A century of research on ability grouping and acceleration

Researchers Saiying Steenbergen-Hu and colleagues recently analysed the results of almost 100 years of research on the effects of ability grouping (which places pupils of similar skills and abilities in the same classes) and acceleration (where pupils are given material and assignments that are usually reserved for older year groups) on pupils’ academic achievement. After screening thousands of studies, their secondary meta-analysis, recently published in Review of Educational Research, synthesised the results of thirteen earlier meta-analyses on ability grouping and six on acceleration that met inclusion criteria for the final review.

They divided ability grouping into four types: (1) between-class ability grouping, where pupils in the same year are divided into low-, medium-, or high-level classes; (2) within-class ability grouping, where pupils within a classroom are taught in groups based on their levels; (3) cross-year subject grouping, where pupils in different year groups are combined into the same class depending on their prior achievement; and (4) grouping for pupils considered gifted.

Results showed academic benefits of within-class grouping, cross-year grouping by subject, and grouping for the gifted, but no benefit of between-class grouping. Results were consistent regardless of whether pupils were high-, medium-, or low-achievers. Analyses of acceleration groups for pupils labelled as gifted showed that these pupils performed the same as older non-gifted pupils, and that being in accelerated classes had positive effects on these pupils’ grades.

Source: What one hundred years of research says about the effects of ability grouping and acceleration on K–12 students’ academic achievement: Findings of two second-order meta-analyses (December 2016), Review of Educational Research, Vol. 86, No. 4

Classroom management interventions made a difference

A meta-analysis of classroom management interventions has found that they improved academic, behavioural, and social-emotional outcomes.

Published in the Review of Educational Research, the study included 54 classroom management interventions in 47 studies published between 2003 and 2013. It included some interventions that had been evaluated several times (including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), the Good Behavior Game, and Zippy’s Friends). About three-quarters of the studies were carried out in the US, with the remainder in Europe and Canada.

Most interventions were focused on changing students’ behaviour (85%), improving students’ social-emotional development (74%), or changing teachers’ behaviour (54%). Only two interventions were specifically targeted at improving teacher–student relationships.

The analysis found an overall effect size of +0.22 for the interventions, with a slightly higher effect on behaviour (+0.24), and less on social-emotional (+0.21) and academic (+0.17) outcomes. There was no significant effect on motivational outcomes. The analysis also indicated that interventions focused on social-emotional development of the students were somewhat more effective than those without that component.

Source: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Classroom Management Strategies and Classroom Management Programs on Students’ Academic, Behavioral, Emotional, and Motivational Outcomes (2016), Review of Educational Research.

Including restricted interests benefits autistic pupils

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have interests restricted to particular topics. New research from the University of Strathclyde has found that accommodating these interests into classroom teaching leads to gains in educational achievement and/or social engagement.

Restricted Interests (RIs) are a component of the formal diagnosis for ASD, and teachers can be faced with the dilemma of whether to accommodate these interests or keep them out of the classroom. There are differing views about whether RIs are harmful or helpful, on one hand potentially obstructing opportunities to learn and peer interaction, but on the other hand generating self-motivated learning, and improving motivation, cognitive skills, and social-emotional well-being.

The authors of this study examined all peer-reviewed studies of teaching children with ASD with RIs published between 1990 and 2014. Of 91 children assessed in 20 published studies, all reported gains in educational achievement and/or social engagement. Negative consequences were limited to a decrease in task performance in one child and a transient increase in perseverative behaviours in two children.

The authors conclude that the RIs of children with ASD should be incorporated into the mainstream curriculum where reasonable to do so.

Source: Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder With Restricted Interests: A Review of Evidence for Best Practice (2015), Review of Educational Research.

Predicting success for pupils with disabilities

A systematic review in Review of Educational Research uses meta-analysis to consider in-school predictors of post-school success for pupils with disabilities. The examined predictors of success include various aspects of education, employment, and independent living.

The study gathered data on 16,957 individuals from 35 sources published between 1984 and 2010. Analysis revealed a small but significant overall association between the in-school predictors and post-school outcomes.

The authors reported that their findings “showed positive relationships between predictors and outcomes in almost all cases” and that although the effects were small, they were meaningful and robust.

More specifically, the authors highlighted that their analysis showed positive effects for widely studied areas (such as vocational education, inclusive classrooms, and paid work) and understudied areas (such as Student-focused Planning and Parent Involvement, and interagency collaboration).

The paper includes discussion of implications for practice and suggested directions for future research.

Source: What works, when, for whom, and with whom: a meta-analytic review of predictors of postsecondary success for students with disabilities (2015), Review of Educational Research

High hopes for good behaviour

A new review, published in the Review of Educational Research, analyses the evidence on The Good Behavior Game (GBG), a classroom management programme that has been used (and studied) for 40 years. Strategies in the programme include acknowledging appropriate behaviour, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behaviour, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement.

A total of 22 studies met the authors’ inclusion criteria. In these, the programme was mainly being used in mainstream primary schools with externalising, challenging behaviours (eg, disruptive behaviour, off-task behaviour, aggression, talking out, and out-of-seat behaviours).

The review aimed to describe and quantify the effect of the GBG on various challenging behaviours in school and classroom settings. The findings suggested that the GBG had moderate to large effects on a range of challenging behaviours, and that these effects were immediate. The correct use of rewards was found to be important for intervention effectiveness. Few studies considered the long-term impact of the GBG, but the authors conclude that the effects were largely stable, with only a very slight decrease over time.

The authors note that the GBG has been implemented by individuals in a variety of school roles (such as classroom teachers, student teachers, librarians, and lunchtime staff), and that this highlights the ease with which the GBG can be implemented under a variety of conditions. Additionally, the relatively brief training for practitioners in the studies suggests that the GBG can be used successfully without extensive training.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is currently funding a randomised controlled trial of the GBG in 74 schools in England.

Source: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings (2014), Review of Educational Research, online first June 2014.

Never too late to help struggling readers

From around the middle of primary school, there is less emphasis on learning to read, and this has serious consequences for children who have not yet mastered the skill. A new article in the Review of Educational Research analyses the evidence on “extensive reading interventions” for pupils aged 10 to 18 with reading difficulties. These are long-term interventions (in this case 75 or more sessions), often developed as part of school-wide models for teaching literacy to younger pupils.

The authors conducted a systematic review of research from 1995 to 2011, with 19 studies meeting their inclusion criteria. Mean effect sizes ranged from 0.10 to 0.16 for comprehension, word reading, word reading fluency, reading fluency, and spelling outcomes. No significant differences in pupil outcomes were noted in terms of group size, relative number of hours of intervention, or year level of intervention. They conclude that accelerating reading growth in later years may be more challenging than in the earliest, but that it isn’t too late to help struggling readers.

Source: Extensive Reading Interventions for Students With Reading Difficulties After Grade 3 (2013), Review of Educational Research, 83(2).