths and reading achievement of Year 5 pupils, and also their attitudes toward reading and maths.

The ReflectED programme was developed by Rosendale Primary School to improve pupils’ metacognition — their ability to think about and manage their own learning. This includes the skills of setting and monitoring goals, assessing progress, and identifying personal strengths and challenges.

Year 5 pupils who took part in the trial made an average of four months’ additional progress in maths (ES = +0.30) compared to those in the control groups. The evaluators also found evidence that pupils in the programme developed a more positive attitude toward maths. However, in reading they made two fewer months’ progress than the control group (ES = -0.16) and developed a slightly less positive attitude toward the subject.

The evaluation also found that most schools were already teaching metacognitive and reflective skills similar to those taught in the ReflectED programme, which are likely to have continued in the control group classes. This might have limited the impact that ReflectED had on teachers’ practice and pupils’ outcomes.

Source: ReflectED: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation