Rethinking the use of tests

Olusola O Adesope and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to summarise the learning benefits of taking a practice test versus other forms of non-testing learning conditions, such as re-studying, practice, filler activities, or no presentation of the material.

Analysis of 272 independent effect sizes from 188 separate experiments demonstrated that the use of practice tests is associated with a moderate, statistically significant weighted mean effect size compared to re-studying (+0.51) and a much larger weighted mean effect size (+0.93) when compared to filler or no activities.

In addition, the format, number and frequency of practice tests make a difference for the learning benefits on a final test. Practice tests with a multiple-choice option have a larger weighted mean effect size (+0.70) than short-answer tests (+0.48). A single practice test prior to the final test is more effective than when pupils take several practice tests. However, the timing should be carefully considered. A gap of less than a day between the practice and final tests showed a smaller weighted effect size than when there is a gap of one to six days (+0.56 and +0.82, respectively).

Source: Rethinking the use of tests: A meta-analysis of practice testing (February 2017), Review of Educational Research DOI: 10.3102/0034654316689306

Turning around maladaptive behaviour

Pupils with significant behaviour problems typically have lower grades, higher dropout rates, and lower rates of employment when they leave school. To head off these problems, many schools use social problem-solving programmes within the classroom, yet no large research review has been done on social problem-solving programmes since 1993. To update these findings, Kristin Merrill and colleagues at the University of Florida performed a literature review of social problem-solving (SPS) programme studies in grades K-12 (Years 1-13) spanning 1993-2015.

From a group of 380 studies that the authors found, 18 met inclusion criteria, which included that studies must have been from peer-reviewed journals, been quantitative and addressed a specific programme implemented during school hours.

Results found positive outcomes related to SPS skills acquisition and to peer acceptance. The greatest evidence was found for older pupils, at-risk pupils, and programmes specifically targeting aggressive behaviours. In the studies that followed pupils after they were no longer in SPS programmes, some maintained improved behaviours for up to a year. The key features of an effective SPS programme were that pupils be taught step-by-step techniques to think through tough situations, having them rehearse and reflect on their desired behaviours; that emotional regulation skills be taught early; and that in order to maintain these gains, pupils actively think about how they use these new skills in real-life situations.

Source: A review of social problem-solving interventions: Past findings, current status, and future directions (February 2017), Review of Educational Research , Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 71–102

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